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
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.

review of Zimbra, September 2006

richard macmanus