Could Cisco take on Microsoft with office app service?

Service could compete with Microsoft and Google in offering office applications

There is only one obvious question in Cisco's overture Tuesday that it might take on Microsoft and Google in the online productivity application arena -- what took so long?

On Tuesday, Doug Dennerline, senior vice president of Cisco's collaboration software group, said during the Cisco Live Virtual conference that the company might compete with Microsoft and Google in offering office applications such as  documents, spreadsheets and presentation packages. Cisco is "thinking about it but not there today," Dennerline said.

The statement comes more than two years after Cisco in March 2007 spent US$3.2 billion to acquire WebEx. The purchase included a range of collaborative tools that put Cisco on the cusp of competing with Microsoft in the unified communications arena.

The only thing missing was an application or service for document creation and editing. It now appears Cisco is working to create such a service.

The 2007 acquisition include WebEx's marquee conferencing service, but it also came with WebOffice, a suite of applications that includes document sharing, calendars, databases and Web meetings.

The assets also included WebEx Media Tone Network (MTN), a global network and platform specifically designed for secure delivery of on-demand applications. WebOffice was one application that ran on MTN.

Presumably, any document editing service Cisco would develop would also run on this platform, which includes a set of APIs that let developers integrate desktop and corporate applications or create mashup applications. In addition, partners would be able to create custom extensions to the collaboration platform.

The WebEx family of products Cisco acquired also includes WebEx AIM Pro Business Edition, which provided group chat, VoIP capabilities, centralized administration, secure file transfers and integration with Microsoft Outlook.

The AIM Pro Business Edition is integrated with WebEx business applications that are part of WebEx Connect, which allows integration of data from multiple applications and creation of a customized collaborative workspace that can integrate with local workflow and business processes.

Cisco would join a long line of competitors aiming at Microsoft's collaboration strategy, including IBM/Lotus, Novell, Google and Yahoo.

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