I had a briefing recently from CentralDesktop CEO Isaac Garcia who was super-excited about their new product offering, Central Desktop for Office. The product is built on top of technology licensed from OffiSync and, quite simply, it gives Microsoft Office users online collaboration and a “SharePoint” experience” without Office 2010 and without SharePoint.
With the product, users of both Office 2003 and Office 2007 will see a new bar on the control ribbon, titles “CentralDesktop”. This bar will give them access to their CentralDesktop files which can be opened natively inside of the particular office application, and then collaboratively edited by anyone who has access to the files – it’s not a web app so all parties will need Office, but it introduces something that Office users simply could not do until now – and in doing so will, perhaps, replace a deluge of “reply to” emails with draft amendments.
CD for Office makes nice use of “meta panels” that drive further information to a document viewer – things like comments, documents within the same folder etc – expect to see more rich, contextual information available in these panels soon.
The product isn’t real time per se – the way it works is that the file owner receives a pop-up notification of an amendment whenever one is made, they can then chose to merge this amendment into the document. I questions Garcia about this, especially in the light of Google’s recent release of key-by-key real time co-authoring for Google Docs, his response?
True real time collaboration is awesome, what Google has done is amazing technically. The need for this degree of real-time however is pretty minimal, it’s generally only a few edge cases that need this and the flip-side of real time is that it often gets reduces to sheer chaos. We believe that our approach of giving the file owner notification of changes, will suit the marketplace just fine. That said there is potential to make the experience tighter in the future.
It should be noted that when using this product, full version control and tracking is retained within CentralDesktop so their is always a record of any changes made, regardless of whether the file owner chooses to accept them. I was a little disappointed that the product doesn’t make allowance for multiple changes. As an example, in a situation where three people make amendments to a document at the same time, the file owner is notified of one merged change to accept or delete – it’s easy to imagine a versioning nightmare when parts of the change are to be accepted and others not. CentralDesktop’s approach of expecting the owner to apply the merge and then selectively deselect the parts of the change they don’t want is less than ideal.
In terms of pricing, the bare bones product will be free to all CentralDesktop users, while some premium functions will be available for a charge. See below for a demo screencast: