News, articles and opinions on the current trends in the IT industry.

Online collaboration tools

Have you checked out the online collaboration tools Google’s Apps or Microsoft Office 365? If you haven’t, you might consider it. In one of my previous articles, I wrote about the frustrations of desktop based software and the challenges of moving from device to device. You can find that post here.

Microsoft office collaboration application domination

For the last 15 years, Microsoft has dominated the typical business work software including Outlook, Word and Excel. From a daily use perspective, these have been brilliant working tools that are reliable, intuitive and have an enormous range of features that most of us don’t even know exist. These software applications, along with the Windows operating system, have almost always been the primary choice of collaboration software. And, didn’t Microsoft know that? They sure worked those products well and charged us inordinate sums of money. No wonder they became so wealthy.

Along comes online collaboration – Google Apps

In 2007, Google released an alternative solution to Microsoft Office called Google Apps. The business edition comes with a customisable domain, mail server, mail client, word processor, spreadsheet, calendaring, chat, storage and access to an application marketplace where a combination of free and commercial software are available for download or purchase. The primary difference between the two collaboration suites is that Microsoft Office is installed locally on your computer where Google Apps is SaaS that runs in a web browser.

We have been trialling using Google Apps internally and here is our appraisal. From a user perspective, it doesn’t take long to get used to Google Apps. The menu, shortcut keys and basic use is very similar to Word. For basic word processing, it’s actually very good and in many ways superior to Word. For starters, because it’s not an application running on your computer, it doesn’t crash, timeout and it automatically saves as you type. Because it runs in a web browser and is stored in the cloud, you don’t need to think about transporting or emailing files to yourself. The applications have built in revision history so you are easily able to see who made changes.

How can these online collaboration tools impact productivity?

Working in the IT industry, we tend to do a lot of document writing, ranging from proposals to brochures, documents and reports. Where online collaboration really works fantastically well, is the ability to invite people to your document, folder or folders. The document owner can control access to documents from read only, to comment, edit or full access. What it actually allows you to do is to work simultaneously on documents.  Instead of one person working on a document then emailing it to another person for review and updating, it’s actually possible to jointly edit the document, which can be a real time saver.

Additionally, because the apps are part of an entire application suite that includes storage, folders are created within the application framework. Just like how Windows file manager works, the storage manager functionality is virtually the same. One difference is that documents and spreadsheet can be launched from within the file manager.

The portability of not having to transport files or hold them within email sure makes life much easier. It means that you can go to work at any computer, open the browser and create, edit or send files. And because it’s SaaS, it means that any personal settings are always available, irrespective of the device or browser in use.

Google Apps for business is free for 30 days, $5 per user account and month thereafter or $50 per year. Google Apps for Education is free and offers the same amount of storage as Google Apps for Business accounts. You can easily set up a personal account or if you want to try it in a more commercial sense, you can get a business free trial for 30 days.

Group collaboration software is going to change working practises. Using Google Apps has really opened our eyes to better document creation, more efficient feedback and increased productivity. Whilst it’s not as pretty as Microsoft Office and the spreadsheeting lacks advanced features, the features it is equipped with and the seamless portability of preferences, applications and files sure helps to make group collaboration an attractive alternative to the standard PC/MAC installed Microsoft office.