by Jeff MacIntyre
What’s that rumbling beneath the banner of Web 2.0? It’s the start of a steady mass migration away from the dusty boxes of yesteryear’s software and powerful desktop PCs to feature-rich, anytime, anywhere Web tools on lightweight PCs and mobile devices that are changing the way we think and use applications. Is Writely the Microsoft Word of tomorrow? More people are storing their data—e-mail, media, contacts—in “the cloud,” so why not use a web-based calendar (Kiko), spreadsheet (iRows), productivity suite (Zimbra), or whole GUI (Goowy)? DigitAll talked to the top players in the field, as well as Techcrunch pundit Michael Arrington, to check out the scene and its wide-ranging implications. Are these would-be Office killers ready for prime time—or just hopped up on too much Web 2.0 hooey?

Satish Dharmaraj

// Ten years ago they called this concept the network computer—now the idea has come of age. All the power of the application has shifted to the server. Today we are truly delivering all the power of applications via the browser.

// Everyone recognizes the value of getting out of the desktop software lifecycle. The idea of the transferable desktop is changing the game.

// Our pain point? It’s the cost of support for fat clients that IT departments need to support and the lack of web-based applications rich enough to compete with Outlook. On the server side we’ve been able to provide a framework for anything that has a Web service: CRM, ERP, customer invoices, travel systems, flight trackers, stock trading systems—now they can all talk with other data sources. No more islands of applications, operating separately!

// A suite provides a unitary user experience, regardless of your OS. That’s our primary point of differentiation—our integration: one single place to access all our information.

// Frankly, speed to market is our primary competitive advantage: We’re two to three years ahead of everyone interested in developing a next-generation collaboration platform.

// We recently announced our plans to work on an AJAX-based document framework, We’ve now created a spreadsheet and word processor. Whereas Zimbra looked to provide a Web-based alternative to Outlook, our next frontier is to create and share documents using the browser, rather than fat applications like Office.

// We’re on the cusp of a huge shift in computing models. And the richest applications of all will be Web applications.

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Satish Dharmaraj,

Think of Zimbra as the sweeter suite. Using much of the functionality you’ll find in Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird, Zimbra is an open source, open standards bundled application for e-mail, calendar, contacts, and messaging. Reviewers raved about its good looks and zippy performance when it was first released, but now that the cat is out of the bag, bigger competitors are on their way with similarly flashy offerings. (Can you say Microsoft Outlook Live?) But Dharmaraj isn’t scared. Zimbra was first, he is quick to point out, and he has no intention of losing his position at the top of the pole.