Review: hosted central desktop beefs up collaboration capabilities
Central Desktops most buzz-worthy feature is its wiki capabilities, but its the services other collaborative features that will make it appealing to companies looking for tools to simplify working in teams.
During eWeek Labs tests, Central Desktop, from the vendor of the same name, did a good job of rounding out collaboration based on documentsorganized as discussions, notes and fileswith the addition of tasks, schedules and databases. With prices ranging from free to $249 per month for a 100-user account, Central Desktop is competitive with hosted collaboration solutions such as WebEx Communications WebOffice. Central Desktops Web conferencing component is priced separately, ranging from $35 to $175 per month.
Central Desktops core functionality includes discussions, notes, tasks, databases and folders for organizing files. Information is organized by tabs into work spaces, calendars, milestones and projects. In terms of the user experience, Central Desktop is more like WebOffice and less like traditional wiki collaboration products such as Googles JotSpot (see review, Page 48).
In fact, Central Desktop users may not even realize theyre working with a wiki tool, in large part because the service does a good job of organizing information flow around application use rather than page creation. For example, when we created a note page, we could link to an application block that presented data directly from an application viewsuch as a project report or database formwithin the note.
Indeed, theres a lot to like in Central Desktop, updated in September, particularly for its grouping of capabilities focused on tasks, discussions and databases. Overall, however, the product is relatively flat: Its easy to use, but that simplicity often left us wanting.
For example, Central Desktop includes a task management feature that can be extended beyond basic personal tasks to light project management by tying tasks to milestones. Milestones, in turn, are encompassed in the Project Report, with a list view of project status. The missing component is better task management tools, such as the ability to create a task and subtask hierarchy. We could manage tasks to a certain degree by organizing them in different lists, but this is more cumbersome than a traditional task/subtask methodology.
Central Desktops database featureessentially a flat-file database with a forms-entry front endwill appeal to companies that need simple, list-based data management. During tests, we could modify the forms to add a new field, specify where on the form the new field should be located and indicate if a field was required.
The database should be suitable for companies that want to organize relatively static data, such as a contact list, but it lacks the ability to handle application logic, such as formulas. We would have liked the ability to edit data in table or grid form, but the database supports only forms-level editing. Users can, however, create custom database views.
The Central Desktop interface does a good job of organizing access and information, although it was at times a little less polished than we would have liked. Each team work space organizes information by announcements and users calendars, with quick links to discussions, tasks and files. We liked that we could look at a three-month calendar view with the ability to filter based on events, milestones and tasks.
Events and notes tie Central Desktops core collaboration features to the Web conferencing system. Users can schedule Web conferencing events, including toll-based audio conferencing, through the calendar.
Central Desktop also does a good job of integrating with desktop tools: The Web conferencing scheduling engine supports Apple Computers iCal and now integrates with Microsofts Office Outlook using Antessas RSS reader plug-in for Outlook.
The application supports a number of browsers, including Microsofts Internet Explorer and the Mozilla Foundations Firefox on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. Running a Web conference requires IE, however.
Technical Analyst Michael Caton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wiki-based collaboration tool that includes project management and spreadsheet applications (www.jotspot.com
Straight wiki authoring tool that is focused on creating and managing wiki content (www.near-time.com
Broad collaboration suite with Web conferencing integration (www.webex.com