Recently, Central Desktop released Web Folders. I’ve been in on the beta for about 6 months, and love it. We’re using it as a Dropbox replacement. Combined with the Shared Folders feature, we’re able to really get some positive results out of it. (I’ll try to write more on that, later.)
One of the recent complaints about WebDAV is that a nice feature is (surprisingly) only available in Internet Explorer. CD creates a link to each file to “Open via Web Folders.” Clicking the link will open your Excel spreadsheet, for example, in Excel. No need to check the file out, download it, open it, edit it, save it, check it back in. Once that file is open, it’s checked out to you, until you close it.
That’s a great feature (probably the only one, really) that IE can boast.
Unless you have the IE Tab extensions for Firefox or the IE Tab Classic for Chrome.

Install those plugins, and anytime you need quicker access to a file, just switch your rendering engine to IE. Central Desktop will think you’re using IE,  and allow you to “Open via Web Folders.” I did notice that, at least in Chrome, the file preview wasn’t working when viewed in IE Tab. That shouldn’t really matter if you’re getting ready to open the file via WebDAV, though. Also, this will only work for windows, so Mac and Linux users might need to find another alternative.

Have you tried Web Folders yet? Tell me about your experiences in the comments.

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Well, actually, they won’t. And they shouldn’t.
Right off the bat, I’ll tell you that I wish the Interface-lift had been put on hold to address some of the functionality issues that I think merit more focus than a new UI. Like the ability to edit databases in bulk, like in SharePoint’s ‘Data sheet view.’ Or creating real relational databases, not just the fancy hyperlinks they currently masquerade as ‘Database Relations.’ Or more robust, granular user permissions. Those would help me, personally, more than the new UI will.
But I don’t work there, so I don’t get any say in it. And that’s fine.
I understand that no SAAS will ever give me 100% of the functionality that I need. I realize that the only way to get everything ‘my way’ is to build my own. I don’t possess the skill set or the capital to make that happen, though. I do know that when it came time to re-evaluate Central Desktop, I looked at several other options, and to merely keep the level of integration we have achieved with our Central Desktop implementation, we would have to cobble together at least three other applications. Sure, we would have gained a few nice bits of functionality from each of those separate platforms. But at what cost? (pun intended)

It’s not surprising to see the backlash against the new interface. I’m sure I’ve participated in a similar fashion before. So if you find yourself among those who have a strong, adverse reaction to change, here’s a suggestion: Before you head to the forum and start a Facebook fan page to get the old interface back, spend a little time with the new one and see how it works, and how you can work with it. Last week, I mentioned the potential gains of shunning the user forum to find out where that darned “Delete” button is located, and it applies just as much (if not more) now than it did then.

There are two types of problems you might encounter during this transition period:

  1. Oh crap, email notifications don’t go out anymore when I comment on a file; and
  2. Oh crap, I didn’t find the logout link on my first glance.

Type 1 is CD’s problem.

Central Desktop can and should fix that for you. They are probably still busy tracking them down right now. There were are a lot of bugs with this release. There will always be bugs in any release. There is no way to test for every single problem that might potentially occur. But the support team has been all over getting bugs fixed. I do wish (as others in the forums have mentioned) that a list of know bugs was presented, and estimated completion times and priorities of the bugs would have been more readily communicated to the users. Though I do know that all of the bugs I submitted via the help ticket system were answered and tracked, just not where everyone could see them.

Type 2 is your problem.

I won’t rehash what I wrote last week, but just go out there and start clicking buttons until you find the one that does what you want. Besides, what’s more important to you: that the underlying system works, or that every style element of the new UI is exactly where you want it? You all chose the system, right? So why waste the support team’s time by clogging up the forum with your personal gripe about fonts and locations of logout links; instead spend some time getting to know the site. If you find a real bug, then report it. Properly. And wait. Patiently. If you think that you have an idea that might make the platform a little better, write a feature request. And wait. Patiently. We’re definitely not going to see CD 2.1 until 2.o is stable.

I’m optimistic about the new design; but I’m going to actually get a few weeks of use under my belt before I decide whether or not the sky is falling.

Besides, I just want to be there when 3.0 rolls out and everyone who ‘hated’ 2.o begs to have that interface back. (I bet they’ll also complain that IE 7 isn’t supported…)

Recently on the CD Forums we’ve seen some chatter about CD 2.0 not working with IE 6, and I say “Great!” Now let’s hope everyone else in the world decides to ditch it.
So many other people have written much better explanations for the need to eliminate IE 6, so I won’t go over that ground. But the number one complaint I’ve heard from people who are stuck using a browser which is nearly 10 years old, is that they use other applications which only support IE 6. As it relates to CD, the complaint usually revolves around a partner in collaboration who uses a proprietary software which isn’t compatible with Internet Explorer 7 or greater. That they’re locked into using IE 6 by an oppressive IT regime which won’t even let them update their Facebook pages from time to time, or check out some LOL Cats on their lunch breaks. I feel for you. That must suck.
But, at some point, you have to ask yourself, “who is to blame? Should I blame Central Desktop, for acknowledging that IE 6 is a broken, dying browser full of security holes and unable to provide our customers the best experience? Or should I, rather, direct my righteous indignation at the maker of whatever proprietary software hasn’t, in the last ten years, been able to bring their software up to date?”
Maybe 10 years is a little harsh. IE 7 has been out for 5 years now, however, and that’s 5 years that the maker of whatever proprietary software could have used to only be one iteration of a browser behind. (P.S. They also missed out on the opportunity to pick up any users of Firefox, Safari, Opera or Chrome, etc. etc. etc.)
I guess I’m just amazed that I have seen so much outrage directed at the guys that are getting it right.
How many times have you seen a guy screaming outside of a gas station because they don’t have leaded gasoline for his 1955 Buick? Maybe I should throw a fit and complain to NBC when I can’t watch the 2022 Olympics on my analog television. Maybe I could complain that my Sony BluRay player doesn’t play my BetaMax cassettes. People still use those. They had a better quality than VHS, dang it!

Why are people actually demanding that Central Desktop take a step back, and accommodate an inferior browser that is losing market share steadily? That helps no one. It certainly doesn’t help the 80% of users who use a browser that takes advantage of the latest web standards. It doesn’t help Central Desktop, at all, when they have to spend extra time and money (guess who gets to pick up that extra investment, by the way) to engineer a version that is compatible with a browser that is nearly ten years old. And most importantly, it doesn’t help the few holdouts who produce a product that relies on an archaic browser. If you want to get mad at someone, get mad at the guys that are getting it wrong, and have been for the last decade.

I collaborate over Central Desktop with a vendor who is forced to use IE 6. The majority of their users use a third party software that “doesn’t support any browser other than IE 6.” The people I work with don’t go near it. But their centralized IT department couldn’t care less about anything but the lowest common denominator. So everyone, in every building, regardless of their actual needs uses IE 6. I can completely empathize with those who are upset that Central Desktop 2.0 is cramping their style. So, in an effort to not just turn this into a rant, I’ll share a few workarounds Ideas.

Install the portable version of Firefox on a flashdrive and give it to the point person you work with. Pre-configure it to work with their proxy, set all of the bookmarks she might need to use your CD implementation, and set her loose with it. Portable Firefox, which doesn’t actually install anywhere, can very easily be copied from the flashdrive to the local machine, and executed without a hitch.  If you’re geographically limited, you can zip up the whole works, and load it to Central Desktop. Just put some good instructions in the file description.

Of course, the portable Firefox (they also make a Chrome version, but I’ve had problems trying to configure proxies.) method only works if the user can execute a portable app from either the desktop or a flashdrive. This could also meancircumventing another company’s IT policies, which is another issue to consider.

If the portable method doesn’t suit you, try taking advantage of CD’s email capabilities. A user with a limiting browser can participate in discussions, create and comment on tasks, receive files from you (make sure you copy the link that goes directly to the download of the file) or even email new files or discussions to a specific folder, all from the comforts of their email inbox. (Probably Outlook 2000, am I right?) Be sure to check out CD’s help pages on using CD through your email. (It looks like some of the help files are down now, as they refresh them for the new UI.)

Along the same lines as email control of CD is the Outlook Plugin. With this plugin, a user can sync their calendars and tasks in CD with their outlook calendars and tasks, and also upload files directly into any folder in any workspace they have access to. This method, like the portable Firefox method, is going to be dependent on the level of IT Lockdown the user is experiencing. But if the only argument against a decent browser is ‘we need IE 6 for our software,’ then the IT department might be able to be persuaded to allow the installation of the Outlook Plugin.

One of these options might work for you, if you’re stuck with IE 6. While I can’t guarantee that any one of these proposals would spell an end to the woes of using a ten year old browser, I can guarantee that trying one of these ideas would be more productive than asking a forward thinking company to take a step backward.

Quick Post: Gannt Charts?

February 23, 2010

So, amidst all of the confusion surrounding the new UI implementation (more on that later), I couldn’t help but notice this image that CD Support Manager Kraig posted in the User Forum: One of the most requested features on the forums has been Gannt Charting abilities. It’s been on the Mythical Feature Request List (along with bulk editing of databases and robust user permissions) for as long as I’ve been a user. Does this screenshot of a milestone indicate the possibility of Gannt Charts coming?

Update: Kraig Commented, and I’m elevating this up to the main body of the post:

Actually I have been working on a flash gantt chart which hooks into a workspace/company account using our API. http://64.79.198.189/~kraig/gchart.php It’s still a work in progress. Here’s how it works: – Task lists and milestones are identified on the chart in parentheses. – The Task List start date is the earliest due date on the task list. The end date is the last due date in the task list. – The percent complete is (number of tasks completed / number of tasks)*100 This is actually live — it’s looking in one of my workspaces. Post comments if you’re interested and I’ll try to answer or show you how to set this up. As I have time, that is. We’re up to our necks with questions about Central Desktop 2.0! :)

It looks like you’ll be able to view this on a Workspace by workspace basis, probably as an embedded flash element or workspace application block. The real question is “Will it work with Internet Explorer 6?” Or AOL’s dial up browser even?
Couldn’t resist.

But do leave a comment or question for Kraig on his Gantt Chart project.

1. Print this and tape it in everyone’s cubicle. Via XKCD

Better yet, save the image and set it as the the desktop wallpaper on every machine in your organization.  Save a tree.

2. Roll out a “Sandbox” workspace like CD Support guy John Schuller recommends.

Here’s what you need to do in this sandbox workspace.  Or rather what your employees need to do: Screw around. Try crap. Answer their own questions. Take ownership of the process. Learn something no one else in the company knows how to do. And do any of this without a shred of fear that they might mess something up. It’s a sandbox. It’s meant for learning.

How much more beneficial is it to empower your workers to try things on their own, than to direct them to a support team? Sure, the support team can tell you exactly how to change the due date on a task. But at what cost? The cost of an hour while the employee sits and twiddles her thumbs waiting for a member of the Forums to take a screenshot of the big red “X” in the tool bar (that, like every other toolbar, deletes something) and post the pic to the forum to show them where to find it? How many other ‘unknown’ features might that user find if she took the time to simply hover her mouse over each icon and find out what it does?

The next big, game changing use for Central Desktop might go undiscovered, because your employees aren’t empowered to screw around in a safe area of Central Desktop.

iPad

January 27, 2010

I just read Isaac Garcia’s reaction to the iPad as a collaboration tool, and I thought I’d respond.

First, let me say that I agree with Mr. Garcia’s analysis on what the iPad is:

So, based on what I’ve “seen” it appears that the iPad is a great way to pass time when I’m on an airplane, waiting at the airport, sitting on my sofa (because walking 3 feet to my computer is too hard), lying in bed with my wife (because I’ve got nothing else to do?), riding the BART from SFO to downtown San Francisco.

The iPad is a consumer product, from a consumer electronics manufacturer. It does everything my iPod Touch (or as someone more witty than I dubbed it today, my iPad Nano) can do, but on a larger screen. And my iPad Nano can email. And access Central Desktop. And chat/talk via Skype. That’s collaboration. It’s a really crappy, inefficient way to collaborate, but it’s collaboration. Then again, I don’t drag my laptop with me to provide a little workout music when I go running, either.

But the iPad is just a device. Its the medium, not the message. The platform is the message, and Central Desktop puts collaboration in the cloud, where it’s accessible to anyone with a decent internet connection. Their software makes the hardware less critical. The hardware becomes a means to access the service, not the service itself.

So the iPad isn’t the next leap forward in collaboration. That’s fine by me, I wasn’t looking at it from a collaboration point of view. But I definitely see the iPad as a jump-off point for ‘the next big thing.’ Look at the specs on the tablet: 10 inch screen, .5 inches thin, 1.5 pounds all with a 10 hour battery. That’s a great start. And it means that those Avatar, 3D interactive displays are a little closer than before.

For me, it’s the platform, not the device that drives collaboration. And Central Desktop has a great platform. Am I going to buy an iPad? Probably not. But if I did, you can bet I’d use it to at least check off tasks and get project reports from Central Desktop.

And, like Garcia, I look forward to a similar device tailored to a collaboration centric crowd. For now, I’ll just use my laptop.

A new value added integration from Central Desktop just popped onto my radar. They have now teamed with FedEX Office to allow users to print directly from Central Desktop to any FedEX Office location.

I think this announcement deserved a little more fanfare than it has yet received.  Before teaming up with FedEX, Central Desktop was a great way for freelancers and small businesses to take advantage of a suite of collaboration products on a scalable basis. No need for lots of expensive overhead. The addition of FedEX into the equation adds a huge layer of services not there before., namely in finished product distribution.

Central Desktop allows a freelancer in California, working with another collaborator  in Indiana, to work together on a proposal, then print and bind it and have it ready to be picked up at the FedEx Office nearest to the client in Florida.

All you need to run your business now is your laptop and a good internet connection.

Good work on this one, CD!