Microsoft's crown jewel, the Office Suite, has been under attack for some time. The latest spate of barbarians to arrive at the gates of Redmond have been web based — Google Office, Zimbra and the like. For the record, my opinion is that these guys are barking up the wrong tree. Despite the proliferation of broadband, connectivity isn't ubiquitous, and the achilles heal of web based solutions is intermittent connectivity. The holy grail for all these guys is a great offline experience and so far nobody has managed to pull it off. Even the highly publicized Google Gears sucked… just a bit less.
That might all change with Adobe AIR. AIR takes the tools that web developers use, and delivers them in a desktop wrapper… outside the browser, across operating systems. Adobe has released a great showcase of the usual suspects, like EBay and Salesforce, but what caught my attention was Communigate Pronto!, an integrated communications suite from Communigate. It looks and feels like a stripped down Outlook 2003.
Pronto integrates email, calendar, voice mail, news, contacts, and media in a single client application. It runs on the desktop, online and offline as well. It's in public beta now, and the team at Communigate have set up a server people to try it out. Warning: it's a beta application on a beta platform (Adobe AIR), and Pronto is still running on AIR beta 1, even though Adobe has just released beta 2. There are still some warts to work out. However, the potential is immediately obvious.
The battle between Adobe and Microsoft over desktop control is beginning. It's going to be won on the basis of applications like these, and not offline versions of EBay.