Posted by: rosler28 | July 17, 2007

Zoho: Office Innovators

In recent posts I’ve gone into some detail with the office applications from Google and Dabbledb and never really done any justice to online office apps created by Zoho. I’ve been using Zoho on and off now for over a year. Zoho provide all the apps necessary to run a business, from the word processor and spreadsheet to CRM, netmeeting, team chat. In total they have 12 different office apps available all integrated into a single sign on. Zoho at the moment provide the most comprehensive online office suite available to the market.

In terms of base functionality I currently see little difference between Google Apps and Zoho. Which given Google’s huge resources is a testament to the tenacity and dedication that Zoho have. Zoho are always conscious to please the user and developer community, they are responsive to questions and are active in promoting their software throughout the industry via sponsorships etc.

Given the competition (Google and Microsoft) and the nature of the IT industry to push out smaller players real questions are being asked about Zoho’s business model and by implication their long term future. Raju’s response to the excellent Techrepublic article outlining the challenges provides me with confidence that Zoho management know a clear way forward. Raju makes clear that Zoho can be a niche player along side the bigger players in the market, I like this attitude and I think they have a three areas where they could really push and gain traction.

Zoho Creator

I love applications that can provide the simple computer user like me the ability to out smart big system integrators and software providers. Zoho Creator (ZC) is one such application. Zoho Creator provides the user the ability to create all kinds of data mashups that business use on a daily basis. It’s a similar application to Dabbledb I guess, in that it can help make spreadsheets redundant. Most businesses today rely on complex spreadsheets for a whole range of functions and Zoho Creator could blow the spreadsheet away from Enterprise use. My only concern about Zoho Creator at the moment is the complexity of the scripting required to do relatively complex applications. I’d love to run an online Madden league for example and I know Zoho Creator could power all the scheduling and stats but I can’t really get past the deluge script to run the calculations on tables and results.

Nevertheless Zoho Creator is a great basis and something which neither Microsoft or Google come close to at the moment.

Facebook Integration

A great marketing move by Zoho was to integrate Zoho apps into Facebook, just a great idea. Although the functionality is a bit limited at the moment if Zoho could become the choice of office app within Facebook that would provide a huge captive market for Zoho.

Launch a Zoho Office Appliance – get over Security concerns

I recently wrote that the Google acquisition of Postini will currently have little effect on the medium to large enterprise as they are not in the least bit interested in hosting core office applications over the internet, especially when they are paying millions of dollars a year in buying secure IP VPN networks that run totally private applications. I don’t see this trend changing for the foreseeable future, there are too many concerns over security, compliance and network performance. My solution then is for Zoho (or anyone else for that matter) to launch a fully packaged application server hosted within either a Telco’s core IP VPN network or a customer’s own data centre. Software as a Service providers seem reluctant to do this but Microsoft and Cisco understand the enterprise market better than anyone else and they both sell their core products as bundled appliances sat within the heart of the enterprise private network. The advantages of embedding an application appliance in a private network are:

  1. Security concerns are greatly reduced, the data can no longer leak over the internet.
  2. The enterprise would be in sole control of its data, unlike today where the application provider has the data stored on central servers.
  3. Compliance would actually improve because all documents would be stored on the central server.
  4. Application performance can be monitored and if needed guarenteed over networks that support end to end quality of service.

In Summary

Keep innovating Zoho and I agree there is opportunity out in the Enterprise software market for smaller innovators, oh and if you’d like to launch a Zoho Appliance let me know. I have access to about 500 Enterprise customers and a fair share would love to take a look.

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Posted by: rosler28 | July 16, 2007

Great example of Enterprise 2.0 in action

I’ve been a long time admirer of Ismael Ghalimi’s Office 2.0 blog charting the rise of web2.0 applications that are suited perfectly for use in the Enterprise. His recent post on the software his company/team use to organise the up and coming Office2.0 conference is one of the best documented examples of how new technology can help generate real value for a business. The post highlights a classic case of system integration but with brand new applications. The result is a fantastic case study on how to organise a conference providing users new experience with the added bonus of reduced costs and increased productivity for the conference organisers.

This brings me to think that there are real opportunities for a new type of system integrator who works specifically with the latest software. Will we see anyone able to develop a product and business offering web2.0 technology to the Enterprise market or will the incumbents be able to assimilate new technologies into their existing portfolio?

In a previous post I alluded to the fact that perhaps IT departments should evaluate running an Asterisk box and a Cisco Callmanager (CCM) together within their infrastructure even if it’s for a short time. Through this article I’ll argue that installing an Asterisk box is a relatively simple thing to do and why having an Asterisk box is crucial to building the business case before the start of a wider voip roll out.

First off an IT department can have an Asterisk install up and running in a couple of hours

Ever heard of an IT department without the following: a spare Pentium 4 desktop lying about that is no longer used, a CD burner and a member of staff who likes installing new software with an afternoon to spare? IT departments should have no excuse then not to install an Asterisk box when even contemplating moving to voip.

It’s not even difficult to find a rock solid Asterisk install with simple howto instructions. Nerd Vittles have been running fantastic articles over the past couple of years and they provide a great step by step install procedure for the installation of the Trixbox Asterisk product. Neither Trixbox nor Nerd Vittles have the marketing look of a Cisco or an IBM but don’t be fooled, the combination of software from Trixbox and documentation by Nerd Vittles provides as good a service by any blue chip IT vendor.

Ok so now you’ve decided on the software and you have it up and running what are the first benefits of having an Asterisk box in your infrastructure.

You now have a voip Test Lab before your business has spent significant capital on a voip solution

An Asterisk box provides the ideal test lab. When evaluating whether to move to voip your business should demand a number key questions. What will be the impact on the network, how will users react to the phones, what will be the support procedures look like, Asterisk will help you provide these answers.

How any IT department could build a Return on Investment business case without having the figures on how voip will impact network infrastructure is beyond me. Sure the vendors provide figures which I’m sure are as accurate as can be but we all know that sometimes the tech spec and the real world diverge. Install the Asterisk platform, (physical phones aren’t even necessary) download an excellent client from Counterpath and run some tests. By placing a packet capture on the network you will be able to see how you network copes with real voip traffic. Asterisk and Counterpath software will even allow you to change codecs so you have the variables in your business case. The Trixbox install even has a basic built in traffic graphing software.

Asterisk will work with a whole range of SIP compliant phones, including the latest Cisco devices. So you could buy a number of phones from Cisco, Polycomm, Grandstream etc and give them all a try. You could even mix and match and if you do eventually decide to go with a CCM your Cisco phones wont be wasted.

Finally (for now) by having a voip box in your network you can test out your support procedures. You can document and prove to the business that you’ve mitigated a huge risk by already ironing out what would happen in the case of a phone not working. Of course you can do this by buying a system and then developing the procedures before any role out. But I think this point gets to the root of this first article. Asterisk allows an IT department to become accustomed to having voip in the infrastrucutre and provides real evidence to be placed in a business case before any senior execitives make decisions on moving to a voip platform. An Asterisk test lab provides the IT department and its managers with credibility to the wider business and real facts to senior management, now I think those things are priceless to a business.

Watch out for further articles in this series including:

  • Using Asterisk as a backup and or PSTN breakout
  • Using Asterisk as a development for new services such as collaboration, video conferencing and remote working
  • Using Asterisk to prevent one vendor lock-in

Another day, another Google Enterprise purchase and yet further proof that the Google Juggernaut is heading full steam ahead for Microsoft’s enterprise market. This time Google are buying technology to provide business a comfort level that using a hosted service provides the security and legal requirements placed on IT departments throughout the world.

I have to be honest I’m not convinced that many medium to large scale businesses will be bowled over by this purchase. I think the corporate firewall is still the key defining perimeter within a medium to large scale IT infrastructure. Anything within the firewall is considered secure anything sitting outside of the firewall is treated with high degrees of scepticism – especially anything application related. I know the ASP model has some traction especially within North America but it’s a model rarely chosen by large business.

The vast majority of large business purchase totally secure IP VPN networks or build IPSec secured networks around the public Internet, either way they rarely allow corporate data to be hosted on public infrastructure such as Google’s servers. So I see a couple of alternatives for Google:

  1. Wait for the IT industry to declare all networks, even IP VPN as fundamentally unsecure and therefore all applications require a different security mechanism other than the network hardware they sit on or behind. This may be some form of token or fingerprint in combination with a secure browser.
  2. Extend the Google Appliance functionality from search into all other Google Enterprise products, allowing large business to reap the functionality of Google Apps behind their own firewall. I think business would be extremely open to having a Google Applicane providing, search, office apps, maps, gtalk, gmail etc etc in a single box allowing corporate users to gain access to the apps on the private network.

Until either 1 or 2 occurs don’t expect to see many large corporates take up Google Apps. Small Business by the way is a different story, they have far fewer concerns on security and frankly have no desire to host their own software and hardware if a company such as Google offers to take all their IT related headaches away.

Posted by: rosler28 | July 8, 2007

Google Maps API Geocoder open to the UK

Google announced a couple of days ago that the Google Maps API will now geocode UK addresses. This is great news for the UK community which constitutes a big part of the wider Maps API community. I’d love to know what brought about the change. Was it Ed Parsons who recently moved from Ordnance Survey to Google or could it have been the power of Tom Steinberg and Ed Mayo’s excellent ‘Power of Information’ review, maybe Google just decided to pay the money for the Royal Mail licence…it could well be a combination. End result is improved features for Map API community and ultimately the UK users, so applause to those all involved.

This just means I need to take a look at my part time project over at Halton One, I’ve neglected it for a few months and I now I have the excuse I need to re-acquaint myself with the Google Maps API.

While voip may still not be lining the pockets of IT vendors with gold the technology is still one of the largest drivers of growth within the network infrastructure market. Given that Cisco are the largest company in the network equipment market they are getting their fare share of voip enabled PBX business. Cisco’s Call Manager has been in the market place for around five years but in the past year the product has gone through a number of significant changes:

  • CCM 5 has moved from a Microsoft platform to Linux (CCM 4.3 is still windows based but all future develop will be Linux)
  • They’ve moved away from the proprietary Cisco SCCP protocol to a standards based SIP build on the server and all their phones
  • Finally and perhaps with less meat on the bone at the moment John Chambers is trying to drive Cisco into the collaboration and social networking space and I’d assume CCM is a core element of the strategy.

Many companies are currently merging their telecoms department into their IT department. When a PBX replacement is sort by a business it now seems to be the IT department that holds sway. This is good news for Cisco given that they are so dominant in Enterprise IT the natural fit for a new PBX is the Callmanger.

But should IT Departments be so quick to implement the full Cisco solution? Check back over the next day or so to see where Call Manager and an Asterisk/Trixbox combination can work in harmony and provide significant benefits.

Posted by: rosler28 | July 4, 2007

Linkedin v Facebook: the generation divide

It’s pretty clear that Facebook and Linkedin will soon be fighting over the same internet territory. While at the moment Linkedin concentrates on business relationships and Facebook lends itself to friendship management there will be a time when Facebook will target more specifically the business market – if they don’t I’m sure some developer will in the Facebook system.

Currently Linkedin and Facebook signify a generational divide. Generally speaking those in their teens and twenties use Facebook, those in their thirties and above use Linkedin. Challenges for both systems:

  • Linkedin has to find a way of giving more functionality to the free service. The graded service model is standard marketing 101 but when there is a free alternative that is easier to use Linkedin has a problem.
  • Facebook has to be more relevant for business users. At the moment the site is geared for social not business networking, I’d suggest Facebook create a specific business section. Soon enough most of the college students will want to shift from social to business networking and if Facebook don’t adjust they may see slippage to Linkedin.

So challenges for both services to face, one final comment why isn’t there any buzz about Ecademy? If I were to compare Ecademy, Facebook and Linkedin I’d say Ecademy currently has the best platform which manages to straddle social and business functionality. Sure it’s not perfect but this is another example of an application that provides similar functionality to other so called ‘hot’ applications yet receives almost no buzz on the blogosphere, not sure why this is the case?

Please don’t take this as a negative post but my favourite business application of all time Dabbledb has been down for a good few hours now. I’m sure the guys are working hard to bring the service back up but for me this just goes to show how important it is for Dabbledb to quickly find a home at a large internet company such as Google/Microsoft/Cisco. My personal preference would be to have Dabbledb rolled into Google Apps.

For those not accustomed to Dabbledb the software provides the most powerful online data manipulation tool that I’ve ever seen. Show me a business that uses spreadsheets to hold data or as part of work process flows (reporting, order forms etc etc) and I will guarantee Dabbledb will transform their business in immeasurably positive ways. It just kind of irks me that more people don’t know about and use the service.

In fact for anyone viewing out there who doesn’t believe me, send me over a spreadsheet and I’ll put it into Dabbledb and I’m willing to bet you’ll never look at Excel in the same loving way again.

Posted by: rosler28 | July 2, 2007

Google aquire Grandcentral

Techcrunch had the scoop on Google’s acquisition of Grandcentral a couple of weeks ago but the deal was finally announced today. This is could be a fascinating acquisition made by Google. We all know Google are trying to attack Microsoft’s Office Apps with Google Docs and Spreadsheet but are they with this purchase looking to role Gtalk/Grandcentral into a collaborative platform that takes on both Microsoft’s Office Communication Server and Cisco’s Call Manager? If so this is a really aggressive move by Google into the nextgen office software battle.

The official Google blog can be found here. But for me the key quote is:

“We think GrandCentral’s technology fits well into Google’s efforts to provide services that enhance the collaborative exchange of information between our users.”

It’s been kind of a quiet time for Gtalk but with Grandcentral on board lets see if Gtalk gains any more traction and publicity over the coming months.

Posted by: rosler28 | June 30, 2007

Nokia E61i : browser and apps

There is rightly a great deal of attention being paid to the iphone launch over the past couple of days/weeks. Read/Write Web are asking iphone users how the latest web apps work on the iphone. Check out the page here.

I’ve been meaning to update how the browser on the e61i has performed over the last few weeks, in general while the performance probably won’t stand up to the iphone’s safari browser the nokia’s browser does do a good job for most web sites. His a quick run down of the sites I use on a regular basis.

Standard websites I view on a regular basis such as the BBC and a few other forum based sites work fine and importantly do not default to the restricted mobile site versions.

On-line Office

Google Apps is not currently available on the nokia.
Zoho Writer also comes up as unsupported.
Zoho Sheet however does load but I only have the default memory in the phone and I received a memory limitation error message.
Gmail works as an application although can be used via the browser.

Dabbledb works well.

Other Google Services

Google Reader works well.
Google Calendar also works fine.
Google Maps can be viewed as an app, simply browse to the google mobile app by pointing the nokia browser here once installed google maps works well.

Video

The default youtube home page does not work however if you browse to m.youtube.com the browser does display the option to open videos in Real Player. I tried a few videos and they failed to load, this may again be due to the memory limitations.
Google Video did seem to go ok until I hit memory limits again.

Summary

In general the nokia browser does a good job, certainly a big improvement on the Windows Mobile 5 browser on my old HTC device. While I’m on the train I can keep up the latest news from BBC and view my google reader feeds which is a good start but to maintain pace with iphone and other devices I’d imagine nokia will have to keep improving the functionality. Specifically lack of Flash player hurts the nokia browser, I believe the symbian build only supports Flash <4, if so this needs to be updated because Flash is a crucial part of the new media on the web. Also to view the media rich apps that the phone can support make sure you have a SD micro card installed. With the default memory they just won’t work.

I’ll keep updating this page as I think of other web apps I use.

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