Do Google ads belong on a company desktop?

Spiceworks applies so-called Web 2.0 ideas in the business of networking monitoring for small businesses. Image: Desktop ads

A start-up called Spiceworks is testing whether Google ads--commonly seen on blogs and other public Web sites--can finance a software company that sells to businesses.

On Monday, Spiceworks is expected to launch a beta of its namesake software, which monitors the networks of small- and medium-size businesses. Administrators can download the software, install it and get an inventory of what's on their network within a few minutes, according to Scott Abel, founder and CEO of the company.

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To set itself apart from existing providers, Spiceworks designed its product to be very simple to use. And it's free to use, supported by Google ads appearing on the right side of the administration console.

"When we were starting the company (last year), we looked at what you can do for free in the consumer Web, or Web 2.0, world and we see how that's pervading into the enterprise," said Jay Hallberg, vice president of marketing and another founder at the company.

"We think we will see more and more ad-based services in the enterprise," he said.

When an administrator is checking out printers, for example, Google ads relating to printing will appear. Rather than call the ads an annoyance, early users of the program have asked for more categories of ads, Hallberg said.

Although not widespread, software companies are experimenting with the notion of ad-supported software for businesses and consumers.

Seeing the success of Google, Microsoft has built ad-serving software for its Live hosted services and said it will explore the idea of using ads in desktop software. Some companies, such as gOffice, with its hosted productivity applications, are already doing it.

The people at Spiceworks have sought to break with the traditional enterprise software model in other ways as well. Using consumer Web services as a model, Abel said the company is trying to "make managing a network as easy as managing music with iTunes."

It developed the product using Ruby on Rails, a relatively new Web development framework that's gaining popularity, and used AJAX development techniques to create the application's user interface.

In addition, Spiceworks has built a feedback button into the application, which shows users a page with a listing of features. Customers can vote on whether they like a proposed feature, much as Digg.com participants influence an Internet posting's popularity, Hallberg said.

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