Google and Cisco partner to bring WebEx to Chromebooks

Google Apps and WebEx are also getting integrated

Google and Cisco are teaming up in the enterprise collaboration market, bundling WebEx with Chromebooks and integrating the Cisco Web conferencing and online meeting product with Google Apps.

The companies announced on Tuesday that two of their high-ranking executives demonstrated a "proof of concept" of WebEx running on a Chromebook, something that hasn't been possible to date.

Rajen Sheth, director of product management, Chrome for Business, and Rowan Trollope, senior vice president of Cisco's Collaboration Technology Group, also demonstrated interoperability between Google Apps and WebEx, such as the ability to join a WebEx meeting from a Google Calendar item, the companies said.

The partnership is intriguing in several respects. For starters, Google has a product called Hangouts that competes with WebEx in areas like video conferencing, IM, audio chats and Web meetings.

However, Hangouts isn't considered yet a truly business-grade tool, and it's not an official, supported component of Google Apps, which some critics consider is weak in unified communications.

In a press conference that was webcast after their presentation, Sheth and Trollope concurred that it's inevitable that companies of the size and scope of Cisco and Google have overlapping and competing products, saying that shouldn't cancel their opportunities to partner in ways they consider mutually beneficial and complementary.

"That's been par for the course at Cisco for a long time," Trollope said, alluding to "co-opetition" situations.

Sheth said Google's focus is on what its users want and need, and overall on how to make "the Web ecosystem" better.

WebEx can't run on Chromebooks today because WebEx, although it's hosted on the cloud, requires that users download browser plug-in extensions so that some code can run locally on Windows or Mac OS computers.

Chromebooks run Chrome OS, so Cisco will rework a chunk of the WebEx functionality for HTML 5 so that it can run without the need for plug-ins. Google will also have to build some extensions on the Chromebook side.

The alliance can also be seen as a tag teaming between Cisco and Google to better compete against Microsoft and its Office 365 cloud collaboration and email suite.

Microsoft has been devoting a lot of effort to improving its Lync unified communications server, which runs on premises and also is part of Office 365. Lync is also being integrated with Skype in order to extend its reach into Skype's vast user base in the consumer market.

Lync competes against Cisco's WebEx and its overall enterprise video conferencing line of products, especially at the desktop and small meeting room levels.

In a move seen partly as a response to the Lync threat, Cisco last week unveiled an array of new and improved video conferencing products intended to be easy to deploy in small and medium-size conference rooms and less expensive than its high-end telepresence Tandberg line.

Meanwhile, Office 365 competes directly against Google Apps, especially in the areas of cloud-hosted email and collaboration for businesses.

The Cisco and Google executives didn't say when the WebEx version for Chromebooks will be ready. A number of integrated capabilities between WebEx and Google Apps are already live.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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Juan Carlos Perez

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