Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Web-based productivity apps - 2

Existing office suites have suffered for years from a lack of collaboration - for example, the ability to work on a document simultaneously with someone else, track versions by different authors, search for a document across a massive file system, and annotate the document with opinions.

The strategy of Microsoft, the market leader, is to introduce Sharepoint as a document management tool to overcome these hurdles, and also to make some improvements to Windows Explorer in Vista.

Yet why should these basic features require a separate tool for advanced users? In a connected world, isn't this kind of usage the rule, not the exception, even outside the enterprise?

Instead, the approach of browser-based application providers, such as Google, is to replace Windows Explorer and Sharepoint with an online file system that incorporates search and collaboration. In addition, no cumbersome upload / download is required, since everything takes place within the browser.

Over time, the C: drive and other client shares will be used solely for system files and program files. All user-generated content will migrate to the internet (or an intranet). This will produce enormous benefits, including advanced search, workflow, backup, tagging, security, client access, syndication / alerting, and browser-recognized URIs.

For the consumer or small business, this file system will be hosted on the internet, supported by adverts. In the enterprise, it will be served via an intranet web server purchased from the application provider, which will address data privacy issues.

Based on the previous post, 80% of the documents available on the file server will be browser-based. Only 20% will require another client application to view or edit, with download / upload.

On top of this file system will reside a set of applications, based on HTML in the browser:

  • Word documents
  • Spreadsheets
  • Project Management
  • Presentations
  • Drawings / Diagrams
  • Graphs / Charts
  • etc
All of these applications are possible - and have already been demonstrated - using exising browsers. The first three can be written in pure HTML, CSS and Ajax. The last three also need either SVG or VML - see a future post on the massive potential for these technologies in current browsers.

Within the next year, browser-based applications will be good enough to cause a multi-billion dollar headache for the incumbent, Microsoft. And companies like Google will be locking the next generation of users into a new, open, integrated suite, residing solely in the browser.

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