Review: Collanos Workspace for Team Collaboration
If you collaborate with teams in the workplace, you no doubt have already heard of enterprise tools like MindTouch Deki and Kablink to help you get the job done. These are great solutions, but for a consumer-oriented option that works right out of the box, Collanos Workplace is a terrific choice. It's cross-platform, easy to set up, open source, and free.
I gave Collanos a whirl recently and, despite a couple of minor issues that aren't show-stoppers, I was impressed with the software. While it might not be robust enough for the corporate world, it's perfect for small businesses and groups with non-technical computer users.
Installation on my Mac (OS X 10.5) and Linux (openSUSE 11.1) was quick and flawless. Collanos Workplace is available for Windows, but is limited to openSUSE, Ubuntu, and Fedora for Linux. The full installation also includes Collanos Phone, a Skype-like feature that's integrated right into Workplace. The phone is set to start every time your computer boots, but that option can be changed under Preferences.
The Collanos interface is dead-simple and intuative. To set up a team work environment, simply click Create Space and begin inviting people. Anyone you've worked with previously in the Collanos environment will already be listed in your Contacts, but you also have the option of emailing non-users to join your team. Of course, they will need to download the Collanos software to participate.
Collanos allows you to post files of various types for collaboration, including .rtf, .jpg, .doc, and .txt. Since files are stored locally and not in the cloud, it's possible to work offline. Altered and new files are synchronized with your team members once you've reestablished your Internet connection and launched the Collanos software. Once connected, you'll be able to see which of your colleagues are also online and instant message them via the native chat feature.
In addition to uploading files to your team workspace, you can also create tasks and assign them to other team members. They'll receive a notification of a pending task which they can accept, reject, or defer to someone else. Changes to tasks are tracked and accessed via individual change logs attached to each task.
I think Collanos is a terrific collaboration tool, and I have only a couple of minor quibbles. Each time a change is made to the workspace -- everything from the renaming of a file to the addition of a task -- you get an audible tone and pop-up notification. Given how often changes within a collaborative workspaces are likely to occur, I rank these notifications somewhere between unnecessary and downright annoying. It's possible to change their settings in Preferences, but doing so is far from intuitive since its difficult to tell what events will trigger a notification.
I also found myself wasting a lot of time figuring out how to undo certain things like cancel scheduled conference calls or pop-up reminders for tasks. In some cases, I was able to locate the options through trial-and-error. In other cases, I never did figure it out.
Collanos just had a maintenance release [PDF] this month to fix some bugs and add some additional functionality. According to the company's blog, future major upgrades will include keyword-based tagging, file system integration, and calendar synchronization.
As open source collaboration tools go, Collanos is one of the best I've seen. It might not be right for big business or users with extremely specific needs, but for small groups -- especially with team members who aren't power users -- I think it's just right.