WebEx attacks SMB collaboration market with WebOffice

One month after closing its acquisition of Intranets.com, WebEx Communications Inc. is launching an updated, rebranded version of Intranets.com’s hosted collaboration software suite, a move aimed at expanding WebEx’s share of the SMB (small and medium business) market before Microsoft Corp. conquers the space.

Santa Clara, California-based WebEx is doing away with the six-year-old Intranets.com brand. Starting Tuesday, the online suite of document management, project and contacts management, calendaring and database tools will be named WebOffice. The software will retain its current pricing, which starts at US$60 per month for five users. A WebOffice Personal edition intended for single users is priced at $50 per month.

The Intranets.com business unit, which WebEx runs as an independent subsidiary, is being renamed WebExOne.

With WebOffice, WebEx is embedding its Web conferencing service more deeply into the collaboration suite, for an additional add-on fee. It is also launching several new, standalone conferencing products aimed at encouraging users to make online conferencing a routine part of their workday.

Adding WebEx Meetings to WebOffice costs $50 per month per host user, with a five-user minimum. That fee covers unlimited meetings, with up to five attendee participants per meeting. (Additional attendees can be accommodated for a higher fee.) WebOffice Personal’s monthly fee includes one meeting-host license.

WebEx is also launching two standalone products on Tuesday, MeetMeNow and PCNow. MeetMeNow works like a Web conferencing version of instant-messaging systems: The application resides in the system tray of a user’s PC and allows users to launch instant Web conference meetings with a few clicks. It carries a $50 per month price tag. PCNow, priced at $15 per month per PC, lets users access remote computers through a Web browser.

With MeetMeNow and PCNow, WebEx will be going head-to-head against Citrix Systems Inc., which offers similar services with GoToMyPC and GoToMeeting. WebEx’s fiercest rival, however, will be Microsoft, whose Live Meeting and SharePoint collaboration tools are aimed straight at the SMB market that WebEx so covets.

Intranets.com currently has a customer base of 9,000 organizations and 300,000 end users. By making WebOffice simple to deploy and intuitive to use, WebEx hopes to expand its share of the SMB market and become the collaboration provider of choice for small businesses and project teams at larger enterprises, according to Karen Leavitt, vice president of marketing for WebExOne.

IDC analyst Robert Mahowald thinks WebEx has a short window of opportunity in which to extend its Web conferencing dominance into a similar command of the SMB collaboration software market.

“Looking over their shoulder, they see Microsoft with a new version of Office and an on-premises version of Live Meeting coming out next year,” Mahowald said. “[At WebEx], there’s a sense of ‘we’ve got to get ensconced in our customers now.'”

Team collaboration will be a major focus of Microsoft Office 12, which is expected to include deeper SharePoint integration and tools to enable easier Web publishing distribution of documents to colleagues, Mahowald said. Microsoft’s purchase earlier this year of collaboration software maker Groove Networks, whose technology the company plans to incorporate into Office, also indicates its ambitions in the market.

Still, Mahowald thinks WebEx’s WebOffice line is promising — and, whichever vendor they choose, Mahowald expects customers to benefit from the growing availability of robust collaboration tools.

“These combinations of real-time and non-real-time application team suites are becoming more common,” he said. “If people could be convinced to use these products, I think the result would be tremendous productivity gains.”