Adobe has made its big move into online office suites with a service that could take some of the pain out of managing files and collaborating.

Online office suites are a fashionable talking point at the moment with web-based programs such as Google Docs or Zoho gaining in popularity. Strengths include the ability to access programs from anywhere and on any device with connectivity, inherent collaborative support, and low cost. Although there are no signs of Microsoft Office flagging, these powerful capabilities are making a lot of organisations look into the area.

As a straw poll indicator, a recent workshop held by blue-chip user group the Corporate IT Forum found that most of the 12 attendees had plans to test web-based applications for desktop applications.

“Whilst members of the Corporate IT Forum understand that hosted applications come with risks and challenges, they do see a very bright future for them,” said David Roberts, chief executive.
“Service providers which have up until now, operated predominantly within a consumer technology environment are moving into the corporate world – and are being welcomed. Whilst they’re not expecting any silver bullets, there is a real sense of optimism amongst large businesses that service providers like Google will be able to meet their rigorous requirements and provide the business with the agility it needs.”

Currently in public beta, the Adobe effort is somewhat different as it does not attempt to replicate the usual suite of desktop productivity tools such as spreadsheets, databases and presentations programs. Called Acrobat.com, the service comprises a word processor called Buzzword, a 5GB space for sharing files, the ConnectNow conferencing console, and tools for creating PDFs.

Adobe envisages Acrobat.com being a “personal workspace in the clouds” for sharing, forms, documents and other files.

However, as with any web-based service, large enterprises might well respond more cautiously to the offering than smaller outfits.

“Larger corporate are happy to experiment but culturally it’s a big challenge to store private data and customer data outside the firewall, and it’s going to take a long time to turn around the ship on that,” said Neil Ward-Dutton of analyst Macehiter Ward-Dutton.

“In services industries such as media and legal where there is a large amount of documentation and work is very collaborative and project-based it’s a really nice fit, but there are issues of policy and privacy to be addressed.”

One disappointment for some users will be Adobe’s decision not to include image editing in Acrobat.com. Earlier this year, Adobe launched a beta of Photoshop Express, allowing users to tweak pictures and share them over the web.

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