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HP Gains AJAX Tool with Tabblo Acquisition

The reason Hewlett-Packard intends to acquire online photo service Tabblo Inc. is to make it easier for consumers to print photos and other rich text from a Web browser. But the deal may also give HP the technology to simplify enterprise Web printing and even collaboration.

HP last week agreed to acquire Cambridge, Mass.-based Tabblo for an undisclosed sum. The closely-held company is small and started only two years ago but HP felt the company's AJAX-based interface would give it a service that compliments its other Web-based photo sharing service, Snapfish. The AJAX interface lets customers annotate and add multimedia to their photo albums and collages.

But HP's interest in Tabblo went beyond that. HP -- the largest provider of printers and related consumables (paper, ink and toner) -- has a lot to gain by making it easier for consumers and businesses to print more from the Web. With Tabblo's technology, look for HP to extend that functionality, allowing customers to print locally or via hosted services.

"That's one place where I think you will see some very quick innovation," said Antonio Rodriguez, Tabblo's CEO, who said he will stay on with HP after the deal closes. Using AJAX to build universal print capability into Web clients is one thing -- but isn't that what Adobe is looking to do with its Flex architecture or Microsoft with WPF/E?

Rodriguez confessed that he has not tested WPF/E but he has used Flash and its Flex-based protocol.

"One of the problems rich Flash apps have is they suffer from a not clear way to interoperate with other rich HTML applications," Rodriguez said, adding he is hopeful that WPF/E won't have such issues.

When building Flex-based Flash to assemble an online photo album, it's very hard to make the Flash application bind to other content, he added. "That's why on the client side, we didn't feel the Flash-Flex solution was the way to go." That's what led Tabblo to choose AJAX when the company launched two years ago. AJAX was novel then, made popular when added to Google Maps.

Indeed the AJAX-based editor is what HP found attractive in Tabblo, said Pradeep Jotwani, senior vice president of supplies in HP's Imaging and Printing Group. "It's got really good template tools," Jotwani said. The templates can be moved into different print formats for print service providers as well as PDF print-ready files.

While HP's stated objective for Tabblo is to give users added options to print-enabling Web content, the company was quite interested in extending its use. "We believe we can take this and extend far and wide," Jotwani said. "But we haven't gone down that path just yet."

When pressed, Tabblo's Rodriguez admitted HP showed a keen interest in the opportunities for using the company's AJAX technology in ways that transcend using it as a Web printing interface. Online collaboration is one area. A component of the Tabblo interface consists of an access control system that gives any object read-write access and other permissions.

"I think the stuff that people use inside of big companies is pretty primitive when it comes to collaborating on rich multimedia documents," Rodriguez said. "When I say 'primitive,' say you've got a marketing department that has to collaborate with an art department. I see a lot of files with big attachments going around in e-mail. We can definitely solve that problem."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.