Employers take widgets to work

Webified mini-apps have taken the blog world by storm. Now new versions are getting ready to launch on corporate desktops, Business 2.0 Magazine reports.

By Om Malik, Business 2.0 Magazine

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Most technologies these days are spawned in the consumer world and laboriously swim upstream into the heavily dammed networks of corporations. But widgets--tiny, downloadable applications that display data from the Internet on websites or your PC's desktop--could make that leap in record time.

Sound like a fish story? I'd think so too if SAP (Charts), the world's largest business-software company, weren't among the many actively looking into using desktop widgets at work.

Their timing is good. Windows Vista supports widgets, as will Apple's (Charts) forthcoming release of Mac OS X Leopard. Yahoo (Charts) and Google (Charts) are also spreading their own widget platforms, open to any coder who wants to write one of these mini-apps.

Those widget environments all share the same flaw, however: They're designed for consumers to access publicly available data like news headlines, stock quotes, and weather, without any of the safeguards and record keeping that corporate IT managers and securities regulators demand. And it's not obvious how anyone's planning to make money from widgets, aside from the hope that they'll drive traffic to the widget maker's website.

Despite these drawbacks, widgets have been attracting their fair share of venture capital. I think VCs may be making the wrong bet, though. The business world presents a much clearer opportunity for making money.

If you work for a large corporation, you already know where the problem lies. Take a look at the laptop you lug around, choked with bloated client software for accessing corporate financials and clotted with passwords--often written on pieces of paper taped to the lid. You have to navigate endless layers of security just to check your e-mail. And your supposedly easy-to-use Web apps require you to click through screen after screen.

Widgets downloaded to your desktop don't have any of these problems. They are designed for a single purpose--entering a new contact into your company's customer database, say, or tracking your team's sales quota--and strip away unneeded complexity. Enter your password once, and the widget stores it.

As easy as desktop widgets are for consumers, they make life even simpler for the IT department. The software runs on your PC's centrally administered desktop, not some third-party website, and transfers data over a secure network connection. No data is stored locally, so if your laptop gets stolen, IT administrators can just turn off the widget's network access, as they do with lost BlackBerrys today.

For all the promise, there aren't a lot of corporate widgets on the market yet. SAP is just dabbling in the field, with widget-development tools in alpha tests. Salesforce.com (Charts) has a mere baker's dozen of such widgets for pulling data out of its systems.

The caution is understandable: Unlike a feed of blog posts or a weather forecast, a company's financial data is highly sensitive stuff. But for an entrepreneur who's ready to take on the business side of widgets, there's money just waiting to be reeled in.

Om Malik runs the technology blog GigaOm.

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