Open-Xchange Web Desktop: Apple’s Look Meets SaaS Email
When Open-Xchange CEO Rafael Laguna began his live demo at the company’s partner summit here in Germany, I sank into my seat a little. Single sign-on and a revamped interface are nice for Open-Xchange (OX) open source email users, but it’s not the kind of thing to energize a room full of channel and SaaS partners. But then Laguna got to a live demo of the work-in-progress version of the Open-Xchange Web Desktop, an interface designed to bring any SaaS application into an environment eerily reminiscent of Apple iOS. Here are some details.
Laguna says that with all data in the cloud now anyway, now is the time to begin centralization. Bookmarks and browser tabs are too limiting and too hard to track – what the IT world needs is a way to bring it all together into a dashboard that simulates the desktop experience.
Enter the Web Desktop, which organizes apps like e-mail and calendaring into a grid that will be familiar to any iPhone or iPad user (you even reorganize icons by clicking down on one until they shake). But here’s the intriguing bit: any cloud application that runs in the browser can be added to the launcher. Open-Xchange’s demo launcher had Google Apps, Zoho Apps, and other icons I didn’t immediately recognize, right next to Open-Xchange’s mail and collaboration tools. And they’re preparing single sign-on across apps to go with it.
When an application is launched, it takes up the entire window, though an Open-Xchange navigation banner stays at the top. And to go from your home screen to different apps, just click and drag to the left or right. At the risk of belaboring my point, it looked and felt a lot like an iPad experience in the browser. Note that that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Interestingly, OX is preparing APIs to allow cloud apps to “break the wall” between them. For instance, the Open-Xchange webmail client was able to have attachments open by default in Zoho despite a lack of support by the latter. Down the line, they plan on signing developers to get official integration.
And of course, no Apple, ah, homage would be complete without an app store where ISVs can list and sell their own SaaS products. Just pay and it appears in the launcher. Open-Xchange didn’t go into a lot of detail, and I suspect the finer points and developer deals are still being worked out.
So where does the channel fit in? Well, the reason Apple’s mobile business is so strong is because iOS is a crowd-pleaser, with an intuitive interface and an app store that makes it easy to sell (and upsell) customers on new applications. Web Desktop has the potential gives cloud VARs the ability to package up SaaS apps into attractive packages that are easy for customers to use and understand.
When I first heard Laguna use the words “Web Desktop,” my first thought was about HyperOffice, a SaaS provider that unifies its offerings on a desktop environment that runs in the browser. The difference, though, is that Open-Exchange has cooked up a cloud platform more than a service, and it’ll be interesting to see if it catches on.
Even in this unfinished state, it’s obvious that Open-Xchange has a clear handle on what they want the product to be. The VAR Guy will keep a close eye on Open-Xchange Web Desktop as it heads towards its late 2011 release – and keep reading for additional insights on Web Desktop and other Open-Xchange initiatives from CEO Rafael Laguna himself.