Central Desktop Aims to Undercut SharePoint

Have you wanted the collaboration and content management features in the cloud that Microsoft’s SharePoint Server provides but don’t have a big company budget?

Central Desktop says it has a solution for that.

The company’s newest product — called Central Desktop for Office and available Monday — aims to provide much of the functionality of Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) SharePoint without the cost or the maintenance overhead.

“Because most people are accustomed to working with the ubiquitous Microsoft Office suite, we wanted to develop a way for them to easily engage in Web-based collaboration while remaining in the familiar Word, Excel and PowerPoint environments,” Isaac Garcia, CEO and co-founder of Central Desktop, said in a statement.

“Central Desktop for Office solves this issue by enabling users to access, edit and co-author files stored in the cloud directly from within Office,” Garcia added.

The software-as-a-service (SaaS) product uses Central Desktop’s own hosted cloud-computing environment to provide storage and collaboration capabilities. It also adds a new toolbar to Office’s three main applications — Word, Excel and PowerPoint — that lets people perform functions much like SharePoint, the company said.

“We realized that 75 percent of documents stored in Central Desktop are Office files, [and those users] want more ways to collaborate from within their ‘home screen,’ which is the Office toolbar,” Garcia told InternetNews.com.

Central Desktop for Office lets users co-author documents in real time with tools that enable them to track every version of a document, and to resolve differences between versions. It also lets them store and retrieve documents in the Central Desktop cloud.

When one user makes a change to a document, all affected users are able to see and merge, if they choose, those changes into a master copy. Users can also add comments to documents.

The package supports Office 2003, 2007 and the newly released Office 2010.

The privately-held company was founded in 2005, and its main product is the Central Desktop cloud-based collaboration platform. The new offering ties that platform into the Office applications.

The Central Desktop product now has approximately 400,000 users in some 3,000 different customer companies, Garcia added.

Central Desktop for Office comes in a limited function free version as well as a paid release. The free version supports editing and saving files in Central Desktop’s cloud, while the paid version provides additional features, including the simultaneous co-authoring capabilities. The paid version costs $30 per user per year, Garcia said.

Microsoft shipped Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 in mid-May.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at Internetnews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.

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