Rolling Review: Central Desktop's Service Eases Collaboration
Web 2.0 toolkit provides strong security and ease of use, but remember to check your e-mail options.
Central Desktop's namesake hosted service leads off our Rolling Review of Web 2.0 collaboration tools, and our tests showed it's a good choice for team-building.
The process of creating and sharing documents was straightforward, and we could upload and download those documents in most popular formats. Administrative controls allowed us to regulate who could see information in a workspace and who can add, change, or delete it. The revision history option tracks all changes.
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In fact, every action causes an activity record to be created and stored on Central Desktop's servers. Also, by default, e-mail is sent to affected team members. Project managers can specify which team members will receive an e-mail message or can suppress these e-mails entirely.
Getting an e-mail for every action soon became too much information in our tests. Workspace creators must be careful to specify whether these e-mails are sent to team members; if the messages are deemed necessary, recipients can control when the e-mails are sent.
Central Desktop provides powerful search options: We searched across the Web; in text; and through documents in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF, and HTML. Searches across conversation threads and across multiple workspaces also are possible.
Central Desktop's report-generation feature lets managers keep paper logs of activities and the structure of projects. These reports can come in handy if you need documentation for a client, a superior, or a lawyer.
We also used Central Desktop to create a wiki and a blog; both were easy to set up and worked well. Web 2.0 believers might think wikis and blogs are essential to collaboration, but we're not convinced, and other IT managers have a so-what attitude toward them. A wiki only adds the capability to build a "library" of resources for each project. And people under pressure probably won't use such a library when they can get more information, and faster, using a search engine.
In tests, we created a workspace for reviewing and developing a specification for a new wireless product. After adding some milestones to the product schedule, we created a list of tasks and added members. Setup was easy for each of these functions.
New members were automatically invited to access the workspace, and they were allowed to create accounts once they accepted the invitation. From that point on, members could modify the look and feel of their views of the workspace. Changes were subject to the overall restrictions we specified when they were invited.
The service's project management components require some time to understand: We suggest training before deployment. Support is available by phone and e-mail, and it was actually helpful in tests. Web meetings are easy to conduct and can be used for training new users; audioconference functions are included free.
SIGN IN, PLEASE
Central Desktop gets high grades for security. The software supports single-sign-on access, but all communications must be done through a secure connection, and administrative settings allow complete access control to fields and documents.
That said, we remain concerned about the e-discovery and liability issues, as we are with any product that accepts and stores information from disparate sources. Managers should make sure their legal staffs have a good grasp of these issues.
Central Desktop's pricing is in line with other hosted packages we've seen, ranging from no charge for two workspaces with five participants to $249 per month for as many as 100 workspaces with 100 internal and 100 external members. For Web meeting capabilities, the minimum price is $35 per month for 10 participants. You can spend as much as $175 per month for up to 25 participants, including the ability to conduct two concurrent conferences.