Storage-free Zone

Ismael Ghalimi is either a harbinger of the future or a candidate for the loony bin. With the exception of his operating system and a browser, he has emptied his PC's disk drive of business applications and data. He has no local storage for his work. Zip. Nada. Nichts. No, he isn't hooked to a Citrix server or some back-end mainframe. He put all his information on the World Wide Web. Is he crazy or what?

Crazy like a fox, perhaps.

The CEO of Intalio Inc., an open-source business process management (BPM) software company in Redwood City, Calif., sounds perfectly rational when he discusses what he calls the Office 2.0 project. (You can read about his positive and negative experiences on his blog at http://itredux.com/blog/office-20.) He uses a variety of online services, such as Salesforce.com, Google's Gmail, Flickr and Zoho, a Microsoft Office-compatible service.

Ghalimi has even discovered that he can bend these online tools to do more than what they were originally designed for. For example, he uses Salesforce.com's CRM service as the business database, which he shares with co-workers and partners. And he has complete control over access rights.

He says the Zoho word processor is great, and even its spreadsheet, which is only in its alpha development stage, works well through the browser and is compatible with Microsoft Excel files. He can open an Excel file, make changes through the browser and send it to a colleague who can then open it in Excel and see his changes. He praises Zoho's technology as "really impressive."

Zoho is based on a rapidly growing set of interactive Web-based applications using a group of online tools collectively called AJAX -- for Asynchronous Java-Script and XML. Ghalimi says AJAX will be the key to making his Office 2.0 project more than just an idiosyncratic effort by technophiles like him.

His stated goal is to be more productive by not using locally stored apps or files. Ghalimi claims that, so far, "it's the most productive way to get my work done."

He doesn't force other Intalio employees to follow his lead. And, ironically, his company doesn't offer its BPM software as a service. Although, he says, "we're looking into it."

There are obvious limitations to Office 2.0. Working while flying on a plane comes to mind. But wireless networks are becoming ubiquitous, even on airplanes, so network access is increasingly less of an issue for Ghalimi.

One drawback, though, does cause him some pain -- online storage and backup. Today, when Ghalimi surpasses the Gmail 2GB storage limit, he has to send files to a Yahoo account to free capacity on his Google mail service. When the Yahoo account fills up, he needs to open another one. He acknowledges that it's a kludgy approach. Although Ghalimi trusts Salesforce.com to keep its data center up and running, the information he stores there is critical to his business, so he does back it up to another server -- one he set up at his folks' house. (You see, he's not crazy after all.)

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