Work Smarter With Online Collaboration Tools

These online collaboration services offer tools for every business need, and every budget.

By Zack Stern, PC World |  Software, Collaboration Software

Budget constraints and limited technical support make it critical for most small and medium-size companies to work as efficiently as possible. An important first step in getting more and better work from relatively few people is to enable them to work together in real time, no matter how distant they actually may be.

In this brief guide, I'll explain how to select collaboration tools to match your business's needs. The free Google Apps service is a sensible starting point for many companies. But in some instances, a more-robust paid service, such as HyperOffice or even Google's Apps Premier Edition, can be worth the expense.

Google Apps

If your small business is just getting started with online collaboration, the free version of Google Apps is an excellent place to dive in. Google's service acts as a good baseline that any paid competitor should match, as it includes e-mail with a large amount of free storage, sharable calendars, document editing, and other tools.

With Google Apps or any other service, e-mail lies at the heart of your collaboration. Gmail includes more than 7GB of space for free accounts, and Google is constantly adding storage to the service. You'll always connect through secure HTTP to encrypt data. And as with any other collaboration service, you can access messages from a browser or through your own e-mail client. For real-time communication, Google Talk handles instant messages, voice, and video calls.

Thrifty businesses may be able to get by with the free edition of Google Calendar. Beyond basic features, it lets you share or subscribe to other calendars, which is crucial for collaboration. You can sync to many phones--important for offline mobile work--or just read data through a mobile Web browser.

Google Docs stores and edits files. Microsoft Office-compatible knock-offs include a word processor, a spreadsheet, and a presentation tool. You can upload your current files to share and edit, or you can start from scratch. You may also set permissions by individual or by group, enabling others to view or edit files.

Additional tools can help businesses collaborate and communicate. Google Sites looks like a basic Web page builder, but you can use it to create portals for sharing company information or client-side details that only those people can access.

Google Apps Premier Edition

Originally published on PC World |  Click here to read the original story.
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