In a decade’s time when we look back on 2007 it will remembered as the year that the online application suite came to be, because the most critical piece of the suite came to fruition – the file system.
Today, Srinidhi from Zoho revealed in a comment on Squash that Zoho was building an online file explorer that will pull together files from all of the different Zoho online services.
Said Srinidhi: Zoho is “working towards creating an integrated online system which will enable organizing and managing the different files created using various Zoho web services (something similar to what Windows Explorer means to the desktop)”.
“Zoho Drive/Explorer is a step in this direction and we are also working on other ideas”.
Today, TechCrunch profiled a company called Carbonite offering unlimited backup for around $US5 a month. The company has received $7 million in VC funding showing there are some very serious plays in this space.
However, I don’t think online backup is the real market here. The real market here is anywhere access to files. If I just want backup I think most people will be satisfied enough with backing up to an external hard drive or even burning periodically to disc media.
Online storage providers will have to offer more than just backup to entice the punters because frankly people aren’t paranoid enough to fork out even 5 bucks a month.
However, if I can get backup PLUS anywhere access to all my files then the story becomes more compelling.
That’s clearly the direction we’re heading. When details for Google GDrive, or Platypus project, leaked out, backup was one of the touted benefits but then followed VPN-less and disconnected access to files and multiple synchronization of machines. Now we’re starting to a service with some pizzazz.
Microsoft’s Live Drive is going to do pretty much the same thing, but its going to have a distinct advantage in that its almost certainly going to be very closely tied into the Vista operating system. Microsoft is better positioned than anyone to do online/offline synchronization because of its control over the offline component. I expect to see Live Drive announced at the same time as Vista and touted as an additional advantage of moving to that platform. As I’ve said before this online storage model has the potential to enable Microsoft to finally start moving to a recurring revenue model. I was very interested to hear at the recent Sydney blogger’s brunch the Microsoft exec suggest the likely amount of storage you would get for free would be 2Gb. That’s enough to get most people started but leaves plenty of room to monetise the service once people get used to the benefits of access anywhere files.
But the real trick will be seamless integration with an online application suite. Even if you can download your Word files on an Internet kiosk at the shopping mall, unless you’ve got a copy of Word on the machine there’s not a lot of point. If however, you have the option to boot up that document to your online word processor then we have true Access from Anywhere computing.
I don’t see a lot of future in stand-alone online storage services no matter how good they are unless they can inter-operate with online application tools. Fellow aussie Nic Cubrilovic is a smart cookie and has seen this as a threat/opportunity and is intelligently going down the API route with Omnidrive. However, I question if there are going to be any online tools where the provider won’t want to provide that piece of the puzzle as well because it becomes a fabulous lock-in strategy.
The problem for all smaller players in this space is you probably have to provide the whole kit and caboodle. You’re going to want to provide an online file repository and be able to launch any file in that repository online and work on it in your browser. More importantly, users are going to want to do a single search across all documents, files, emails and so forth which is why I think the big suite approach is going to win out over individual bits and pieces.
Google will obviously get to that integrated suite level as there as they already have most of the major pieces. Microsoft will get there by extending their offline properties while Zoho looks like being the only other player with such grand ambitions, the vision and the track record to pull it off. Yahoo! will need to get into the space because I see as being central to online loyalty and establishing search habits and the obvious match up there is an acquisition of Zoho which would not only let them catch up in a single leap but arguably put them in the lead. If I were Yahoo! I’d be acting sooner rather than later. As Yahoo! would have discovered trying to tie together the likes of Flickr and delicious it’s not easy to bring together disparate web applications and I believe integration is going to be absolutely key in this space. Even something as simple as single sign-on across the Zoho services obviously has been no piece of cake. Google is waaaaaay out in front at the moment on this front even if its not blatantly obviously yet but click on the My Services link at the top of GMail and you get a sense for where the company is probably headed.
I know this post has become somewhat gargantuan but one more company I might throw into the mix is Jotspot who quietly appear to be building an office suite but tying it around the Wiki model. I’m not convinced that the traditional file explorer model is right for collaborative, online tools and judging by the Zoho comments it doesn’t look like they are either. Maybe it’s the Wiki model, maybe it’s a hybrid email/file management system, maybe you could wrap everything inside a CRM or project management environment. I think it’s going to take some revolutionary thinking along those lines to level up against the companies I’ve already talked about. The problem is the ante just keeps on getting bigger and by next year when all the pieces that have begun to be developed this year start getting dropped into place, the stakes are only get infinitely higher.
When all the hype about online calendars was at its most feverpitch I predicted that they’d all get crushed by the big boys and the same will happen in this market unless someone does something amazing in the next six months. Zoho has done enough work to compete but more likely be acquired but if I was a maker of a point solution I’d be looking to become part of something a lot bigger, very quickly.