IT's time to put your head in the cloud!

31st December 2009
IT's time to put your head in the cloud!

Forget physical infrastructure. A virtual office on the Web is the way to go in 2010; and Indian developers – many in Chennai -- are helping to make IT happen – on the ‘cloud’.

The new year’s first major techno-impact, on lay PC users as well as enterprises, may be a bolt from the clouds! Yes, 2010 looks like being the Year of the Cloud-based office.

Cloud computing is generally understood to mean the delivery of common business applications online which are accessed from a web browser, while the software and data are stored on servers ( Wikipedia definition)

What happens with you combine Cloud Computing, with Software as a Service ( SoaS)? The latest ‘avatar’ of these two technologies is a canny combo of Web-enabled services that is being called Office 2.0 or Web Office. This is a suite of common office applications, that resides in the Web, can be accessed from any Internet device – PC, laptop or even a smart phone – and for which you pay-by-use.

Google stepped into this space last year with Google Docs –which allows its registered users, the free use of Web based tools to create, edit and exchange documents in all the most popular formats.

ThinkFree and Zoho are two other popular free online office suites that allow users to work on word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, databases, note-taking and other common tasks. Zoho, (   ),a popular and part- free document suite on the web, is based on Chennai-based innovation.

Microsoft, whose Office suite is unsubtle target of all these offerings, has decided to answer the challenge: it has announced its own Web based office tool -- Microsoft Office Web Apps – for early 2010 launch. This will be an online companion to its flagship products, Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote. For free or fee? It’s not yet clear.

Most of these offerings are as good as they go but a handful of innovative Indian developers have seen an opportunity to create a fuller, web-enabled alternative to the traditional automated office:

The Bangalore-based business systems specialists, Novoally Software has launched a virtual computer system on the ‘cloud’ -- -- for small and medium enterprises, which provides them the power of full-featured enterprise computing without having to invest in costly hardware and software of their own. It includes modules to manage sales, purchase, inventory, accounts and manufacturing and allows users to access their modules securely from any where in the world. Most of the modules need a subscription that starts around Rs 1000, but there is a condensed version called NovoQuick that is free. (  ).

From Chennai, comes another Web office offering, that is arguably the first multilingual cloud computing office tool in India: Owtsar Technology’s i-Cube Office is a clever mix of two services: traditional web hosting, with a company able to establish a web presence under its own name with a full suite of office routine tools -- enquiries, quotations, orders, appointments, human resource management, internal and external communications. I-Cube is particularly powerful for harnessing live chat – the data and documents presented by two users chatting appears side by side, enabling easy collaboration. The application is also available in Chinese and Arabic versions, besides English and Tamil (  )
One Indian-origin developer – Aditi Technologies – is now a global player with a special relationship with Microsoft for 15 years. From its base in Bangalore and multiple offices in the US, Aditi has created a host of products that build on Microsoft’s own tools to offer solutions tailored to each customer’s business needs. Indeed, a team of 400 plus engineers in Bangalore works directly for Microsoft, helping build many of the products that the software giant releases. (  )
The latest virtual office initiative has come jointly from IBM and Canonical, developer of the PC operating system, Ubuntu. Timed to coincide with the launch of Microsoft’s new Windows 7 software, “Smart Work”, is a cloud-based computing package for PCs and laptops that run’s IBM’s own office challenger, Lotus Symphony Suite, on Ubuntu’s Open Source framework. ‘Do IT ‘openly’ – Throw open your ‘windows’!’ is seemingly, the cheeky challenge. (  )
Chennai seems to the epicentre of cloud –based office development. Another developer based in the city, OrangeScape offers what it calls Platform as a Service and typically charges $ 15 per user to host and provide a gamut of office tools on the Cloud. (  ).
Most recently, Tata Teleservices partnered with yet another Chennai player Novatium to offer India’s first cloud computing solution on a mobile broadband device, the Photon Plus USB plug in. (  )

There are many who offer to lead Indian users – both lay customers and enterprises -- to their office of the future. Their paths are different, but it looks like the common destination is the same: the Web – and the outlook en route is...cloudy! And that is good news.
(end) - Anand Parthasarathy / Jan 1 2010

see our video on  the upcoming Microsoft Office web version