Hosted Services Keep Groupware Costs Low

 
 
By Michael Caton  |  Posted 2004-05-17
 
 
 

ContactOffice Group S.A.s ContactOffice and Application Corp.s HyperOffice deliver inexpensive hosted alternatives to groupware and intranets for companies that need a simple way to share calendars, tasks and documents via the Web and, to a certain degree, within Microsoft Corp.s Outlook.

The services, which have been been updated in the past month, are priced based on features—including the amount of storage.

ContactOffices price depends on the number of tasks, contacts, messages and documents used, ranging from free to $63 per month for premium service. HyperOffice pricing can be as low as $4 per user per month in volume.

Although we generally liked the features of the two services in eWeek Labs tests, there are compromises, particularly with e-mail.

Check out the eWEEK Labs Executive Summaries for ContactOffice and HyperOffice.

At the core, ContactOffice and HyperOffice offer similar capabilities—e-mail, calendar, task and contact management; group and discuss- ion areas; instant messaging; and document storage—and both services do them well. Both even provide connectors to Outlook to synchronize calendar contact and task data.

In tests, the most problematic application for the services was e-mail. The messaging service is Webmail atop a POP (Post Office Protocol) mail server (ContactOffice also supports IMAP), so although the services have good two-way synchronization with personal information management data for Outlook, messages are synchronized separately from other data.

The services differ from other hosted collaboration offerings, such as Intranets .com Inc.s namesake service and Intuit Inc.s QuickBase, in that they do not provide a database application. Conversely, Intranets.com and QuickBase dont include a POP-based e-mail application. In terms of price, ContactOffice and HyperOffice are less expensive than Intranets.com and QuickBase for fewer users. ContactOffice differs from HyperOffice by focusing on integrating wireless SMS (Short Message Service) in the application. For instance, when creating a task for a user, we could send a notification to that user via SMS.

Small-business roots contactoffices namesake service is a pared-down version of the small-business portal from Office.com LLC. ContactOffice has an integrated yellow pages and translation service that probably wont be of interest to workgroups in most U.S. companies, and it does not include the advertising and small-business-focused services found on Office.com.

We liked ContactOffices ability to synchronize data not only with Outlook but also with IBMs Lotus Organizer PDAs and smart phones running Palm Inc.s Palm OS. Synchronizing with Pocket PC-based systems is handled through Outlook.

ContactOffice has convenience features such as one-click calendar-to-PDF document conversion. Wed like more options for making ContactOffice central to team use, including integrating announcements into the home page, the way HyperOffice does.

ContactOffice Group can customize the interface on a case-by-case basis.

HyperOffice does a good job emulating Outlooks interface, meaning that it should be relatively easy for most users to master. Users can also tailor HyperOffices user interface to suit their needs. We particularly liked the ability to customize the number of items the service shows. We generally found it easy to navigate the application and access tools quickly.

However, one aspect of the interface we didnt like is the way the application segregates team- and individual-oriented features.

To create individual tasks, for example, we had to use a different tool from the one we used to create group tasks. ContactOffice has an advantage in this regard because its team and individual tools are the same. The tool segregation carries over to HyperOffices Outlook synchronization tool—it can synchronize only personal tasks, calendars and contacts.

For corporate users, the e-mail component isnt the most compelling aspect of the services, but it lets them block senders and create rules in the system. HyperOffice supports wireless messaging for features such as reminders, but it supports only AT&T Wireless subscribers.

Technical Analyst Michael Caton can be reached at michael_caton@ziffdavis.com.

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