Real-Time Collaboration Is Key for Office 2.0

Reporter's Notebook: Vendors say they are struggling to keep up with market demands for enterprise wikis and collaboration tools.

SAN FRANCISCO—The future of work will include real-time collaboration, said officials from Google, Microsoft, SAP and other vendors participating in the kickoff keynote panel Sept. 6 at the Office 2.0 Conference here.

Panel moderator and blogger Om Malik led the panelists in a broad discussion of how the workplace is evolving to become an online workspace, where users work on documents with others and share information in real time via wikis or blogs across multiple devices.

Thats no shocker. But those who attended the opening keynote at the St. Regis Hotel got to hear experts in their field discuss where the office productivity market is heading.

Jonathan Rochelle, product manager for Google Spreadsheets, said collaboration is key for this emerging area. But he also cautioned that the ability to get work done wherever we are will make it hard to separate work from home life.

"I think were faced with the overwhelming choice in all of the things were trying to do in our businesses," Rochelle said.

Malik asked Rochelle how important the ease with which users can collaborate using Google Docs & Spreadsheets is for Googles customers.

Rochelle noted said customers didnt ask for real-time collaboration, but took to it with a passion when Google offered that function in its Apps software. Rochelle also said businesses appreciated that workers were working on one document, not several versions of the same document.

Moreover, with Google Apps, Rochelle said, attachments have gone the way of the dodo bird. "If you send a traditional office attachment at Google, you get berated," Rochelle said. Instead, he said, people just look for links to online versions of documents.

Malik later asked what applications the world can expect to see from this Office 2.0 gestalt.

Steven Aldrich, vice president of strategy and innovation at Intuit, said social networking applications such as MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn will infiltrate the enterprise. "I think something like that inside the enterprise with any combination of collaboration tools can really change the way people do work," Aldrich said.

Malik then deftly directed that question to Richard McAniff, corporate vice president for Microsoft Office, asking him if there was any news he would like to share on behalf of the company. Microsoft dabbles in social networking tools through its Windows Live services software, but the moves have been more about wetting feet than grabbing the market by the horns.


Click here to read more about Microsofts updated Windows Live suite.

"We believe that is an extremely fertile ground," McAniff said. "Clearly, its an area that has tremendous opportunity and ability. If you want to see where we are going, the questions you have to ask are, What is the consumer benefit? What are we doing for the employee? How do we add value to their lives?"

Danny Kolke, CEO of open-source on-demand application specialist Etelos, said this Office 2.0 phenomenon is moving so fast that market wants tools "before were able to deliver it, in many cases," Kolke said. "We cant keep up with the demand. Theres this large sucking sound of the marketplace thats ready and hungry for different ways to do stuff. There is a ton of great apps and more coming everyday. I encourage everyone to innovate."

Dont forget Zoho

Zoho/AdventNet is one of those companies that tend to get lost in the era of Google Apps. But the company has 300,000 users and is cranking out new innovations at a steady clip.


Click here to read why an analyst advises caution for businesses thinking about switching to Google Apps Premier Edition.

To narrow the gap between itself and Google, Zoho Sept. 6 unveiled Zoho Business, which is essentially an integrated suite of Zohos online hosted productivity tools, including word processing, spreadsheet, chat, conference and other tools.

At $40 per user per year (conveniently priced to undercut Googles $50 per user per year), Zoho presents an attractive alternative for those who dont want to go the Google route. So, whats the key difference?

Raju Vegesna, a Zoho evangelist, told me Zohos focus on the enterprise market from the ground up makes it the better choice than Google Apps, which he said is more focused on pleasing consumers than it is enterprise-friendly.

Thinking about ThoughtFarmer

I used JotSpot in a previous life, but I havent seen a whole lot of enterprise wiki action. So I was thrilled to take a peek at ThoughtFarmer, an enterprise wiki made by OpenRoad Communications.

Designed to compete with products from Atlassian Software Systems and Socialtext as a Microsoft-based behind-the-firewall product, ThoughtFarmers interface looks almost like the Google News page.

Ease of use, of course, is a focus of ThoughtFarmer. I watched as CEO Chris McGrath whizzed me through the tags, photos, RSS feeds, e-mail and other bells and whistles of the site.

Those are just a few of the representative companies at Office 2.0. There is no telling how long some of them will be around. No earth-shattering news to report, but there is certainly no shortage of innovation in which to immerse oneself.


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