Central Desktop on Tuesday announced a new release of their unified collaboration software, also called Central Desktop. The new component is being referred to as Central Desktop Live and CEO/cofounder Isaac Garcia kindly took me through it in a collaborative online session.
Central Desktop has targeted the small and midsize business market, below the levels that the big enterprise vendors such as WebEx or Microsoft concentrate on. Isaac says that the software is also appropriate for teams working as cohesive units in larger companies. The key idea is to provide a unified collaboration environment that lets users do tasks in real time (synchronously seeing updates and sharing information) while also allowing them to stay coordinated when work is done offline (or asynchronously). The company was founded in May of 2005 and released the Central Desktop product in September of last year.
At its core, Central Desktop is a glorified wiki… It lets multiple users update information in an organized framework so that others can find items easily and see the latest additions, deletions, and changes. There are predefined templates for common work requirements. For instance, the software lets you quickly set up workspaces, activities, and tasks. Members of a group can add files and links and users can subscribe to a group space to get notification of new information through RSS feeds or emails.
Some of the other predefined elements include discussion threads, task lists, milestones, calendars, and invitations. Laying out pages is easy with a WYSIWYG interface that allows you to pick fonts and formatting. That’s all fun stuff, but it’s not the focus of this blog and it’s been around for a year now, so I’m not exactly breaking hot news!
The new Central Desktop Live piece introduces web conferencing for group members so everyone can see a file or a desktop application at the same time. The software integrates with the major Instant Messaging (IM) products, so you can see if members of your group are online using Skype, Jabber, Yahoo Messenger, AIM, ICQ, or MSN Messenger. You can then set up a web meeting from inside the product dashboard and broadcast invitations instantly. The company is playing up the convenience of doing this all inside one workspace environment, rather than opening another application, logging on with another password, sending out email invitations, and waiting to see if the recipients are around to join you.
Central Desktop decided not to reinvent the wheel and create their own web conferencing solution from scratch. Instead, they have OEM’d an embeddable web conferencing component from Rhub Communications, which specializes in this kind of relationship. At the moment, the maximum attendance for a web meeting is 25 people, so it’s not good for large departmental groups and certainly not for public webinars. The company should relax that limitation by next month.
Another planned upgrade for that time period is to support multiple operating systems and web browsers. Currently the product needs Microsoft Windows and prefers Internet Explorer (although Firefox came across as an “it should work” alternative). The web conferencing aspect of things pretty much lets you show slides or your entire desktop. Part of the October release plans include the ability to share a named application rather than your entire desktop, but there are no plans at this point to support a user-defined rectangular region of the screen (my favorite way to do desktop sharing).
Annotation during a web meeting is very simple… You can draw with a virtual pencil. There are no controls for line thickness or color and no shape primitives such as pointers or boxes/circles. One nice aspect of the annotation tool is that it lets you draw over anything showing in a screen share window. That’s still unusual (and very welcome) in the business. Multiple presenters can share control of one person’s slideshow/desktop or you can swap control and display to another member’s screen. That is good flexibility. Security settings allow you to choose SSL protection on your information, but Isaac warns that this can reduce performance in some cases.
During our web meeting, I was able to create a small display glitch by moving my Microsoft Word window over the shared web meeting display window. It sometimes created a thin white horizontal strip where the overlaid menu bar had been. It was a minor repaint problem and easily fixed by doing anything that caused the share window to refresh. I’m sure they’ll be able to patch up this annoyance in short order.
The software is priced on a monthly fee for use of the basic Central Desktop environment (sliding scale depending on the number of users and amount of storage). Adding Central Desktop Live adds another monthly fee based on the number of concurrent meetings and maximum attendance at each.
The company is doing a 30-day free trial promotion, which is longer than usual in the industry. I found the terms a bit confusing, as the registration page says you are able to host unlimited Web Meetings (with up to 10 Attendees). But on the FAQ page, it says that the Free Plan does not include the use of Central Desktop Live! The solution to this seeming contradiction lies in the fact that the FAQ refers to a contract option for using Central Desktop called the “Team Plan – Free”. This is not the same thing as the Free Trial, which has more power and functionality.
I wish Central Desktop a lot of luck with the new web conferencing element. Unified collaboration is obviously the hot trend, with Microsoft, WebEx, and IBM all making major pushes in that space. From what I’ve seen, Central Desktop has a quick learning curve and aggressive pricing, making it a good option for those just getting their feet wet in this space.
It’s not going to compete with the major enterprise webinar packages, but it’s not designed for that… there is no attempt to make formal registration pages with automatic enrollee reminders, integrated billing, or managed Q&A windows. For the ad hoc business communications it was designed for, it should fit the bill nicely.
I was able to think of several ways I could use the software in my own business to keep webinar clients on a traceable and updateable timeline, with responsibilities, milestones, and tasks clearly displayed. We could also share different versions of the webinar slideshow file we planned to use and could have ad hoc discussions and meetings to talk through preparations and plans. I like software that has immediate obvious applications to real world situations.