The Race for the Virtual Workspace

Author: Alex Papanastassiou

– By Brice Le Blevennec –

Is email ‘Out’? Social networks want to follow the Facebook model in the ambition to become full operating systems on the web. So yes, we would be tempted to believe e-mail is on its way out.

But electronic mail continues to receive the thumbs up of the Internet user.
A recent study made by Microsoft indicated that email is still the privileged channel for messages of an official nature. Social networks remain platforms dedicated first and foremost to recreation and private life. The same survey highlighted that only 50% of contacts are shared between the account for e-mail and and the ones for social networks.

So it’s not surprising that big actors of the web continue their cutthroat competition to offer the best tools to manage your daily life. The whole scope is available, from sharing your calendar with colleagues and friends, organizing your inbox content, checking your task list, managing documents to consult whenever you want…

On this market, all the giants of the Internet are competing:

  • Google and Gmail:  flagships of the office suite Google Apps. Gmail also plays an important role in Android, the operating system the search engine giant wants to impose n in the mobile’s world.
  • Microsoft and Hotmail, that finally opened up to other social platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
    Outlook recently chose the same course.
  • Apple and MobileMe, successors of .Mac and iTools. Steve Jobs described MobileMe as Exchange for the rest of us, which clearly shows the ambition of the brand with the shining apple in this field.

But we also discover smaller actors:

  • Zimbra is a collaborative suite first bought by Yahoo!, then by VMware at the beginning of the year. This service is commercialized both as open-source and as a closed-circuit in its commercial version.
  • ContactOffice is a Belgian company active in the virtual workspace segment for over ten years. Belgium can be proud that one of its companies, long before others, had the vision to bet on the emergence of new nomad users, even before high-speed and wireless were topics you heard about. In its last evolution, ContactOffice offers an interface completely in Ajax, nearly identical to the one you commonly find installed on the hard disk of a computer.

On this extremely competitive market, all companies continuously innovate, in order to offer the most fluent and flexible user experience. A state of the art service must offer for example ActiveSync, a protocol invented by Microsoft in 1996 that lets the users synchronize information (calendar, tasks, messages…) between their mobile device and their computer. Besides Microsoft, Google and Apple have also opted for this standard. They will soon be joined by ContactOffice.

The underlying stakes of this fight are immense. To become the reference of private users, SME’s in the field of cloud computing, … It’s the grail, creating a fundamental movement with thousands of applications migrating towards gigantic data centers. Here, software from now on is available on demand, like water or electricity.

In that new landscape, a key question remains unanswered: who will be the master of the data in the clouds?

gallery image