Altogether Now: Comparing Collaboration Software

Mid-size and large enterprises are rushing to adopt collaboration tools such as Microsoft Office SharePoint and IBM’s Lotus Notes with Quickr – and with good reason. These programs help distributed teams communicate more effectively, manage projects and shared materials, while saving companies travel costs and reducing travel-related productivity losses.

Implementing SharePoint or Notes is probably beyond the abilities and resources of most small businesses, but smaller companies can get many of the same capabilities with easy-to-use, relatively inexpensive hosted or software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions.

We look at three such programs here: the e-mail-centric BlueTie from BlueTie Inc.; CentralDesktop, a more project-oriented tool from Central Desktop Inc.; and GoToMeeting, a Web conferencing service from Citrix Online LLC.

While none of them are as comprehensive or well integrated as SharePoint or Notes/Quickr, they do offer a couple of advantages.

Because they’re Web-based, people outside the corporate firewall, including employees working at home, suppliers and customers, can also easily participate, as long as they have an Internet connection. SaaS offerings are very inexpensive, and in some cases free.

These three are just a few of the many. In fact, Internet-based collaboration solutions are fast becoming a glut on the market, especially conferencing services. Recent new entrants include Yuuguu, a virtually free Skype-inspired teleconference service, HearMe, an inexpensive IP-based video conferencing and screen-sharing solution from AVM Software Inc. and SightSpeed, another video conferencing service.

And then there are tools organized around wiki – collaborative knowledge base production – and/or blogging capabilities, products such as Basecamp from 37signals LLC, Clearspace from Jive Software, Confluence from Atlassian and  TeamPage from Traction Software.

“The market is messy,” notes consultant Kathleen Reidy, a senior analyst with The 451 Group. “It’s hard for companies to figure out which is the right technology for what they’re trying to do.”

The three products we look at, BlueTie, CentralDesktop and GoToMeeting, all have different feature sets, although BlueTie and CentralDesktop do overlap.

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