What makes a web app more than a web app? That's a question Zarafa, the open source groupware vendor, is trying to answer as it develops the next generation of its mobile-ready WebApp tool for accessing resources from any device with a browser. Here's a look at what the company has done, and plans to do in the future, to transform the application into more than a simplified access portal for mobile hardware.

Dubbed "the communication platform of the future," Zarafa's WebApp lets users connect to groupware resources including calendars and meeting platforms. It has a modular architecture that makes it expandable via plugins (Zarafa invites contributions in this form from the open source community) and is a more mobile-friendly version of Zarafa's heavier-duty Webaccess tool.

In a new version of WebApp released last week, Zarafa introduced several enhancements that the company envisions as the "first tentative steps towards more than just a web application," according to an email. The features include:
  • HTML 5-powered drag-and-drop capabilities for uploading files to data stores.
  • Interface enhancements for the calendar portion of the app, which now offers color labels to distinguish different types of meetings, as well as tooltips for accessing appointment details by hovering the mouse, rather than clicking to open a new display.
  • Smarter handling of network-connection loss, which Zarafa is promoting as a particularly useful feature as users switch between wi-fi and 3G networks.
That's what's new in WebApp version 1.3. Going forward, Zarafa plans additional feature enhancements for the tool that include the following, according to a Zarafa representative contacted via email:
  • Keyboard shortcut support;
  • Restoration of soft-deleted items;
  • Message-in-message support; and
  • Auto-save functionality.
Zarafa expects to debut these features with WebApp version 2.0 this summer. It will also be showcasing the existing features in WebApp 1.3 at CeBIT in Germany in a few weeks.

Zarafa's WebApp represents only one such tool out of millions. But the company's focus on feature enhancements that will place the Web app on a par with traditional, non-mobile interfaces reflects a growing trend toward turning mobile apps into more than dumbed-down, overly basic versions of more sophisticated platforms. And that's smart, particularly at a time when more and more users are accessing resources from non-traditional devices.