Microsoft isn't the only company moving its applications online in response to the emergence of the software-as-a-service model exemplified by Google and Salesforce.com. On Nov. 15, a New York-based startup called TransMedia plans to release an integrated suite of consumer media applications that has the potential to radically alter the balance of power among Internet and software service providers.
The software, disclosed in mid-October, is called Glide Effortless. It's a set of 12 applications for content creation, communication, E-commerce, and sharing. The apps are Glide Photos, Glide Music, Glide Video, Glide Docs, Glide AllMedia, Glide Contacts, Glide Calendar, Glide Timeline (Glide's search engine), Glide Mail, Glide Cast (audio, text, and video conferencing), Glide Share, and Glide Shops. Because the apps were developed simultaneously, they work in concert with elegance not evident in other loosely linked software programs like Apple's consumer media applications or Microsoft Office.
Glide is browser-based and thus can be used on the three major PC operating systems -- Linux, Mac, and Windows. The Mac-compatible version is coming Dec. 25. In January, Glide will be available on portable devices such as cell phones. Shortly thereafter, it will run on digital set-top boxes.
The software is available in three plans. The free plan includes Glide Mail, Glide Contacts, Glide Shops, Glide Photos, Glide Music, Glide Video and Glide Docs with 50MB of storage. The standard plan, $4.95 monthly or $49.95 annually, includes all the apps except for video and audio conferencing, with 750 MB of storage. The premium plan, $9.95 monthly or $99.95 annually (which compares favorably Apple's .Mac service), offers all 12 apps and 2 GB of storage.
Available from whom? you might ask. There's the rub. Not only is TransMedia selling Glide to end users, it's also licensing the software to media companies so they can sell it as a branded service. As a result, companies like Comcast, Disney, SBC, and Verizon will have the opportunity to offer an integrated, monetizable service that, at first glance, look significantly more compelling than the offerings from Internet portals like AOL and Internet software services like MySpace.com.
"Media companies and cable companies may be the biggest beneficiaries of Glide Effortless, providing their subscribers with superior online applications and services that are more seamlessly integrated than current offerings from Yahoo or Google," TransMedia CEO Donald Leka explains in an E-mail.
Integration is a key benefit of the software. Glide Mail, for example, has been designed to work with the suite's photo, music, video, document, and streaming environments. It allows users to easily and securely send all sorts of media files, playlists, slideshows, and podcasts to anyone as tiny 5K messages.
Glide's applications are designed to promote viral marketing through drag-and-drop sharing. For example, shared 30-second streaming song snippets include a "Buy Now" button for the purchase of officially sanctioned song files from participating content providers. Leka says his company plans to introduce a service in December geared toward bringing independent artists into the system.
Glide is able to share files securely because the actual files aren't shared. Rather the act of sharing creates streaming browser-based preview files that are transcoded for universal compatibility. This neatly avoids the risk of piracy.
In fact, Leka explains, the system is smart enough to identify copyrighted music that has been uploaded by users into the system. Users can only share secure streaming previews of the files through Glide's integrated, E-commerce enabled, communication environments. Recipients can then legally purchase and download the shared music from an authorized music store. What's more, the system offers an incentive to share in the form of discounts.
Initially, the products available through Glide's E-commerce system will include music, ring tones, chocolate, photo prints, and personalized products. Options are likely to expand as developers avail themselves of the Glide software developer's kit and partners build on the Glide platform.
Whether Glide's approach can break Apple's music monopoly remains to be seen. But the software integrates with Apple's iPod about as well as it can without the company's cooperation. "When you download a music playlist from Glide, it downloads the music files as well as a music playlist that you can drag and drop directly into iTunes and then transfer to your iPod," says Leka, who cites Apple's software apps as an influence on the design of Glide.
While Glide is aimed at consumers, it could see significant adoption inside corporate firewalls, assuming it works as advertised. The suite's communication and collaboration tools, which work equally well on a variety of devices and in a variety of locations -- the office, at home, or on the road -- appear to be well-suited for dispersed workgroup interaction, particularly in light of the built-in access controls and ease of use. Drag-and-drop conferencing and presentation sharing could well wean users from WebEx. And there's no installation required, which is sure to please IT managers.
TransMedia has a lot to prove, but if its software works as well in the wild as it did during a demonstration last week at InformationWeek's San Francisco office, the repercussions could be significant.
First, Glide might make Linux PCs viable for technically unsophisticated users -- they'd just live within the Glide environment. Second, software service providers like AOL, Google, MSN, MySpace.com, and Yahoo, to name a few, might face reinvigorated competition from cable and telecom providers that suddenly have something to offer subscribers beyond increasingly commoditized network bandwidth. Finally, widespread adoption of Glide could further erode the value of Microsoft's desktop dominance.
Those are speculative scenarios to be sure, but stranger things have happened.