Office through a browser minimizes server use

While most ISVs are jumping on the cloud computing bandwagon and promoting the software-as-a-service model, a little-known startup is offering an office productivity suite that works through the browser and builds upon an open source product.

ZoooS is making its debut this week at the Office 2.0 conference in San Francisco, marketing its eponymous bundle of word processor, spreadsheet, graphics tools and database. The suite is based on and ZoooS is promising to match about 80 of the open source product’s functionality. Customers will be able to install ZoooS through a Firefox plug-in or as a widget on Opera, Apple’s Safari and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. The applications can then either access an enterprise intranet or run locally on a user’s machine. ZooS will also be available for Google’s recently-announced Chrome browser, the company said.

Hisham El-Emam, ZoooS’s CEO, said the JavaScript-based application suite looks exactly like but is really a port of the application. He said the company’s differentiator is its business model, which eschews subscription-based software-as-a-service through a compute cloud for a US$999 10-client version.

“We do something in between. We offer it as a service, but we try to reduce the communication between the browser and the server as much as we can,” he said. “If you have a larger enterprise environment, the only thing you need is for one server, and the clients only need the browser. Most companies don’t want to store really confidential data in the cloud.”

Although Google’s Chrome has gotten most of the browser market attention this week, El-Emam said Microsoft’s work on Internet Explorer 8, now in its second beta, will be a big boost to his product because it offers the highest level of standards compatibility.

“All the releases for IE are six weeks behind all the other browser releases we have,” he said. “We work first on Mozilla FireFox, then Safari and Opera.”

Forrester Research analyst Sheri McLiesh in Cambridge, Mass., however, suggested that browser options are still a low priority for most firms. “The irony is, many companies haven’t even moved to IE7,” she pointed out.

“Our research shows only 30 per cent of enterprises have switched so far.”

For ZoooS, the browser wars may not mean much in the long term. The company plans to eventually release its code as an open source framework which could be used by other firms to create similar kinds of products. Its intellectual property includes three server-related APIs and a file system.

“If someone wants to write an application like Visio, they can use the APIs to do all the graphic display (work),” he said.

ZoooS also offers a driver set which supports common databases like MySQL, and Oracle 9i. These have two UIs, El-Emam said: one looks like Microsoft Access and the other looks like Filemaker Pro.

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