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Software as a service is making its way deeper into businesses large and small via email, productivity, and collaboration applications. SaaS lets IT replace hardware investments, software licenses, and administrator time with a monthly per-user subscription fee, which can reduce total cost of ownership while freeing IT to focus on business-specific service development.
But these savings are hollow if browser-based SaaS productivity apps can't replicate the capabilities of a conventional client. And in fact, it's not necessary to fully embrace browser-based apps to enjoy many of the cloud's benefits.
Browser Vs. Thick Client
SaaS applications have three main advantages: They're easy to deploy, require minimal or no maintenance, and have a low capital cost. In a sign of how much the online software market has matured, a majority of respondents to our 2011 InformationWeek SaaS Survey rate the performance and reliability of these applications as good or better than in-house alternatives.
Google led the charge into SaaS-based productivity apps with Google Apps, building on its Gmail franchise to create the Google Apps for Business suite. Microsoft countered with a SaaS offering that meshes its thick Office client with online versions of its communication and collaboration products. While these two battle for market dominance, other players, including Adobe, Apple, and Zoho, have wedged their way into spaces left by the giants.
Google hopes the advantages of SaaS will help it land customers for its suite, which is based on a version of Gmail that's private and can be branded--using your own domain name, for example--along with the Talk (IM and VoIP) and Calendar clients. These apps are paired with authoring and collaboration tools under the Google Docs and Sites banner. Docs includes the standard productivity tools: word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software, and vector drawing program. Although Google natively stores documents in its own formats, the apps support all the latest Microsoft Office formats as well as standards like ODF, PDF, HTML, and RTF for import and export.
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