June 02, 2011, 8:15 AM —
We all know the big 500 pound gorilla of the software-as-a -service world: Gmail. Google's cloud-based application has been capturing the attention (and the messages) of hundreds of millions of users since its 2004 beta launch. With 7 GB of storage space available for every user and the capability to be viewed from any browser on the planet, Gmail has defined what it means to be a successful cloud application.
But the really important question: is it the best messaging application?
For all the hoopla about the cloud, there haven't been a lot of comparisons between cloud apps like Gmail, Mint, and Pandora and their desktop equivalents like Thunderbird, Quicken, or iTunes -- except, of course, for the inevitable "cloud roolz, desktop sux" articles that dismissively sweep aside locally installed apps in favor for the cloud for the simplistic reason that they're cool and new.
But are cloud apps really better all of the time, just because they're cloud? Let's take a look at some popular cloud-based apps and their desktop counterparts, with the focus being to determine which app -- cloud or desktop -- is the better offering in its class.
Let's just get this one out of the way right now. On the cloud, there's Gmail. With tight integration with calendaring, contacts, and other Google tools like Google Docs, this is a very hard app to beat. If you look at the entirety of the Google package, really, then it is impossible to beat. But, when looking at just the messaging features, the answer is not so clear cut.
Microsoft Outlook, for example, offers the best connectivity with Exchange servers and the growing install base of SharePoint servers out there. Despite the popularity of Gmail, there are still a lot of businesses that are leery about hosting their corporate data on outside servers. Messaging on local systems is much more attractive. Alternative servers like Open-Xchange and Alfresco can provide the same functionality as Exchange and SharePoint, so cost becomes even less of a factor.