Adobe readying new mashup tool for business users

Adobe is developing a mashup interface code-named "Genesis" that will allow business users to pull together "workspaces" that combine assets like business application data, documents and analytics, along with collaboration tools such as instant messaging.

Users will be able to download a free desktop-based client, while Adobe will provide a hosted sharing and collaboration infrastructure, "allowing users to adopt Genesis without or only minimal involvement of the IT department," according to a blog post by Matthias Zeller, group product manager.

Despite the advent of Web 2.0-era tools like wikis, most enterprises haven't gone much beyond the old standbys, such as e-mail and voicemail, Zeller said.

"I am convinced that there is another major white space today that is not being covered by [Web 2.0] tools: A workspace on my desktop, which allows me to mash-up applications and documents in a business context (e.g. a specific customer deal I am working on), share that workspace with others (e.g. sales engineering and legal team) and then collaborate asynchronously or in real time," he wrote. "In a nutshell, that's what we want to deliver with Genesis."

That said, other vendors, such as IBM, have been moving to provide mashup technologies to business workers.

To fine-tune its entry, Adobe is conducting a number of "road shows" to get initial feedback from typical Genesis users. Initial tour areas include Dallas and Austin, Texas; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; and Chicago. "We are specifically interested to talk with sales management, sales operations management, finance management (focus on financial planning and analysis) as well as IT professionals in charge of enterprise collaboration," he wrote.

The blog states that a private beta of the service, which is built with the company's Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR), will be launched later this year.

In a demo, Zeller shows how users can drag various "tiles" -- prebuilt widgets with a specific function, such as a sales pipeline dashboard -- onto a "workspace."

Users can then begin sharing their completed workspace by sending access to others through the hosted service. Once logged into the service, presence indicators on workspaces show who it has been shared with and whether they are available to collaborate, such as by instant message.

To enable users to get up and running quickly, Adobe wants to deliver a lot of prebuilt workspace templates oriented around themes such as "project management" or "hiring process," according to the demo.

Adobe also plans to host a marketplace where third-party developers can sell tiles, according to the demo.

In an e-mail Tuesday, Zeller stressed that the project is still in an early phase and he could not immediately provide a full interview.

He did reveal that the initial idea for Genesis arose from discussions with Business Objects, with which Adobe formed a partnership last year.

Adobe will make money on Genesis by charging a subscription fee to users who want to share workspaces, conduct real-time collaboration -- or both -- according to Zeller's e-mail. "There are some more ideas of how to generate revenue, which I can't discuss yet," he added.

One Adobe user had a generally positive reaction to the company's plans.

Bob Gourley, former CTO of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, has been using Adobe's Connect and Acrobat.com collaboration offerings for his consulting business. Those tools and the workspaces concept in Genesis collectively generate "a really disruptive capability," he said in an e-mail.

Gourley has questions, however: "I wonder what their price point will be. I also wonder about the governance needs that enterprises like. For example, will it connect with LDAP or Active Directory? Is it PKI-enabled? What auditing capabilities will be enabled?"

Ronald Schmelzer, an analyst with ZapThink, largely echoed Gourley. "If there's any company that can do the lightweight enterprise mashup thing credibly, it's Adobe," he wrote in an e-mail. "The challenges they face to their vision are mostly focused around governance and security."

Zeller addressed the security questions in his e-mail.

"The initial version of Genesis will be a hosted service and will include user management. Users can maintain their own contact lists and decide who they share a workspace with (with different levels of usage rights)," he wrote. "There will also be the option of an enterprise hosted service which will allow synch with corporate LDAP and enterprise-specific catalogs and management." In the future, the company will also consider creating an on-premise version, depending on customer feedback, he wrote.

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