Breaking ranks with the 'browser-only' brigade, Adobe is planning to introduces a desktop client to integrate the worlds of web and enterprise applications. Code-named Genesis, it was given its first public airing at last week's Office 2.0 conference in San Francisco. Private pilot trials will be up for grabs in October.
With Genesis, users are able to create workspaces which contain related clusters of applications and data. For example, for sales, they might have a collection of applications already open for each prospect - business intelligence, company information, relevant web pages, sales history, brochures, contracts and so on.
The user creates workspaces by dragging and dropping 'tiles' for the the relevant applications and documents from catalogues straight into the workspace. These catalogues can be public, published by anyone, but typically software publishers and aggregators. Or they can be private, created by the IT department. Tiles include web browsers and a file repository. The company is working on a viewing mechanism which displays file contents without the need to open the application.
Once the workspace is assembled, the user logs in to each application and navigates to where they need to be. The state of open applications persists so that the next time they return to a folder everything is exactly as they left it.
The Genesis desktop software will be free of charge. Users can create workspaces and just get on with this new way of working. Although targeted at enterprise customers, there's nothing to stop individuals using it.
But, it's likely that they'll want to share information with others and this is where the money comes in. Adobe will run a SaaS collaboration service. Teams can subscribe or the organisation can subscribe. In the first case, it's a credit card arrangement with the users determining who belongs and what permissions they're given. In the second case, it's more closely integrated with the corporate directory system. Outsiders, such as business partners, can also be included.
Workspaces can be shared with others, but their access to applications will depend on their own authorisation level. If they are allowed to update application data, this is reflected to all subscribed users. The system has a locking and check-in system to prevent clashes.
In the first instance, Adobe is pushing the value of the system to sales and legal teams in the 'deal room' environment where projects are on fairly long time-scales. As time goes by, additional people are brought into the team and the workspace enables them to get up to speed and access much of what they need to do their work, whether they're support engineers, lawyers or finance folk. One nice touch is that tiles can intercommunicate - a tweak of a graphic can change the underlying information in the provisioning application, for example.
Once signed up to the collaboration service, things like presence indicators, IM, videoconferencing, screen-sharing and whiteboarding become available. Whiteboard sessions can be saved as workspace tiles for future reference. The instant messaging is based on XMPP which means that chat can take place with users on other IM systems. The SaaS element is restricted to synchronisation and real-time collaboration, which means that all workfiles are available to users when they're offline.
It will be a long time, if ever, before all applications live in the cloud and are delivered to the browser. In the meantime, we will be living in a mixed world of enterprise, desktop and cloud applications. With Genesis, Adobe promises to integrate the three worlds, plus collaboration, into a desktop that reflects its classy values when it comes to user interface design.
If you want to put your organisation up for a trial, write to Matthias Zeller at Adobe.com. His email name is matzeller. He was the man that gave the presentation at Office 2.0.