• CentralDesktop for Marketing Agencies


    I’ve written previously about CentralDesktop the cloud based collaboration application, has just rolled out a new version, specifically targeted at marketing agencies. The collaboration for marketing agencies approach isn’t novel, late last year PBWorks introduced a similar offering. In…

  • T-Shirt Friday #24 – CentralDesktop


    Everyone knows that professional conference goers like myself attend events not to listen to presentations, not to network but to collect schwag. Over the past couple of years I’ve done fairly well collecting tech t-shirts and I DSCF5401decided to create a weekly series critiquing tech companies t-shirt offerings in the expectation that a company with a great t-shirt is a prime candidate to have a great product also. Click here to see the series.

    DSCF5400 If you’d like your t-shirt reviewed, flick me an email to arrange things. The judges decision is, of course, final and very little correspondence will be entered into (perhaps).

    CentralDesktop is a cool collaboration offering. I first ran into them a couple of years ago at the Office 2.0 conference and since then we’ve met up regularly and chatted about collaboration and organization.


    • The logo on the front is way cool (try and decipher it, answer below)
    • 100% Cotton, saving the world from body odor and lurex
    • Good quality fabric and stitching detail


    • Maybe it’s just me but I’m kind of over black t shirts
    • Manufactured in El Salvador, which (in my mind at least) cheapen the product

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  • ShareFile – All Things to All People


    Founded nearly five years ago, ShareFile is (yet another) service that offers SMBs the ability to share files across a business and outside of he business. ShareFile’s genesis came while seeing the number of businesses using FTP as a…

  • Microsoft Office 2010 – A Commemorative Post


    So today is launch day, the day that Microsoft Office 2010 is released out and the world gets to see what a Microsoft take on a Software plus Services fuelled office productivity suite looks like. The world has already been inundated with reflections on the product itself so it seemed a good time to hold a mirror up and look at what ther vendors, potentially impacted by the launch, are feeling right now.

    microsoftgoogle First up Google, who have (at least to a certain extent) had the majority of the attention in this space to date. Google’s approach is, somewhat interestingly, that organizations should mix and match MS and Google products, as SeattlePI reported:

    Maybe businesses will opt to buy a handful of Office 2010 upgrade licenses instead of an entire office’s worth, said Chris Vander Mey, a senior product manager at Google’s Seattle location in Fremont. For the rest of the office, those workers who don’t need all the features inside Office, why not skip Microsoft’s complicated Enterprise Agreements and instead add Google Docs to their current Office 2007 or Office 2003 environments?

    Which is very much in line with their “more of what you need, and less of what you don’t” approach. As CEO Eric Schmidt said:

    What we’re doing is adding appropriate functions to Google Docs from the bottom, we’re adding the common cases. We’re not trying to build a full copy of Microsoft Office. I don’t think that’s good use of our time. What will happen is a corporation will end up having both around for awhile.


    Zoho (exclusive sponsors of CloudAve) elegantly
    refers to Google

    In case you are considering upgrading to Office 2010, you might want to give
    online alternatives a try. Our friends at Google listed several reasons
    not to upgrade to Office 2010

    Then rather than discussing Microsoft Office, they turn their attention to
    their vision of future office apps:

    We see a new phase in the evolution of Office suites – Componentization …
    The next step: Office apps becoming components within other apps…. Office suites
    traditionally have been standalone applications that are independent from other
    business applications. While there is clearly value in this, we think their
    usage and their impact on user’s productivity will be significantly higher when
    they are contextually integrated within other business applications and

    They cite integration within their own numerous applications, as well as
    with Central Desktop – coming up next here.

    CDlogo Next I spoke to CEO of CentralDesktop, Isaac Garcia for his take on what this all means. Remember that, as I covered last week, CentralDesktop have just rolled out an offering that essentially given Microsoft Office 2010 functionality to 2003 and 2007 users. Garcia stated that:

    We think that it is presumptuous for Microsoft to expect SMBs to upgrade all of their Office licenses in a down economy, We believe they will look for lower cost alternatives and CentralDesktop’s SaaS offering simplifies the process without a hidden agenda

    Which is all probably justified but perhaps a little tainted. However Garcia raised some really good points about just how easy it’s going to be for Microsoft Office users to get all that exciting collaborative-y functionality:

    Microsoft is selling the entire stack (SharePoint, SQLserver etc) , not just an Office upgrade. There are other hidden costs in addition to upgrading to office 2010. In order to access all of the “social and collaborative features” users need to either upgrade to sharepoint or use one of their other web services.

    box_logo CEO of box.net Aaron Levie came through with some incredibly strong quotes that really show why he, and box.net as a vendor, are garnering so much attention.

    On Microsoft’s Cloud Strategy Levie was less dismissive than one would have expected:

    Beginning with the launch of Office 2010, Microsoft will demonstrate whether or not it is truly “betting the company on cloud computing.” This is Microsoft’s opportunity to transform itself into a more innovative, open and user-focused company, but it faces some significant hurdles: it will need to design software specifically for the web, and not just retrofit old single-tenant software. It will need to meaningfully engage developers with an open platform – developers that are wary after failed projects like the Live Mesh Developer program. It will need to embrace a new business model that will often force it to compete directly against its massive ecosystem of partners, consultants and resellers, and it will need to address confusion in the market around its many overlapping product lines (Office Online, Live Folders, SkyDrive, Docs.com, etc.), and tell a coherent story to users and developers about its vision for the cloud.

    Even when asked to comment about SharePoint 2010 – the very product that box.net has ridiculed previously in countless marketing campaigns – Levie is moderate in his criticism:

    SharePoint 2010 will no doubt be a major improvement over its predecessor, but the key thing to watch is usability. Microsoft has thrown a bunch of social features onto its SharePoint platform, and we’ll see whether these translate into increased productivity and enhanced collaboration, or if they’re more in line with a kitchen sink, ad hoc approach. We get a lot of frustrated SharePoint users who come to Box because they need to share and collaborate with parties outside their organization – something that will continue to be a fundamental issue with SharePoint 2010.

    logo_largeFinally I quizzed CEO of SlideRocket, Chuck Dietrich. With a history that includes a stint at salesforce, along with his current position heading an organization that’s squarely competing with PowerPoint, I was interested to hear his perspective. I wasn’t let down.

    Microsoft’s revenue is dependent on selling old-school packaged software, continual upgrades and hardware. Ever since Salesforce.com started the SaaS revolution, Microsoft has been under pressure to address the software as a service or ‘cloud’ model. But the truth is, Microsoft cannot embrace the cloud, because a subscription-based software delivery model would cannibalize their short term revenues. Office 2010 is another attempt to sell upgrades and hardware, not an innovative web based application.  Thankfully, there are an array of cloud applications now available that, for the first time in decades, threaten the dominance of Microsoft Office  — from what Google has done for email and documents, to what SlideRocket is doing for presentations and dozens of others. With so many inexpensive, robust cloud apps to choose from, companies don’t need packaged software suites like Office anymore. Now they get choice and innovation.

    Ouch – that’s fighting talk. of course it needs to be tempered with the knowledge that a significant proportion of earth’s population use Microsoft office, and even if only a fraction of those users pay for the product, that’s more people than have ever heard of all the services I’ve talked to in this post put together. Having said that however, it is clear that we’re in the midst of a sea change in terms of how people work, the vendors I’ve talked to may be (to a greater or lesser extent) mere fledglings, but they’re fledglings who are moving fast, if the incumbents don’t watch out, they might just get eaten by those nipping at their heels.


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  • Getting Office 2010 without Office 2010 From Central Desktop (Well Kind Of, and Conditions Apply)


    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:

    Central Desktop for Office Video from Central Desktop on Vimeo.

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  • Central Desktop Rolls Out Big Changes to their UI


    Central Desktop (more on them here)  is today unveiling version 2.0 of its offering that is delivering an entire new user interface for it’s customers. A quick update on the past year for Central Desktop:

    • 44% year-over-year growth in revenue (gross bookings)
    • Employee growth from 20 to 30 employees
    • Hundreds of new Enterprise Edition customers
    • Q4 2009 Enterprise Edition sales compared to Q4 2008 increased by more than 600%
    • Released Microsoft Outlook plug-in
    • Micro-blogging feature (Status updates syndicated to Twitter and Facebook)
    • Extended global performance via Akamai’s content delivery network

    With this new version, Central Desktop delivers a redesigned, intuitive user interface, and introduces several new features including an online file viewing enhancement. Online file viewing is a high profile area after box.net coined the term “cloud content management” a month or so ago.

    The new features of Central Desktop 2.0 include:

    • New User Interface – Central Desktop’s user interface has been completely redesigned to provide a more user-friendly experience. The new layout includes a workspace creation wizard, workspace templating, new drop down menus, customizable tabs and configurable settings.


    • Online File Viewer – The expanded file preview feature supports 189 different file types including Microsoft Office files, PDFs, JPEGs, TIFs, CAD files and Adobe Photoshop files. All files are also accompanied by a thumbnail image for an at-a-glance immediate preview and the ability to comment on files without having to download them to the desktop.


    • Improved Wiki Navigation – One-click wiki page creation and page navigation enhancements – Wiki pages can be rearranged by simply dragging and dropping pages within a wiki tree, giving a hierarchical structure to ordinarily flat wiki pages.
    • PDF Creator – Convert, download and share any file type – including images – as a PDF with a single click directly from Central Desktop.
    • Internal Blogs and Forums – A corporate blog, project blog or discussion forum can be created quickly and used to share thoughts, make announcements or capture the evolution of ideas and projects.


    • Page Favorites – Frequently visited pages or files can be marked as favorites for quicker access.


    • Avatars – Central Desktop 2.0 uses avatars throughout the platform to identify users and accompany their recent activity.

    I’ve used a bunch of online collaboration platforms and while they all vary on the continuum  from lightweight to rich, one consistent factor has been their lack of usability for shop-floor workers. With the brief play I had of Central Desktop, I’m impressed at the user experience factors that they’ve obviously considered when designing this new UI. This new focus should see them able to branch out into different, and more mainstream, markets. As CEO Isaac Garcia said when I spoke with him:

    Our top priority is creating a collaboration solution that balances utility with usability to increase user adoption for our customers… Going forward, we will continue to build on our 2.0 platform to create turn-key, customizable solutions that target specific industries and customer segments.”

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  • Presentations… And Re-Inventing the Wheel


    I’m not a huge user of presentation software. I’m blessed to not work for a corporate and hence don’t have to justify my existence with a 40 slide deck resplendent in 12 point text and bad transitions.

    Yup – it’s fair to say I’m not a huge fan of presentations….

    A little while ago I spent some time with Sliderocket, I reviewed the product, talked to them about strategy and even had a go creating a presentation for a conference I’m attending in a couple of months. I think I’ve given it a fairly good try, so now it’s time to front up and articulate where I see presentations heading.

    Most web presentation offerings articulate their value proposition based on a couple of differentiators from the incumbents (namely Powerpoint and Keynote). Those differentiators are;

    • The ability to automatically update presentations in a digital-asset-management type style
    • The ability to run real time analytics through a presentation, and to react to that data (tailor an offering depending on the slides a viewer has looked at the most for example)

    While I understand the concepts above, I can’t help but think that presentations are a little bit different. A large proportion of presentations are delivered while mobile and hence can’t rely on plentiful internet connectivity. Ah I hear you say, that’s where some sort of offline access such as Google Gears kicks in. Well yes, but unfortunately, this generally breaks the very differentiators that online presentation software vendors use to justify their existence.

    When talking to a vendor recently about my own situation, needing to present to a conference where connectivity could not be guaranteed, I was told that they now offer a sort of “portable presentation format” whereby the presentation can be downloaded onto a laptop or pendrive and run as an executable file. Well sure…. but in that instance all one has done is designed a cut-down Powerpoint… without the ecosystem that surrounds the incumbents. And that’s the bind these vendors find themselves in – whether to go purely web and cut out a significant customer base who need offline, or go offline enabled but undercut their very own point of difference.

    I believe there are two main branches that presentations will go moving forwards;

    1) I need the bells and whistles – for those who simply must have flash animations and transitions. Powerpoint and Keynote will, for the foreseeable future, do this better than online offerings. As such people who need powerpoint, but also desire a degree of collaboration and asset management, would be best to use a service such as CentralDesktop or Box.net which enable collaboration

    2) Near enough is good enough – for those who simply need to create a rough-and-ready presentation the office productivity vendors are the best bet. Zoho show (disclosure – Zoho is exclusive sponsor of CloudAve) and Google show are both fairly lightweight offerings, but they do the basics well enough for most.

    So where does this leave everyone else? Well that’s a difficult question. Slideshare answers that by giving presentation creation a miss and just working on providing a location for user generated content. Sliderocket, to its credit, is trying to build an ecosystem where by content creators can engage creatives to product professional presentations. Box and CentralDesktop concentrate on the collaboration aspects and leave other to create the shows.

    Is the market place big enough for all of them? In my view no – especially when Microsoft Office 2010 looks like it will have at least a modicum of online ability. 2010 will be an interesting year for some of the players on this particular stage.


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