» Archive for the 'Software' Category

In the briefing room: Nordic River TextFlow

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009 by Cody Burke

Collaboration on documents is a given in knowledge work.  Seldom will one author be the sole contributor to a document; rather, two or more knowledge workers typically come together to create the content, make edits, fact check, and finalize.

Nordic River's TextFlow visual version management software

Nordic River's TextFlow visual version management software

There are myriad pitfalls in this process ranging from lost efficiency as a document is e-mailed around for review, requiring those involved to wait their turn to edit, and to version and save conflicts when different versions of the document are inadvertently created.  Manually combining the work of multiple authors and editors into one document is a time consuming process – and definitely not a pleasant one.

To date, the greatest advancements in document collaboration have been the simple track changes and commenting functions found in most word processors.  Being able to insert comments, make edits with the original text preserved, and, through the sometimes dizzying color coding, keep track of who did what and when, makes it possible to pass documents through a workflow process and arrive at a consensus without manually comparing multiple documents and manually merging them.

However, the track changes method is far from perfect.  Its use is premised upon there being a single master copy of a document that is circulated to colleagues and editors, either as a file or via a document repository.  In either case, there is one master copy and knowledge workers take turns writing and editing in a serial fashion.

Nordic River is a Swedish company trying to change that dynamic through TextFlow, an online document collaboration tool that takes a decentralized approach to collaborative document creation.  TextFlow is browser-based, but also can be run as an Adobe AIR desktop application.

The Flash-based system lets the user drag-and-drop documents into the browser window where they are automatically merged with changes shown for approval or rejection.  The suggested changes show up inline in the document (similar to the way a traditional word processor would display tracked changes) unless they are of a larger size, in which case the changes are presented in a color coded box with options to accept, move to scrapbook, hide, and reject.

All changes are also indicated by tabs on the left side of the page that are clickable to hide or show the changes.  A box in the window shows whose documents are being merged, and this can be changed at anytime to adjust which documents are being merged.  For example, it is possible for two colleagues who are subject matter experts to have their documents merged first, and then incorporate the changes of other authors.

TextFlow also serves as a repository by hosting documents on its server that also maintains an archive and history of each document.  Documents that are created in or added to TextFlow can be put into a workflow via e-mail to colleagues and split and merged as many times as necessary.  It is not necessary to be a user of TextFlow to participate in the workflow process.  Because there is no master copy, every collaborator has a copy and can work concurrently without fear of creating version conflicts.

For companies that find themselves struggling to manage the document lifecycle, TextFlow may provide a very simple yet elegant solution that simplifies the authoring process.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the Briefing Room: Oracle Beehive

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira and Cody Burke

We recently had our first look at the new version of Beehive, Oracle’s collaboration solution and replacement for the Oracle Collaboration Suite.  Beehive is available both as an on-demand application or on-premises deployment and it goes up against two heavyweights. One is IBM, which created the groupware market with Lotus Notes and also offers Lotus Connections, Quickr and Domino (the Notes server). The other is Microsoft, which offers customers Exchange and SharePoint.

The effort behind Beehive is in part the handiwork of newly-arrived chief beekeeper and senior vice president of collaboration, David Gilmour, formerly CEO of Tacit Software, a provider of collaborative tools that Oracle acquired last year.

Beehive looks to have the makings of a Collaborative Business Environment (CBE), a workspace designed for the knowledge worker that incorporates all tools and resources in one overarching environment, which is starting to supersede the traditional desktop metaphor of separate and distinct tools.

Beehive 1.5 adds Web-based team work spaces along with wikis, team calendaring, RSS support, contextual search, and advanced file sharing.  Other changes in Beehive 1.5 include enhanced Web and voice conferencing including on-demand recording and retrieval and the ability for a presenter to see the delay between the screen they are sharing and what the audience is seeing.  Also included is integration with standard desktop tools that allows users to stay with e-mail clients that they already use, such as Microsoft Outlook, AppleMail, and Thunderbird (but not Lotus Notes) and instant messaging clients that adhere to open standards.

For tighter integration, Beehive has an Outlook extension that mimics the familiar interface of Outlook with Exchange when connecting Outlook to  Beehive.  It also has an extension for Windows Explorer that provides a folder level view as well as the option of using the included Zimbra open source e-mail software.  Behind the scenes, all data is stored in an Oracle database.

Right now, we’re only scratching the surface.  We will be looking at Beehive in greater depth in an upcoming report.

Jonathan B. Spira is the chief analyst at Basex. Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Test Drive: BlackBerry App World

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009 by Jonathan Spira
BlackBerry App World Categories

BlackBerry App World Categories

BlackBerry App World is now open for business.  The new application store is available from BlackBerry smartphones with a trackball or touchscreen such as the Pearl, Bold, Curve, and Storm; it does not support older BlackBerry devices with side wheels, which means that millions of knowledge workers with these models cannot benefit from what the store has to offer without replacing their hardware.

I only had an hour or so to explore the store; for this I used a BlackBerry Bold and AT&T’s 3G network, later switching to Wi-Fi to see if downloads were significantly faster (they weren’t).  To install, I had to first go to a Web page and initiate the installation process.  That put the App World icon in my download folder (incidentally, if you don’t know to look there, you won’t find it) and I moved it to the top-level menu.  Once in App World, I found hundreds of applications in categories such as News, Weather, Finance, Games, Productivity, Social Networking, and Health.  Many are free but some were relatively pricey ($59.99).

Installing a free app was simple and easy.  I downloaded multiple apps, including Viigo and Slacker Radio, and was soon listening to the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra playing the Sabre Dance. I was able to also check the weather and news reports in Viigo while the radio continued to play.  I then added the Nobex Radio Companion and was able to choose from thousands of radio stations in the U.S.  Nobex will also e-mail you song details with links that support Apple iTunes and Amazon.com, although you can’t purchase music directly from the BlackBerry at this time (but you can forward the e-mail to your computer to make the purchase).  I didn’t download the App World’s Facebook app; it’s the same one that’s been available for the BlackBerry for quite a while.  I couldn’t find a Twitter client although CellSpin and Viigo promise to support Twitter.

Purchasing applications was far clumsier than what Apple offers in its App Store: the first time I selected an application I wanted to purchase, AP News for $2.99, instead of offering to charge it to my mobile phone number, it offered me one payment choice: PayPal.  For those users who either don’t have PayPal or don’t wish to open a PayPal account, this seems a bit limiting.  Even when I tried to make the purchase through PayPal, it didn’t go through: “There was a problem connecting to the payment system. Your transaction may not have been processed…”  The best it could then offer me was an “attempt to retrieve the application purchase.”  It turned out that the charge had gone through and I was later able to install the AP app.  After testing it, I liked the free Viigo app better for news and information.

A few naming conventions were a bit odd (of what benefit is a “Boston News Web Shortcut” or “Fox News Bookmark”?) but in general, it was easy to find and learn about new applications.  Most have screen shots and product summaries and many have reviews.  I found that e-mailing a link from App World (so I could read more about the application on my laptop) did little good as the link was only accessible from the device.

Features include keyword search, reviews, recommendations, and a folder called My World, which keeps track of downloaded applications and facilitates reinstallation and transfer of applications to a device.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Test Drive: Skype for iPhone

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009 by Jonathan Spira
Skype for iPhone Account Screen

Skype for iPhone Account Screen

Skype is a popular communications tool for many knowledge workers, especially those on the go.  Released on Tuesday, Skype for iPhone, which also works on the second generation iPod touch, adds Skype calling and instant messaging to both devices and is available from Apple’s App Store, free of charge.

I installed it on the iPod touch as soon as it was available and, while there have been a few glitches, my experience has been pretty much stellar.  The application opens up myriad communications possibilities for the business traveler, including the ability to assign multiple “local” numbers to an iPhone or iPod touch at very low cost.

Skype for iPhone allows users to place free Skype-to-Skype calls when connected to Wi-Fi anywhere in the world.  To reach non-Skype users at rates that are typically a few cents per minute is just as easy.  The sound quality of the call was crystal clear for me but those I was speaking to reported that I sounded a bit distant.

Skype instant messaging is available on all supported connections (Wi-Fi, 3G, GPRS, or EDGE) to both individuals and groups. Users can also edit contacts and set their presence status.

Try it from any supported device from the Apple App Store.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Cloud Content Management with Salesforce Content

Thursday, March 5th, 2009 by Cody Burke

Cloud computing, for better or worse, is a hot topic right now.  We recently took a look at Salesforce Content, an integrated content management system (CMS) for sales teams using salesforce.com.

In an effort to make knowledge workers more efficient, Salesforce has created a unified workspace where the user can access content from multiple sources, including a cloud-based repository that is part of the Salesforce.com platform.  This keeps the knowledge worker from having to open  other applications when he needs to locate a piece of content.   Integration with Google Docs, for example, allows documents to be created and opened from within the Salesforce user interface without having to leave the environment.  In addition to the content residing in the cloud, the system can also access content from other repositories via  pointers.

When searching, users have the ability to view results based on factors such as high ratings by their peers or numbers of downloads.  The results can be further refined though custom fields that sort content based on relevance and user defined parameters.  Additionally, the knowledge worker can subscribe to content based on a variety of factors, including authors, topics, and tags.  When new content that fits the parameters is added, the knowledge worker receives an e-mail notification linking him to the content in the repository.

Salesforce.com has added other new content management functionality to the platform that increases knowledge worker efficiency.  To facilitate the assembly of slide presentations the knowledge worker can search through existing slides from across the organization to find relevant material.  Once the slides are found, they can be assembled into slide decks through a drag-and-drop interface, without having to download or copy and paste.  Salesforce Content also features a preview option for PowerPoint, Word, and Excel documents that allows the user to see the content without downloading it.  Additionally, the content can be sent via e-mail as a hyperlink, without the actual file being attached.  Once the material is sent out, the sender can track it to see when the link was opened, when and if the file was downloaded, how long it was viewed for, and, if need be, even discontinue access to the material.

The addition of CMS functionality to the Salesforce platform is a big step in the right direction towards building a true Collaborative Business Environment, a workspace for the knowledge worker that supports access to all applications and resources under one virtual roof.  Enabling knowledge workers to stay in one environment, create linkages between disparate repositories and Web services, and assemble and distribute content with no downloading or bulky file attachments is laudable, and organizations looking to gain efficiencies for knowledge workers who need to track interaction with multiple parties should give this due consideration.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.


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