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Free Collaboration Tools

Web-based collaboration services act as virtual offices that can help to streamline interactions between individuals in remote offices, those who work from home, and those on the road. Most services offer document management, group calendars, e-mail, bulletin boards, contact lists, chat rooms, instant messaging, and online conferencing. If this is starting to sound like an intranet to you, you're on the right track. The following Web sites provide a central online hub, much like a full-blown intranet, for managing projects and for helping team members share information and to-do items with one another. Consider one of these services if your small business doesn't have the resources to install large-scale enterprise groupware applications. Table 2 summarizes the main features of the services profiled in the following sections.

Table 2 Comparison of Collaboration Tools

 

iTeamwork

QuickTeam Express

OfficeTool.com

Distinguishing features

When you create a project, tasks are assigned to a team member; email notification reminders can be set up to outline open tasks.

Chat room; threaded discussions; "issues" area for raising topics for discussion among the group.

Wireless access to productivity tools, e-mail, and calendars.

In/out board tracks status and location of team members. Online file viewers are available for viewing and printing MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Adobe PDF files.

Contact manager

None.

Not available at press time.

Can synchronize with Outlook.

Document storage and version control

None.

Document manager provides capabilities for storing documents in folders, adding notes, and viewing a document's history. Version control is enforced by checking documents in and out.

You can upload multiple documents to the company using folders or subfolders, or place them in a personal briefcase. You can upload new versions of documents with version-tracking dates.

E-mail capabilities

No e-mail accounts are included. Users can be notified by e-mail when tasks are completed.

No e-mail accounts are included. You provide users' e-mail addresses when you invite them to join your QuickTeam site. Users can be notified by e-mail if they forget their passwords.

Free e-mail account for each user.


iTeamwork

iTeamwork is a Web service that gives managers a central place to organize to-do items for projects and teams. By tracking the daily progress of each team member, iTeamwork offers a step-by-step, task-focused approach to project management (see Figure 3).

Figure 3 The task list on iTeamwork shows what's coming up and what's past due.

For each project you create, you can manage any number of tasks and then assign them to one or more people on the project's team. You can then choose to send e-mail notifications or reminders to each assignee. The service shows you, at a glance, the ongoing to-do list for each member and the target dates for completion of every task at hand. Each team member, in turn, can use the service to notify the rest of the group about his/her latest accomplishments and achievements.

One helpful feature is the ability to include multiple companies in a single project, which is most handy for projects involving one or more external vendors. You can also delegate tasks to others. The service lacks a contacts database and appointment-scheduling capability, however, which are necessities for many projects and tasks. As a result, the exclusive focus on tasks and their completion may make it difficult to intuitively use iTeamwork to notify team members about upcoming meetings.

Getting Started

After you successfully register and are logged on to the site, your main view displays all projects you're involved with by name. You see the number of total and open tasks for each project, as well as the name of the team member who created the project.

Refer to the left-hand navigation at all times for the actions you can take and the available views within each project. At the top level, you can create a new project or, if you drill down to look at a specific project, you can create a new task. The list of views in the left-hand navigation shows which tasks are still open and your overall assignment list; you can also choose to see all users who had tasks delegated to them and an overall task list.

In addition to creating a username and password, required information includes

  • Full name

  • E-mail address

  • Nickname

When you register, you're also prompted to indicate which days you want to receive your e-mail of current open tasks—so you can take weekends off or, if you're a workaholic, you can continue as usual!

Big spender: No premium services.

URL: http://www.iteamwork.com/

Contact: http://www.iteamwork.com/feedback.html

QuickTeam

Now owned by iManage, QuickTeam provides work teams with communication and collaboration tools that can be accessed using a Java-capable Web browser. The service features a collection of tools to facilitate project management—including document sharing, team calendaring, and task management.

The service's most impressive features include multiroom chat capabilities (see Figure 4), online polling, threaded discussions, an interactive whiteboard, Gantt chart capabilities, and a contact organizer.

Figure 4 Chat rooms display in pop-up windows for QuickTeam users.

QuickTeam's crowded online interface could use some streamlining to enable users to get to their documents more quickly. In our experience, the Java-based tools that power some of the site's features perform unreliably for Macintosh users. The site is also riddled with dead links to many of the online help files and documents.

Getting Started

After you submit your QuickTeam registration, a new team site is created for you. You can then invite others to join your team room by going to the Admin My Team Rooms link.

You have to create a login name and password to use QuickTeam. Other required information includes

  • Full name

  • E-mail address

  • Occupation

  • Local time zone

  • Number of employees at your company

  • Location (U.S. or non-U.S.)

  • Year of birth

  • Gender

  • Name and description for your team site (if you're the administrator)

You're also asked to choose whether you want to receive the QuickTeam e-mail newsletter, and whether you want to opt in or out of sharing information with third-party vendors.

Big spender: The free online version of QuickTeam is a scaled-down evaluation version of QuickTeam Professional, a commercial product. Among other features, QuickTeam Professional includes Palm VII integration and 128-bit SSL security. The full-featured QuickTeam Professional version can be leased (or vendor-hosted) for $12.95 per user per month; the one-time purchase price for on-site use is $899.

URL: http://www.quickteam.com/

Contact: http://www.quickteam.com/feedback.html

OfficeTool.com

OfficeTool.com provides a range of free productivity tools—such as project-management and file-sharing applications, e-mail, and calendars—to enhance any corporate intranet.

OfficeTool's wireless capabilities distinguish it from other Web-based collaboration services. Using a Web-enabled phone, OfficeTool.com users can access their company's OfficeTool intranet at any time or from any location using the service's Wireless OfficeTool. Users can find other employees or indicate their own location using an in/out board (see Figure 5), check messages, and access an address book and calendar.

Figure 5 The online in/out board at OfficeTool.com can be used to track colleagues' whereabouts.

When competitor RedGorilla closed its doors in October 2000, OfficeTool.com licensed RedGorilla's Web-based and wireless applications (such as its time-tracking and expense application, Gorilla Time), and resumed the site's operations.

Getting Started

When you first register, you're prompted to create a unique company code for your company, and a username and password for yourself. A series of screens with sample data are provided to guide you in setting up your office's online settings.

Required information includes

  • Full name

  • Company size

  • Industry

  • Age (choose a range)

  • Gender

  • Position within company

  • E-mail address

Big spender: A private label version of the productivity applications can be licensed at a premium.

URL: http://www.officetool.com/

Contact: support@officetool.com

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