Here's where the posturing meets reality. Almost. I just saw four demos at the Office 2.0 conference, showing how new online products can enhance the way we really work. The upshot: It's all good, baby...if you have a lot of time to wait for your apps and data to come over the network.
First up, Sharemethods, showing a "multiway mashup," combining several online tools, including Google, Salesforce.com, iNetWord, and Thumstacks. It was an impressive display of how you can mush different online applications together--a word processor, a presentation tool, sales management, and other tools. This demo reminded me of a Microsoft pitch: a made-up company doing tasks that were invented to show off technology. Realistically, most companies will start with smaller projects.
Still, the demo shattered one of my big misconceptions: That it is nearly impossible to get online productivity tools from different vendors to work together. Enterprises, it turns out, can make mashups, too.
Up next: iNetOffice, which makes an online word processor, iNetWord, designed to be mashed into other applications. It's a great pitch for business technologists wondering how they're going to apply Web 2.0 technologies to their careers.
T.J. Kang took over to show us ThinkFree, which I've referenced quite a bit in the past few posts. The company makes an impressive online office suite. At the conference, T.J. started by showing a request he received in Gmail...but wait! Gmail is down for him. So much for online productivity.
Gmail came back in a minute and T.J. proceeded with his demo. I really like ThinkFree, but network slowness really made the demo drag. T.J.'s request to the audience, "It would probably help if you all stopped using the network," points out one of the biggest weaknesses with Office 2.0.
Next up: Zoho's Sridhar Vembu. Zoho also makes online productivity suites and today is announcing Zoho Virtual Office. "Our servers are swamped," Sridhar says. Uh-oh. And like ThinkFree, Zoho was taking too much time to load demo pages, like a spreadsheet of an employee appraisal. Nonetheless, the demo did show some cool capabilities, like how one spreadsheet can update another.
And here's gOffice, which is--surprise--another online suite. gOffice is "just me," presenter Kevin Warnock said. It's a very impressive effort for a one-man show, but it doesn't have the features or integration of the other apps. It's not even full WYSIWYG. Warnock focused his efforts on output. Basically, gOffice is the front end to the LaTeX typesetting tool. If you need professional typesetting, check it out. Otherwise, as Kevin says, the other apps offer users much more. Kevin is, in fact, trying to figure out what to do with his company. If you have ideas, look him up.
Last up, Joyent's David Young. Joyent offers not just online apps, but an XDrive-like online storage system. See my previous coverage of this suite. Announced at the conference, a new program called Jill's Team that places an assistant--an actual person, starting at $450 a month--on your team. This person will work with your team over the phone and the Web and do assistant-like things, such as ordering lunch and looking into travel options. Because, you know, Office 2.0 goes only so far.