Altogether Now: Comparing Collaboration Software: Page 3

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CentralDesktop, launched in 2005, was also designed primarily for small businesses, as a lower-cost, hosted alternative to Microsoft Office SharePoint.

The company says it has over 100,000 registered customers, but many only use the limited free version. About 1,500 companies pay for and use CentralDesktop regularly, most of them firms with between five and 100 employees.

Where BlueTie is built around e-mail, CentralDesktop is mostly about project management.

Companies can set up dedicated “workspaces” for each project and invite members – from inside or outside the company – to participate. Each member is assigned appropriate permissions, allowing them to read only, edit, add and/or delete items or have full administrative control.

CentralDesktop screen shot
CentralDesktop's workspace home page gives you a snapshot of your upcoming tasks and recent activities.
(Click for larger image)

Within each workspace, managers can set milestones or project goals and group tasks under them, along with dates for completion. They can then, with a few mouse clicks, assign milestones and tasks to members.

Members assigned a task receive e-mail notification, the due date automatically appears in their personal CentralDesktop calendar, and later they receive e-mails reminding them about tasks that are due soon or overdue.

Tasks and milestones appear in the main calendar for the workspace as well and in lists and reports, color coded to show priority and status.

CentralDesktop also gives work teams a rich set of tools for managing project-related documents, including version control and tracking functions, plus the capability to set up online discussions.

Members and managers can upload files of any type to the CentralDesktop server and capture Web pages and include them in the project document base as well. The built-in full-text search function indexes all popular file formats, including Microsoft Office and PDF.

Only one person at a time can “check out” a document to read or edit it. This helps avoid version conflicts. The main page for a document or Web page shows its revision history – who revised it and when – and all the comments that have been made about it, by whom, when and about which revision.

CentralDesktop will even automatically send out e-mail notification to team members when a document is revised or commented on. Recipients can reply by e-mail and their comments will automatically be added to the CentralDesktop database.

Members and project managers can set up discussion forums, which are tracked much the way documents are. They can also set up Web conferences – complete with screen sharing.

To make it easier to set up impromptu conferences, CentralDesktop detects online presence of team members using popular instant messaging services, including MSN and Skype.

CentralDesktop pricing is more complex than BlueTie’s. The free version provides 25 MB of storage and two workspaces for up to five members.

Paid workspace plans range from $25 a month for 250 MB, three workspaces and 10 members to $249 a month for 10 GB of storage, 100 active and unlimited archived workspaces and unlimited members.

Web conferencing is priced separately – the service is provided by a partner. Plans range from $35 to $175 a month.

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