CommuniGate Gets it Together

I hardly ever use instant messaging. The reason isn’t a laudable desire to avoid distractions. It’s because I simply forget to open that IM “silo.”

We’re so used to working with applications that operate like silos — email, document editing, instant messaging, media players — that we don’t notice it until someone brings it to our attention.

What’s more, for those of us who have difficulty staying focused in the best of cases, the between-applications shuffle provides endless opportunities for distraction and time wasting. For example, it’s taken me four days to finish this story.

Mill Valley, CA-based IP communications company CommuniGate wants to help me out with its newest offering, Pronto!; a browser-based user interface that brings together e-mail, instant messaging, rich media, RSS feeds, and groupware.

Sold through distributors and service providers, Pronto! can be run by a service provider as a hosted service or on-premises by an enterprise. Business and consumer subscribers can use their Pronto! desktop through any Web browser, anywhere without installing any client software.

What sets the Adobe Flash-based Pronto! apart from other unified communications and office suites is that it brings multi-media into the mix.

The system marries two of today’s hot trends: Rich Internet Applications (RIA) — aka Web 2.0 — and unified IP communications. The interactive nature of the application is important; this is not simply a Web mail program. These applications work just like the ones physically on your desktop, says CommuniGate VP of Business Development Jon Doyle, and they are designed go seamlessly with the workflow.

“If you look at the way people work, they’ll have an email client open, they’ll have a media player open, they might be using a blogging tool or working on a document,” explains Doyle. For example, Pronto! integrates your calendar and your email and lets you drag and drop video from your desktop and publish a video press release seamlessly.

Pronto! is designed for small to mid-size businesses with 20 to 200 users — the kind that don’t have the time or resources to invest in managing an in-house system like Microsoft Communicator. Pronto!’s sweet spot is with small-to-medium size legal, medical and media firms.

It’s an underserved market, according to Doyle.

“With Microsoft you have to have Exchange, Active Directory, Live Communications Server, a PBX, the Office suite,” says Doyle. In other words, lots of software and equipment to install, configure and manage.

“If you look at small companies, they don’t have an IT guy to set up Microsoft or Lotus,” he continues. “They can’t have five or six products to deal with. It might be all right for Delta Dental but not for the dentist down the street. Pronto! is technology ‘baked’ to be useful.”

The system’s secret sauce is Adobe Flash. The first reason is security, according to Doyle.

“Flash is inherently secure because it runs in memory space,” he explains. “Flash is a binary that runs in memory space within the Flash or Shockwave layer, and is far more secure. Java, AJAX, Javascript [other technologies used to build RIAs] open security holes because they can execute exploits, and thus can be used by hackers to get into the PC.

“That’s a big thing for us,” Doyle adds, “because we didn’t want to unleash a whole series of fixes.”

Easy handling for multi-media is another benefit, says Doyle. “Multi-media plays inside Flash. Ajax and Java [other technologies for building RIAs] call up a player,” he explains, “and players are a security hole. Once you let it play, it’s on your PC.”

Finally, with Flash Lite bringing RIAs to handsets, Pronto! gets to go along for the ride. “Over the next 24 months you’re going to see a lot of Flash Lite,” says Doyle. “Providers are starting to look at it for games, data applications. If you start a Java application on a cell phone,” he adds, “it’s not intuitive.”

So what’s next? First up in September will be integrated voice services; either through a CommuniGate plug-in or built in capabilities in the next version of Flash Player. After that, Doyle says, “really creative packages of software — voice messaging, SMS, email, all crafted for special uses.”

Now excuse me, I have to go open my IM program and see if any of my old friends from high school want to chat.