Google isn't the only large software maker looking to replace Microsoft's on-premise Office and SharePoint productivity and collaboration suites with hosted, online versions of similar applications.
Adobe Systems June 2 made its Acrobat.com suite of word processing, file-sharing and Web conferencing software available as public beta for free. The software was released in conjunction with the launch of Adobe Acrobat 9.
An alternative to Google Docs, Buzzword is a Web-based word processor users can co-author and share documents for comment and review.
Read Write Web writer Sarah Perez said Buzzword is, well, pretty, noting that whether a Buzzword document is on a large screen, small screen or on a printed page, fonts, letter spacing, colors and graphics are all reproduced perfectly.
ConnectNow is the company's Web conferencing service. This app includes desktop sharing, video and voice conferencing and integrated chat.
In her critique, Perez notes that the only drawback is that only three people can use the service at the same time. Whether ConnectNow supports three concurrent users or 30, here is another potential problem with ConnectNow; the app joins an overcrowded group of similar online collaboration tools.
So Many Apps, So Little Desktop Space
The proliferation of so many apps, many of which users have to download onto their desktops, is crowding corporate desktops. This is a problem for, say, journalists, who are often slaves to multiple Web conferencing apps that various businesses use.
A hosted Web conferencing app, where users need not download any software, is a breath of fresh air, but it still has to compete with the passel of other competing apps out there from Cisco, IBM and others.
Acrobat.com also offers My Files, a file-sharing organizer and storage space. Users can browse documents by author, file type, alphabetical order, date created, last updated or other filters. Adobe provides 5 gigabytes of storage.
Acrobat.com also features online PDF conversion for up to five documents, as well as developer APIs for collaboration, file sharing and conversion.
So people don't get the notion that Acrobat.com is a completely siloed suite from Adobe's other products, Adobe anticipates users of the new Acrobat 9 can use Acrobat.com as a central location for sharing forms and collecting forms data, conducting shared reviews and co-navigating a PDF document with colleagues.
IDC analyst Melissa Webster noted Adobe has clearly made big strides shaping these offerings since it acquired Virtual Ubiquity, which made the Buzzword word processor. Moreover, she said Acrobat ConnectNow was in beta for awhile as Brio, and Adobe has had "Create PDF Online" for a few years.
"What's new here is these products are coming together in a cohesive set of online services, with common branding and user experience," Webster told eWEEK. "What's special about Adobe's offering is the integration with Connect and PDF creation -- it's not just about sharing documents, but also the collaborative process of actually creating them."
All About Brand
RWW's Perez notes that Google Apps and Microsoft's Office Live Workspace could learn a thing or two about Adobe's use of the Web to maximize its core products. She praised the Acrobat.com suite for its integration with Acrobat 9 and Adobe's AIR, PDFs, Flash and Flex to provide a cohesive brand experience.
However, brand may be the operative word here and Adobe's biggest challenge versus its rivals.
While Microsoft is synonymous with desktop software and Google is known for search and hosted apps, Adobe is more known as a document creation specialist and as a rich Web platform provider than it is as an online productivity and collaboration software.
It's taken Google a few years to grab that mantle, and both Microsoft and now Adobe are racing to catch up.
But if Adobe can wow customers and spread virally via word of mouth, it will become a true Web collaboration software challenger, not just another option on today's bloated hosted apps menu, which includes Zoho, Salesforce Content and a swath of point tool providers.