Continuing its insurrection against desktop computing, media sharing and storage start-up TransMedia on Tuesday plans to introduce online word processing and calendaring software.
The New York company is adding two hosted applications, Glide Write and Glide Calendar, to the 13 online environments that constitute its Glide Effortless service.
The proliferation of online productivity applications now offered by Glide, Google, JotSpot, and others is beginning to have an impact on the way work gets done. A forthcoming survey of medium and large businesses from JupiterResearch indicates that 6% of companies with 100 or more employees say they use a Web-based productivity suite, and 9% say they plan to expand access across their workforce in the next 12 months.
Perhaps more ominously for Microsoft--the incumbent with the desktop empire to protect--JupiterResearch analyst Joe Wilcox says recent consumer surveys indicate that about 75% of home users have no plans to purchase a new productivity suite.
Launched last November, Glide Effortless offers a mixture of file sharing, social networking, and online storage that's similar in some respects to both MySpace and Apple's .Mac service. Because the browser-based service relies on a Macromedia Flash interface, it functions equally well on Mac and Windows platforms, not to mention a growing number of Windows Mobile 5 and Java-based mobile phones like Motorola's vowel-deprived Razr and Slvr, the Sony Ericsson W600i, and the Treo 700W.
Linux users can also use the service and its software, though Glide Link, the desktop program that syncs local files with online versions, isn't yet available for Linux. The company plans to provide an API and sample source code to the developer community in September for developing a Linux-based sync app.
Since opening its doors, Glide has grown to over 200,000 members, according to CEO Donald Leka, who notes that "those are big numbers" in light of the company's decision to require a credit card number for identity verification for even its free accounts.
Synchronization, says Leka, is a key benefit of Glide's new software, which features the ability to sync contacts, events, and documents so that they're available on any PC or mobile phone that's supported. "We're doing what Microsoft can't do," Leka says, referring to Microsoft's decision to drop its PC-to-PC sync feature from the initial release of its forthcoming Windows Vista operating system.
Leka is similarly dismissive of Google's efforts. "Google Calendar is cute, but it doesn't integrate with anything," he says. "Google is still building widgets and trying to connect them after the fact."
Glide Calendar syncs automatically with Apple iCal and Microsoft Outlook calendars. TransMedia says it will add Yahoo CSV support in July.
Glide Write can import and edit most major word processing formats, including HTML, Microsoft Word, text files, and RTF. OpenOffice support is planned for July.
Despite decades of spirited challenges, Microsoft Word, part of the Microsoft Office suite, remains the dominant word processing application in the world. Competitors have been multiplying, particularly online, but they're unlikely to have much impact on the business market in the near term.
"Microsoft's bread and butter is the business market," says Wilcox. "The thing with the business market is that it's very conservative and risk-averse. When something's in, it isn't swapped out easily."
Anil Dash, VP of blogging software company Six Apart, gives Microsoft at least another decade with Office. "Writely and Word each enhance the value of the other, but they're for completely different purposes," he writes via e-mail. "Kids in junior high write their papers in Word from the Student version of Office, so we're at best 10 years from the workforce including a significant number of employees who had their primary word processing experiences happen with an online app."
Dash says desktop apps continue to offer obvious benefits: the ability to work offline and responsiveness that's not dependent on the performance of distant servers or network traffic. Then there's the issue of trust.
"I think there's something a little deeper behind people's attachments to desktop productivity software," he writes. "Documents created in Word are often lengthy, involved efforts, ones that people put a lot of investment into. The combination of browsers and AJAX applications isn't yet a platform that most people trust."
But Glide, Writely, and the rest of the rebels against the desktop have an ace in the hole: users' long-frustrated desire to access applications and data from any location. "What I think will happen here is, over time, the increased mobility [of workers] will drive greater demand for online applications," says Wilcox. "As mobility increases, there's greater demand for access to information anywhere, anytime, on anything. Right now, there are some serious limitations with the current software model meeting those demands."