Google, others gearing up to introduce office apps

Online conferencing, collaborative Web applications on tap at Office 2.0

If you're looking for new workplace collaboration tools, keep your eye on the Office 2.0 Conference in San Francisco this week. Google launched Docs & Spreadsheets at last year's conference, and some observers expect Google to release new wiki and presentation applications in the next day or so.

Google confirmed its new presentation tool is on the way, but wouldn't say if it will come out this week. Vendor Persony used the Office 2.0 platform this week to unveil a Web conferencing service, and Coghead introduced a set of prebuilt collaborative Web applications for small businesses, called Business Essentials, which includes asset tracking, project management, a recruiting manager to organize the hiring process better, a company directory, sales lead management, employee time-off trackers, and activity dashboards.

Coghead specializes in tools that let nonprofessional developers create Web-based applications. Because Business Essentials is prebuilt, users can modify its applications. "They can be completely customized and people can add their own applications into their account," says Paul McNamara, Coghead's CEO. Business Essentials starts at US$49 per month for five users.

Also at Office 2.0, Persony launched a new version of its Web- and videoconferencing service that lets customers host conferences using standard Web servers.With Web Conferencing 2.0, "anybody can host their Web conferences using their own Web site. Web servers and Web sites are a commodity, so your hosting costs are very low," says Persony founder and CEO Eric Chen. The previous version required every meeting moderator to download a desktop program. With this week's upgrade, a customer puts the software on its Web server, and individual moderators don't have to download anything before starting a meeting.

Persony charges one-time license fees starting at $199 per moderator. Some Persony customers are resellers, which then charge monthly fees to their Web-conferencing customers. "We also have enterprise customers who are licensing our solution, so they can host it on their intranets, behind their firewall, for internal communication," Chen says.

Office 2.0 organizers expect 20 to 30 companies and products to be launched formally during the event, which runs through Friday. Separately, Microsoft this week is connecting its Windows Live services directly to the Windows operating system in an attempt to catch up to rivals Google and Yahoo in online services.

Several bloggers are speculating that Google will use this year's Office 2.0 event as a platform for announcing new wiki and presentation tools. Such announcements wouldn't be a surprise, although it's not clear if they will happen as soon as this week. Google one year ago bought JotSpot, a developer of wiki technology, and is expected to deliver a new product based on JotSpot's service.

In response to the wiki and presentation rumors, Google spokeswoman Rachael Horwitz says, "We will be adding presentation-sharing capabilities as a feature to Google Docs & Spreadsheets, but we have no specific plans to announce at this time."

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