Xobni launches app platform and store for Outlook plug-in

Xobni is launching an application development platform and store for its popular Microsoft Outlook plug-in, which has about 7 million users.

The Xobni Gadget Platform and Store will use the standards-based OpenSocial set of common APIs (application programming interfaces) for social-networking applications.

By basing the store and platform on Open Social, which was created by Google and is now in the hands of a nonprofit organization, Xobni trusts that the creation of gadget applications that run within Outlook will be easier than has been possible until now.

"We've had [vendors, partners and customers] approaching us forever on this one, desperate. They've tried to develop Outlook plug-ins in the past and it has been nothing but misery," said Xobni CEO Jeff Bonforte.

At launch on Tuesday, the platform and store will have about 20 gadget applications from vendors including Dropbox, Evernote, Google, Cisco's WebEx, Microsoft, Salesforce.com, Yammer, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

By installing these gadgets, end users will be able to access content and capabilities from those services from within Outlook, where many business users spend much of their time.

The Xobni platform project addresses the broader industry debate over what is the most popular and appropriate place for business users to collaborate: the good old e-mail inbox or a newfangled enterprise social-networking suite that tries to replicate Facebook, Twitter and other Web 2.0 applications, said Gartner analyst Matt Cain.

"Most business users are e-mail-centric and feel most comfortable working in the inbox. Xobni enables the user to continue working productively in the inbox and still access a wide range of social services from the e-mail client," Cain said.

The strategy is not unlike what Microsoft is doing with its Outlook Social Connector, or what IBM has done with its Eclipse-based 8.x Notes client, he added.

Xobni already had custom-coded integration with LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, but the new platform lets any partner or customer develop Xobni gadgets.

"This is the first launch of the Xobni Gadget Store and we worked with partners to create a pretty wide variety of gadgets," said Josh Jacobson, Xobni's senior director of product management. "I think we'll see enterprise versions of gadgets being deployed internally at various companies and other developers creating their own gadgets for their own services."

Xobni's Outlook software adds functionality to the Microsoft desktop e-mail and calendar application to make it easier to use. For example, Xobni boosts inbox search, adds e-mail conversation threads and creates contact profiles on the fly with information found in the user's inbox and social-networking services.

Xobni has free and fee-based versions of its Outlook software. There is also a version for BlackBerry devices. IPhone and Android versions are in the works, while a version for Gmail is in beta testing.

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