Online Collaboration Tools - New Technologies And Web Services - Sharewood Guide Dec 08 08
Tired of having to manually sync documents between your different computers and your mobile devices? I have an online collaboration solution for you that can synchronize folders across Windows, OS X, and mobile platforms... easily and quickly. Or perhaps you need a program that lets you take notes in real time with your colleagues. Today, I have selected for you eight collaboration tools that can assist you with these and other online collaboration needs, and brought them together in this issue of the Sharewood Guide.
Photo credit: xyzproject edited by Andre Deutmeyer
Some of the online collaboration tools I reviewed share the same features, like collaborative editing or file sharing. Others are completely unique, for example one of the tools brings new meaning to the term "whiteboard". But each and every one of the them promises to do one thing: allow groups, whether geographically distributed or sitting across the conference table from each other, to work together faster and more efficiently than before.
Here the eight online collaboration tools I have personally selected for you this week:
- Live Mesh - A cross platform file synchronization solution built by Microsoft that also has remote desktop features built in.
- VMukti - Provides online video and audio conferencing, chat, file search, collaborative whiteboard, file-sharing, presentation, remote monitoring / controlling / sharing, scheduling feature and more.
- Lotus Unyte - Allows users to share documents, screen share, and have remote desktop control from any computer.
- Mindquarry - An open source online collaborative platform for file sharing, task management, team collaboration and Wiki editing via a downloadable desktop client.
- Dabbleboard - An easy to use online collaborative whiteboard with built in voice and video chat functions.
- TextFlow - A new way to track changes and collaborate on Word documents, Google Doc, and other text files.
- WriteWith - Online collaborative word processing with more functionality than Google Docs.
- Etherpad - An online collaborative notepad that allows simultaneous editing and tracks changes.
- Live Mesh
Live Mesh is a great new cloud based service offered by Microsoft that allows you to synchronize files across Windows, OS X platforms, and with your mobile devices, so you always have the latest versions handy and easily accessible. Live Mesh provides you with 5 GB of free storage space to do this. Live Mesh can also serve as an online collaboration environment that allows others to access your files from any device via the web and notifies you whenever someone changes a file.
Live Mesh further enhances online collaboration by giving you remote desktop functionality. Live Mesh allows you or others to connect to your other computer and access its desktop and the applications on it as if you were sitting right in front of it.
Live Mesh promises to work across both Windows and OSX operating systems, but from my first impression with it, the Mac compatible side looks to still be underdevelopment. The Windows side is up and running though.
VMukti is a web conferencing solution. It combines Skype-like features (audio and video conferencing, chat) with real time data sharing and collaboration tools. VMukti has a built in whiteboard, file-sharing, presentation, remote monitoring/controlling/sharing, and scheduling features. Basically, VMukti is an all-in-one web collaboration solution that uses a p2p technology solution to deliver its web conferencing solution quickly and reliably.
The free service level is ad supported. And because it is free, you do not receive any professional support though there is a support forum available for you to pose questions and receive answers. If you are looking to deploy VMukti across a large organization, VMukti offers an enterprise level option as well, complete with professional 24/7 tech support.
And FYI before you jump ahead to download it, VMukti is a big program - 370MB.
- Lotus Sametime Unyte
Lotus Sametime Unyte is a desktop application from IBM that connects web conferencing (audio and video) with screen sharing, document sharing, and remote desktop application control with anyone. Lotus Sametime Unyte only needs you to have the application downloaded on each computer to be connected.
Unfortunately the free service level of Lotus Sametime Unyte only allows users to collaborate one-on-one, and as a free solution you do not get access to the remote desktop application control feature. But you can still easily start web conferences, and preform screen sharing and file sharing.
If you want to allow multiple people to simultaneously view your desktop, share documents, and have access to the remote desktop control feature you have to sign up for one of the subscription plans.
Mindquarry DO is an open source, cross platform (Windows, OSX, Linux) collaborative software platform for file sharing, task management, and team collaboration via email integration, wiki editing, and forums. Mindquarry no longer runs as a cloud based web application because of lack of funding, but the desktop client can still be downloaded and used as a collaboration solution. All in all, it seems like a capable alternative to Sharepoint or Basecamp but with fewer features.
Dabbleboard is a collaborative online whiteboard. The interface is intuitively easy to use, so you don't have to worry about any kind of learning curve before you can begin drawing on it. Dabbleboard automatically detects basic shapes as you draw them, so you don't need to select the 'circle' button to draw circles and the 'rectangle' button to draw rectangles, etc. All you need to do is start drawing. Furthermore, Dabbleboard lets you save any of your drawings (whole or parts) to a library. Once saved, you can access those drawing from your 'Library Pane' and you can easily incorporate your past drawings into your current drawing.
Additionally, Dabbleboard is social. Not only can you simultaneously edit and create drawings with other users, Dabbleboard has built in voice and video chat functions which make collaboration easy. Also Dabbleboard allows you to share your drawings publicly with others. Public drawings can be copied to your own library so that you can use them in your drawings.
TextFlow takes a unique approach to collaborative word processing. Rather than try to copy what online collaborative word processing solutions - like Google Docs - do and compete with them, TextFlow creates a symbiotic relationship with them. TextFlow allows you to take multiple copies of the same document (Microsoft Word, Google Doc, or others), drag and drop them into the TextFlow environment, and Textflow then automatically looks at the changes made to those documents and instantly puts them together into one document. At which point, you can select the changes that you like best, and then export the new document back to the Word format or other document file. They call this process 'Parellel Word Processing'. I just call it useful.
WriteWith is a collaborative online word processing platform similar to Google Docs, but with greater functionality. Like Google Docs, you can upload Microsoft Word or other word processor documents from your desktop, share, simultaneously edit them with others online, and then easily export back to Word or RTF to save your own copy of the document locally. WriteWith picks up where Google Docs falls short by adding wiki-like functionality. With WriteWith you can track changes by user and store revision history. You can also assign documents to individual users so that they know what documents they need to work on. Further enhancing collaboration is the built in text chat function.
Etherpad is an online real-time collaborative note taking solution. It is similar to collaborative word processing solutions like Google Docs but with different functionality. Unlike Google Docs, you cannot upload and edit text documents... for that matter you cannot download what you create either. Your pad (document) is stored on the Etherpad servers. Unique to Etherpad is the wiki-like revision tracking. Etherpad saves your revision history, so anytime you want to jump back and compare your pad with past versions, you can. Also unique is the text highlighting functionality that Etherpad deploys to differentiate each collaborator's text. The text is highlighted according to user, so it is very easy to see which of your friends / co-workers wrote what. Unfortunately, because of the high amount of server-load that Etherpad is experiencing, Etherpad is in closed beta right now.
Do you see any mistakes with these reviews? Would you like to suggest other online collaboration solutions? Would you like to share your own experiences with any of the solutions reviewed? Please leave a comment below.
Originally written by Andre Deutmeyer for MasterNewMedia and first published on December 8th 2008 as Online Collaboration Tools - New Technologies And Web Services - Sharewood Guide Dec 08 08.
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