Work Smarter With Online Collaboration Tools

HyperOffice

Ideal for many small and medium-size businesses, HyperOffice balances the robust features and unification of IBM and Microsoft's tools while scaling down to suit companies that lack dedicated IT support. If you run into trouble, you can call HyperOffice and get help and support directly from someone at the company.

Well-produced tutorial videos appear throughout the new interface, to help you get started without IT support. If you need additional assistance, HyperOffice will walk you through the steps via Web conferencing.

HyperOffice portal; click for full-size image.
HyperOffice greets you with important details in one location. Choose from the tools on the left to create new messages and actions.

HyperOffice's integrated collection of services matches or beats those that its competitors offer. Typically you'll access the service in a Web browser, and use it to manage contacts, messages, projects, files, and more. To share a file, for example, users can subscribe to certain coworkers' documents (as members of a team, say), so they'll be notified of all updates. Meeting histories and e-mail traffic can be related to specific projects as well, so a latecomer who joins the group can catch up on prior communication easily.

HyperOffice can sync to Outlook, and you can read e-mail through any IMAP or POP browser. That flexibility is especially useful for offline work and for transitioning to cloud-based apps without abandoning your current tools. You can mount the file-storage component on a Windows or Mac desktop, to support intuitive accessing of documents as if they were any local files. An online meeting tool lets you give presentations, too, but HyperOffice partners with Skype to offload chat features.

A full mobile-phone synchronization beta has just launched, for transferring mail, contacts, and files directly to handsets. The service can also upload changes from your phone, for two-way parity anywhere.

Project-management features round out HyperOffice's options. You can track workflow and build simple tools to automate some of processes, as you would with a spreadsheet or database. And you can set up custom Web pages to share data with--or accept input from--internal groups or external clients.

HyperOffice costs roughly $10 per month or less per user, with discounts as the number of users increases. The meeting service and other tools--such as e-mail campaigns--that go beyond simple collaboration cost extra.

Microsoft Business Productivity

Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite sets the highest bar for large businesses. Consider this cloud-based alternative, especially if you already use--and like--Exchange Server, SharePoint, and other Microsoft mainstays. Priced at $10 per user per month, BPOS converts those services into an online, hosted model, with browser-based access from any Mac or PC.

Lotus Live

Lotus Live has several strong points for bigger businesses, including Webcasting and online meeting tools. But even though Lotus Live and BPOS are managed for you, they can get technical; as a result, they are best suited for larger companies with some on-staff IT support to help users take advantage of the advanced features. Lotus Live's pricing structure is more convoluted than its competitors', as it takes an à la carte approach to service charges.

Zoho

Zoho follows Google's free-to-paid model, offering dozens of cloud-based apps. E-mail hosting, calendar, contact, and collaboration tools are available. But Zoho provides all kinds of extras--including invoicing and recruiting apps, CRM tools, human resources tools, and project management--that make Zoho a compelling option for companies that value a consolidated set of online tools.

Zoho demands less internal support than the Microsoft and IBM tools do. But Zoho can feel segmented, with each app typically living apart from the next. And like Lotus Live's, Zoho's pricing is à la carte.

Select the Right Service

Many small- and medium-size businesses can get by with Google's free collaboration tools. If you need project management or other comprehensive features, it may be time to step up to a premium service. Both Google Apps Premier Edition and HyperOffice hit a sweet spot between robustness and ease of use, but IBM Lotus Live, Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite, and Zoho all offer compelling tools, as well. When in doubt, don't hesitate to take the free trials for a spin. Each service give prospective customers a free trial period, and it's wise to take time to choose carefully the service that best matches your company's needs.

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