Microsoft Outlook has historically been at the heart of document-based environments that for many years have ruled the enterprise.

But the walls that have guarded this document-based world are crumbling fast. Outlook is now more than a message center. It is becoming a collaborative space where the lines between Google Docs and other social applications start to blur.

Three extensions exemplify this trend. These services are quite similar. Xobni has the longest track record. it started as a consumer-based service, gaining a following for its search capabilities in Outlook. Search is Outlook's inherent weakness. Neither DocVerse nor Harmony have deep search capabilities like Xobni. That may only be a temporary issue for DocVerse. Last week, Google announced that it had acquired DocVerse. We expect that will in some way translate into better search in the weeks and months ahead for the DoVerse service.

Harmony

Harmony is the newest of the group. The Mainsoft service is a mash up between Google Docs and Outlook. It also puts SharePoint directly into Outlook. Like most Outlook extensions, Harmony pulls Google Docs or Sharepoint into an Outlook sidebar.

The service is intended to ease attachment overload by creating a central place where people can access Google Docs. It's a drag and drop environment that allows people to drag email attachments into the Harmony sidebar.

A document may also be dragged into an email where it appears as a link for the recipient. The recipient may access the document by signing into their Google Docs or Google Apps account.

The service is now available as a free download. It is compatible with Sharepoint 2007 and Sharepoint 2010. It will be available later this year as an extension for Microsoft Office.

DocVerse

DocVerse plays a similar role to Harmony. The service synchronizes in the Outlook Sidebar. The widget associates a link to the document that is getting the edit. Every modification is synced. When multiple people work on a document, the updates are made through the plug-in and versions are stored online.

Xobni

Xobni provides what Outlook really needs. Great search. It will search Outlook and external social networks and third party applications to get a fuller profile of the contact. In November, the company released Xobni Enterprise. The service gives I.T. administrators the ability to deploy and manage the plugin across the enterprise. it also offers integration across services such as Salesforce CRM and Sharepoint.

Outlook Has Come A Long Way

The old days are over for Outlook. It's now entering an era where the degree of collaboration will center around a hyperlinked environment more so than document-based systems. The enterprise is becoming more web-oriented and Outlook is no exception to the change.