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A Couple More Easy Web Collaboration Tools

Predictably, after we ran our feature on "Nine Easy Web-Based Collaboration Tools,", we got e-mails from vendors saying, "We have an easy Web-based collaboration tool too!" Predictably, most of those e-mails had the subject line, "The 10th easy Web-based collaboration tool!" Sorry, guys, you can't all be Number 10.

Predictably, after we ran our feature on "Nine Easy Web-Based Collaboration Tools,", we got e-mails from vendors saying, "We have an easy Web-based collaboration tool too!" Predictably, most of those e-mails had the subject line, "The 10th easy Web-based collaboration tool!" Sorry, guys, you can't all be Number 10.

However, two Internet-based collaboration tools stood out from the pack of me-toos, from Central Desktop and Parlano, so they get to be the 10th and 11th Web-based collaboration tools.

Criteria for the article were that the tools needed to be cheap or free, and they needed to be easy to set up, requiring little or no IT intervention to set up, and no IT involvement at all to run. We looked at tools like Google Docs & Spreadsheets, and Basecamp from 37Signals.

Central Desktop is designed to be a collaboration tool for teams and small businesses. That's as opposed to enterprise tools, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, one-on-one collaboration tools, said Isaac Garcia, founder and CTO of Central Desktop.

"Even though we don't advertise ourselves as such, we're a wiki," Garcia said. Wikis are great tools for collaboration and sharing information, but they're intimidating. They're vast, blank canvases, and users often can't figure out how to format what they post. "People say, why do I want to post it on the wiki -- I'll just send an e-mail," Garcia said. "People want a lot more structure than a wiki."

Central Desktop provides calendaring, discussion threads, task and milestone management, a Web database, and realtime, shared spreadsheets. The service offers Web conferencing, currently for Windows only. The day they gave me a demo, we couldn't get the Web conferencing to work.

Central Desktop is priced starting at $25 per month, for up to five users, with licenses for larger numbers of users available. "Our goal is to keep this affordable and expense-able -- something that the teams can put on their expense reports," Garcia said.

Parlano does "persistent group chat solutions," allowing enterprise users to set up chat groups, like IRC channels, for topics of shared interest. It's different from consumer instant messaging services like AOL Instant Messenger mainly in that it offers enterprise security, IT control, and -- in the latest version -- integration with Active Directory. Also, end-users can set up alerts based on keywords, so they can review discussions and be notified of conversations of interest to them even when the end-users are offline.

In that way, Parlano is something like a mirror image of e-mail. E-mail is designed for asynchronous communications -- I send you an e-mail now, and you read and respond to it later -- but can be and often is used for instantaneous, back-and-forth chat, especially when users are e-mailing between mobile devices. On the other hand, Parlano is designed for instantaneous communications, but can be used for asynchronous discussions, and it includes clients for the BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and Palm Treo devices, to keep those back-and-forth instantaneous discussions from cluttering up e-mail.

The software has a server component that runs on Windows Server, using SQL Server as the database, with a new version running on Windows Live Communications Server, with links to Active Directory.

Pricing ranges from $50 per user to several hundred dollars per user, depending on security and compliance requirements.

Now that I think of it, Parlano doesn't really fit the criteria for the article. It does require IT to set up and run. But I'll include it here anyway because: (1) It's really very interesting and potentially useful and (2) It's my blog.