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3/27/2007
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Next-Generation Desktop Applications Linked To Web

Microsoft hosts a day of startups looking to alter the productivity software landscape and position their products as the harbingers of Office 2.0.

Next-generation Web applications, sometimes referred to as Office 2.0, allow two-way conversations between a company and customer or an employee seeking to interact with a mainframe-style enterprise system.

At a recent coming-out event, several emerging companies showed off their wares and, in the process, offered a glimpse of what a more advanced round of desktop applications might look like.

The airing took place before a roomful of fellow startup staffers and venture capital investors fittingly, perhaps, on Microsoft's Silicon Valley campus in Mountain View, Calif. Many of these Web applications don't scheme to replace Microsoft Office so much as draw users into new Web-based functionality that Office currently doesn't supply. And once the evolution is under way, they'll seek either to remain closely synchronized with Microsoft Office or go for broke and try to offer features and functionality that lures users away.

The event was "Office 2.0, Why It Matters," sponsored by the International Business Development Network, a group encouraging communication and skills exchange. Companies were invited from Australia, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Austria, and North America. Microsoft, at the IBD Network's invitation, supplied a judge for one of the sets of presentations.

One of the startups was InvisibleCRM. "Don't change the way people work; change the software," said CEO Vlad Voskresensky. That's what his company, InvisibleCRM, is trying to do. A dirty little secret, he explained, is that salespeople don't like to learn complicated CRM software, and if they don't like it, they won't use it to their own advantage.

InvisibleCRM looks like a Microsoft Outlook e-mail environment that sends information to the host CRM system. It will "bridge the gap" between e-mail and a Salesforce.com, Amdocs, SugarCRM, NetSuite, or EMC Documentum applications, making it easier for the sales force user to capture information. "We never compete with the CRM vendors or Microsoft," explained Voskrensenky.

By substituting his company's user interface and CRM data capture, "your users will fill the system with data." And if they don't do that willingly, your CRM system will decline in value for the lack of good data. A trial version is available for download.

Scrybe is an online calendar application with added features -- to do lists, contact lists, and Web links. As an Adobe/Macromedia Flash application, Scrybe also works when you're disconnected, allowing you to make calendar entries or move appointments around, then sync up the changes the next time you're online.

A three-judge panel liked the intuitive and fluid user interface, as well as Scrybe's ability to cross time zones around the globe and still get everybody's meeting time right.

Also, Faizan Buzdar, founder and CEO of Scrybe, pointed out that the user has the option of printing out a calendar page in a size that fits his shirt pocket or wallet. It's also adding the option of both e-mail and cell phone alerts for reminders. "People are screaming they want both," he noted.

Scrybe's demo on YouTube attracted 75,000 viewers three months ago, and many asked for the chance to sample a beta version. Judges criticized Scrybe for keeping them waiting as it added more features. Get the pilot out there, suggested Rob Hayes of the venture capital firm First Round Capital.

Andrzej Kowalski, CEO and co-founder of Time Search, maker of Calgoo, said a good calendar application needs to work offline and it also needs to work with other calendars. Calgoo is an application layered on top of Google Calendar, where it stores and shares your information with designated friends, family members, and co-workers. It works with Microsoft Exchange, iCal, Google Calendar, and Google Apps. "Shared calendaring is expensive and usually only available at larger companies. Even if you get it through a larger company, it's still only available at work," said Kowalski.

Calgoo requires a download and installation of client software to perform its functions, and that drew a complaint from one of the judges. "I couldn't download it. It may just be one instance where it didn't work," said Jonathan Rochelle, product manager of Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Calgoo is in its public beta and available for download.

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