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New collaboration tools a viable alternative to Microsoft Office

CloudOn updates its cloud-based office collaboration software application while Perforce offers a new service to aid in worker productivity.

A recent flood of cloud-based office collaboration software has given enterprises plenty of viable alternatives to Microsoft Office and version control applications.

CloudOn is putting into place key pieces of its office collaboration software to target the enterprise market next year while Perforce Software launches a cloud-based document version control service.

Recently, CloudOn made a major revision to its software, with support for PC-browser functionality in addition to its existing iOS and Android support. It also allows end users to collaborate on documents, wherever the file is stored.

CloudOn's updated application is only the most recent cloud-based collaboration product that serves as a Microsoft Office alternative. Recently, Huddle unveiled its Connected Desktop enterprise offering, IBM upgraded its SmartCloud suite, Google said it would offer Quickoffice for free, and Apple now provides iWorks for no charge for new iOS 7 device users. Additionally, Box unveiled Box Notes at its recent user conference.

The ability to work on multiple file-sharing storage services sets CloudOn apart from any other application, said Bruce Johnson, associate partner for SAP Mobile Innovation. Johnson has been a CloudOn user for several years, and calls the application his go-to cloud-based document-editing package in the cloud.

Multiple cloud-based file storage services may not always be sanctioned by businesses, but many employees will use a Dropbox or Google Drive for both personal and work purposes.

 "Thanks to the consumerization of IT, chances are [that] ten users [in an organization] are going to be using different file services," said Bradley Shimmin, research director for business technology and software at Current Analysis Inc., an enterprise research firm based in Washington, D.C. "Right now [CloudOn] is capitalizing on a temporary shortcoming that Microsoft users are facing. … [The] big players will be forced to unify the disparate services."

The industry has not yet reached a point where disparate file storage services, combined with authentication, governance, security and file management, is available, Shimmin said.

By the end of next year, CloudOn will incorporate more enterprise features to accommodate IT's needs for enterprise administration, reporting, compliance and management, while also balancing end-user needs with features such as single sign-on.

CloudOn must demonstrate that the application offers scalability and an enterprise-grade level of security and encryption, Johnson said.

For now, the upgraded software includes browser support for Chrome and Safari, as well as Firefox and Internet Explorer. It also includes an activity stream that will allow users and teams to keep a running log of edits, actions and messages related to documents in a central space.

The software comes free with basic editing and viewing capabilities. The Pro version includes more functionality, such as the ability to track changes in Word, insert objects into documents, manipulate functions and pivot tables, and incorporate more formatting features, such as transitions, into PowerPoint presentations. The Pro version costs $2.99 per month or $29.99 per year until the end of the year. CloudOn has not yet determined how much the Pro version will cost next year.

Perforce enters the collaboration fray

Meanwhile, Perforce Software Inc., based in Alameda, Calif., released a new collaboration service called Commons Cloud. The new cloud-based service is a drag-and-drop file repository that provides support for revision control and activity feeds, enabling teams to work on documents without e-mailing the latest version to each other.

Commons Cloud is a free service stemming from Perforce's enterprise version management application, a software development tool that enables programmers to keep track of massive amounts of software code. The company counts among its customers Disney Pixar and NASA, among others.

"We had a lot of people outside of development groups who were still stuck and using the company's wiki, emailing [files] back and forth, and attempting to keep track of [versions]," said Scott Gilliland, technical specialist at Altair Engineering Inc., based in Troy, Mich. The service provides nondevelopment workers a simple tool and moves them away from the complexity of using Perforce, he added.

While Commons Cloud is not a replacement for a full editor, it does have its advantages. It is the place teams can go to collaborate on documents and work in parallel, with changes automatically populating a file, said Dhruv Gupta, director of product marketing for Perforce.

Commons Cloud will support up to 20 users for free, while an on-premises version will be targeted for enterprises.

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