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4/9/2012
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Exo Goes Freemium With Social Intranet Portal

Cloud Workspaces promises a Yammer-like social collaboration service, free to get started with, but backed by mature Java portal technology.

Enterprise Social Networks: A Guided Tour
Enterprise Social Networks: A Guided Tour
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
For a combination of social and document collaboration in the cloud today, with the option of bringing the software on premises tomorrow, the makers of the Exo Platform think they have Yammer, Box, and Jive Software all beaten.

The Exo Platform is a Java portal for enterprise content management that more recently has added social extensions. Backed by a French company, Exo (branded "eXo" in marketing materials) has an established enterprise customer base, particularly in Europe. With Cloud Workspaces, the platform is being offered as a freemium cloud service.

In addition to providing the basis for an instant social intranet, Cloud Workspaces includes a cloud-based integrated development environment that can be used to customize the environment with Java, JavaScript, CSS, and HTML coding, as well as create custom OpenSocial gadgets.

[ Is Bring Your Own Cloud the next unstoppable trend? See If Bono Loves Dropbox, Shouldn't You? ]

Exo is embracing the business model evangelized by Yammer CEO David Sacks and others, which allows businesses to use cloud software for free, indefinitely, with the option to upgrade for access to premium features. Cloud Workspaces is free in its current beta status, but Exo founder and CEO Benjamin Mestrallet said a premium service will be announced later this year.

Freemium services such as Yammer and Box "get good traction from users," but tend to be a source of concern for enterprise IT, security, and compliance groups worried about control over corporate data, Mestrallet said. Jive, on the other hand, provides the option of on-premises deployment, but is "kind of expensive and not architected for freemium cloud services. Between those extremes, there's a big gap we want to fill," he said.

Those companies would all argue with many aspects of this characterization. Yammer and Box are out to prove that their platforms meet enterprise standards of control and security, while Jive is increasingly promoting cloud hosting as an option. Jive also has promised to provide cloud-style self-provisioning of free trials, if not freemium accounts, as part of a new architecture currently in development.

Yet Mestrallet argued Exo is building on a more-solid foundation by incorporating established enterprise Java platform technologies such as the Java Content Repository API for enterprise content management. For social functionality, Exo incorporates Apache Shindig, an implementation of the OpenSocial standard, a set of social media interoperability standards, which means it can incorporate Google Gadgets and other compatible social software widgets. Shindig is one of 10 to 15 open-source products Exo aggregates as elements of its platform. Others include GateIn, a portal framework developed by Red Hat and JBoss.

In contrast, enterprise social networking products from the likes of Jive, Yammer, and Socialcast started with the goal of becoming "Facebook for the enterprise," Mestrallet said. Even though Jive is a Java-based product, "it's not really platform oriented--not coming from the Java platform world." Exo will provide that platform focus for both cloud-based and on-premises deployments, he said.

Whether this will be a winning argument remains to be seen. There are other social software products that emphasize their enterprise content management heritage, such as OpenText Social Workspace.

Alan Lepofsky, a social software analyst with Constellation Research, dismissed eXo as "yet another intranet product in a crowded market." Although it offers all the basic features you would expect in an enterprise social network, along with either cloud or on-premises deployment options, it lacks pre-built connectors to important platforms such as Salesforce.com and SharePoint, he said. "With large software providers such as IBM, Cisco, SAP, Oracle, and Saba now offering social software, it is going to be difficult for smaller vendors to continue to provide enough product differentiation to make them stand out against the more established vendors," Lepofsky said.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard and facebook.com/thebyard

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