Central Desktop adds simultaneous edits for Office docs

Users will be able to collaborate on Word, Excel and PowerPoint files

Central Desktop's hosted collaboration suite will gain a new component next month designed to let multiple users simultaneously work on the same Microsoft Office documents.

Called Central Desktop for Office, the new tool will allow users to collaborate on Word, PowerPoint and Excel files while the Central Desktop platform keeps track of the changes and additions made by the different users.

This becomes possible because the files reside on a Central Desktop server and not on any particular user's PC hard drive, said Central Desktop CEO and co-founder Isaac Garcia.

Central Desktop for Office places a new toolbar within the interface of the Office applications, so that end-users can create and call up documents without leaving the Microsoft suite.

Until now, Central Desktop, which bills its suite as a low-cost, hosted option to Microsoft's SharePoint, has required that its users download Office documents from Central Desktop servers and work on their PCs.

While the document is "checked out," other users can't make changes to it. They have to wait until the user working on it is done and uploads it back to Central Desktop.

When Cental Desktop for Office becomes available in June, this check-in and check-out process will be replaced by simultaneous, cloud-based collaboration, Garcia said. Central Desktop will keep track of document versions and merge all changes into the single, server-based file. Users will also be able to post comments on the documents.

Central Desktop for Office, which includes technology from OffiSync, will work with Office versions 2003, 2007 and 2010. Users working on the same document can be on different versions of Office.

The new tool expands the use cases for the Central Desktop suite, making it more convenient and useful for employees who are heavy users of Office applications, said Larry Cannell, a Burton Group analyst.

"This lets their product support more usage scenarios," he said.

While Microsoft is making a big leap towards cloud-based collaboration with Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010, Central Desktop's new tool could attract organizations that don't plan to upgrade yet from the 2003 and 2007 versions, he said.

Central Desktop, which was founded in 2005, targets its browser-suite at small and medium-size companies, and at departments within larger businesses.

The suite lets organizations communicate and collaborate through discussion forums, blogs, Web meetings, conference calls, shared documents, user profiles, status updates, wikis, calendars, and project management and workflow tools.

Central Desktop has an installed base of about 400,000 end-users, of which about 130,000 use the paid version in some 3,000 companies. Clients include Omniture, Gymboree, CBS, InterContinental Hotels Group and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

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