Zimbra, one of the Web Office vendors we've been tracking for a while, will later today announce the launch of Zimbra Desktop - which enables offline access to Zimbra's Ajax-powered collaboration suite. Zimbra will unveil Zimbra Desktop on stage today (Monday PT) at the ETech Conference in San Diego.
It's a growing trend amongst Web app providers to provide offline access for their Ajax apps. In fact Mozilla is heading in this direction too, as Firefox 3 will support offline access to web apps. As Zimbra put it, this trend means that web apps will be "available no matter where a user is Äì at the office, on the road, or even in the air." Another company we profiled recently, Morfik, is also developing offline web apps. Not to forget the web/desktop integration happening via platforms like Adobe's Apollo and Dekoh.
As noted in the press release, Zimbra Desktop will allow users to access their email, calendar, contacts, and documents while on the road, or in places without a network connection, through Zimbra's familiar Ajax-based Web interface. When users come back online, all the changes that were made offline - such as composing, replying to, deleting, editing or moving messages, appointments, contacts or documents - will synchronize with the Zimbra server and mobile devices. Zimbra Desktop is compatible with Windows, Linux, and Mac; plus browsers Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari.
The Zimbra Desktop Alpha will be available soon from www.zimbra.com/desktop. It works with the Zimbra Collaboration Suite (ZCS) 4.5+, which has an open source edition as well as commercial.
Offline Web Apps a growing trend
What's interesting about this trend for web apps to go offline, is that they're still using the web-based interface paradigm. This is almost the reverse of the traditional pattern of web apps adopting desktop app paradigms. I hate to bring up the Yahoo Mail/Gmail comparison yet again, but Yahoo Mail was a prime example of a web app that adopted the interface paradigm of traditional Outlook-style desktop email clients. Gmail of course had a web native interface from the start.
Well now it's happening in reverse. Online apps, like Zimbra, are being converted into desktop apps - but they are keeping their 'web native' interfaces.
A few years ago, many optimistic people predicted the demise of desktop apps due to the coming 'always on' broadband era (I think I may've been one of them!). But as we know, the reality today is that broadband access is problematic in some parts of the world - so offline access has turned out to be key in the web 2.0 world. I suppose one day we will finally reach the 'always on' nirvana, but for now it's a good thing we have Zimbra, Morfik, Mozilla, Google and other companies producing offline desktop access to web apps.