Central Desktop Delivers Outlook Plug-in

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Central Desktop has enhanced its eponymous Web-hosted collaboration suite with a plug-in for Outlook that the company believes increases its viability as a SharePoint alternative.

Microsoft Outlook is the desktop e-mail program of about 70 percent of Central Desktop's 270,000 end users. Because Central Desktop has designed its suite as a less expensive and easier to manage option to Microsoft SharePoint, developing this Outlook plug-in was a must, said CEO Isaac Garcia.

"Outlook is the focal point of how people interact with SharePoint," he said. "SharePoint alternatives need synchronization with Outlook. Now, we've bridged that gap with this deep and wide Outlook integration."

The new plug-in will let users bidirectionally synchronize their task lists and calendars between Central Desktop and Outlook.

In addition, the plug-in lets users automate through pre-established rules the delivery of e-mail messages from Outlook to Central Desktop folders. This can also be done on an ad-hoc basis.

All existing Central Desktop customers can download the plug-in for free now from the company's Web site.

A potential area of further integration with Outlook would be the contacts list, but demand for that wasn't as big as for e-mail messages, tasks and calendar items, he said.

Central Desktop's product is built around the concept of shared "workspaces," which members of a group can set up to collaboratively manage projects, track tasks, engage in discussions and manage documents and files.

Integrating Central Desktop with Outlook is an obvious choice, according to Mark Levitt, an IDC analyst. "Their customers want to have ways of interacting with and using Outlook as a launching point for Central Desktop, in order to be able to send information in and out of [Central Desktop] workspaces via e-mails, share calendars and so on," Levitt said, adding that integration with Lotus Notes would be worthwhile for Central Desktop as well.

The plug-in also should help the company increase its adoption among new customers that on first glance may not be aware of how its suite works and how it's different from others in the market. "By providing integration with Outlook, you can automatically be participating in an ecosystem of users who are looking for ways to add value to and connect additional functionality into Outlook," Levitt said.

Competitively, Central Desktop's main edge in the collaboration market is that it combines asynchronous team collaboration with discussions and live meetings, he said. "Most other solutions have those two pieces separate," Levitt said. An exception is Novell, thanks to its acquisition last year of SiteScape.

Central Desktop is part of a group of SaaS (software-as-a-service) vendors that are disrupting the collaboration software market, historically dominated by expensive and complex suites from vendors like IBM and Microsoft.

Designed from the ground up to work on the Web, this new wave of collaboration platforms is often more friendly for both end users and IT staffers, as well as less expensive to acquire and maintain. IBM and Microsoft have reacted to this trend by coming out with SaaS alternatives to their venerable, on-premise platforms, efforts that for both of those vendors are ongoing.

Central Desktop targets midsize companies or departments within larger companies, usually with between 100 and 1,000 end users, a segment of the market that has been historically underserved by large collaboration vendors.

Some marquee-name Central Desktop customers include Oracle, Adobe Systems, Duke University, Amtrak, J.D. Power & Associates, Siemens and Lenovo, according to the privately held company, which was founded in 2005 and is based in Pasadena, California.

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