Come Tuesday, Dale Jensen and Justin Bartak will introduce new software at the annual Macworld Conference in San Francisco designed to make life easier for small businesses.
But the founders of Ntractive also think the software, dubbed Elements SBM, could very well change how people use their desktops and the Internet.
That's a pretty big prediction from two Midwest entrepreneurs who can't even purchase iPhones because AT&T does not provide service to Grand Forks, N.D.
But Elements, which makes it easier to move between the Internet and a desktop, is already attracting attention. Apple Inc. invited Ntractive to give a keynote address at its exclusive World Wide Developers Conference last June. The Apple relationship prompted Rain Source Capital, a St. Paul-based network of angel investors, to invest $500,000 into the start-up.
Elements seeks to combine the intuitive ease of the desktop with the power and accessibility of the Internet. Thanks to Microsoft's flagship Windows operating system, desktops have traditionally dominated the computing world. Consumers would load software like Excel and Word on their computers to manage and organize documents and other data.
In recent years, however, the Internet, aided by fast broadband connections, has started to replace desktops in importance. Instead of running to Best Buy to purchase the latest software, consumers can download it directly online. Corporations can store large amounts of data on Internet servers that employees can continuously access from laptops, cell phones and PDAs.
The problem is that most people still prefer the familiarity of the desktop, Jensen said.
With Elements, users can drag documents, photos and vCards (electronic business cards) effortlessly from the desktop to the Internet and vice versa. Users would normally have to manually enter information or wait to upload photos.
"The more you can make a Web application look like a PC, the easier the transition will be," Jensen said.
Companies from Microsoft to Adobe are also racing to develop hybrid applications -- such as Elements -- that ease the flow of information between the Internet and desktops.
Hybrid applications are "a huge deal," said Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray & Co. in Minneapolis. "Undeniably, that's where it's going."
It's no accident Ntractive developed Elements for small businesses that use Macs. Apple's focus on design, presentation and ease of use makes the company an ideal platform for a hybrid product like Elements, Jensen said.
Munster says he finds it odd that Ntractive would target such a small market. Apple computers make up a small share of computer sales in the United States. But the market is growing, and there is considerably less competition for Mac business users than PCs, Munster said.
Thomas Lee • 612-673-7744