Free online collaboration tools

If you need a new online collaboration tool, we’ve got ten for you -- for free

free online collaboration tools

Free online collaboration tools

Creating ad-hoc teams to work on projects is easy; unlocking budget to help them collaborate effectively, not so much.

That’s probably why, even though free online collaboration tools come and go with surprising frequency, interest in them never seems to fade away.

It’s not just about helping workers in the same building manage a document store or coordinate messaging: It’s also about keeping remote workers involved. The telecommuting phenomenon still growing -- to 2.9 percent of the workforce from 2.6 percent three years ago, according to the American Community Survey -- and shows no sign of slowing. 

If you need a new online collaboration tool, we’ve picked ten for you. They’re all free, although most of the also offer paid tiers with additional services. Check them out.

Stride
Atlassian

Stride

Stride will host chat rooms, shared files, and voice and video chats for you and your colleagues.

It's brand new, but it’s been available for free for years.

How is that possible? Stride is the name of the latest version of HipChat, an online chatroom and file sharing service that launched in 2010. Its current owner, Atlassian, has been offering HipChat as a freemium product since 2014. Stride, unveiled in September 2017, builds on HipChat’s features. The HipChat name will live on in HipChat Data Center, the on-premises version of the software.

Stride Free includes unlimited free voice and video calling to an unlimited number of users in the organization. The free file storage is limited to 5GB, and the free chat history tops out at 25,000 messages.

New to Stride are the Actions and Decisions collaboration tools, which allow users to tag messages as decisions for later reference, or to mark messages as actions and track when they are done.

Stride Standard, the paid version, costs US$3 per user per month, and includes user management and remote desktop control features, with unlimited file and message storage. It’s possible to test the additional features for 30 days for free.

appear.in
Peter Sayer/IDG

appear.in

Want to video-chat with up to eight colleagues or clients at once, with no registration? Appear.in is for you.

Create a browser-based video chatroom, send out the URL via email, SMS or whatever, and you’re in business. You can even use it to share your screen for presentations.

It's cross-platform, running in the browser on desktops and laptops, or in dedicated apps on Android or iOS.

Although the theoretical limit is eight users per video chatroom, you might find that CPU constraints cut in before then, as the free version of Appear.in is peer-to-peer, placing a heavy load on your processor to decode so many video streams.

The paid version (US$12 per month for one chatroom) allows up to 12 users to meet. Traffic is routed via a central server and piped out as a single video feed to each client, reducing demands on the device.

Video chat and screen sharing is all Appear.in does, though: You’ll need another tool or service to capture text chats or store your files.

fotc trello

Trello

Trello has the chat and document management features you might expect in a collaboration tool, but they're all secondary to the cards and boards at the center of its project management function. Boards are projects, cards are tasks, and you can comment on those or attach files from your computer, Google Drive, Dropbox, Box or OneDrive.

You can arrange to receive notifications in the mobile app, via email or in your browser, to let you know about project status updates or replies to your comments, for example.

There's an API that you can use to integrate Trello with Salesforce, Github, Evernote, Google Drive and more using add-ons called Power-Ups.

The free tier sets allows unlimited boards, cards, and members, but limits file attachments to 10MB and allows only one Power-Up per board.

Paid tiers lift the limits on file size and power ups, and add additional support and access control options, including single sign-on and two-factor authentication.

asana

Asana

There are no fancy names or metaphors in Asana's terminology: It groups tasks into projects, and allows users to attach comments or files to conversations about either. 

Users can also control what they receive alerts about. 

Files can be linked from Dropbox, Box, OneDrive and Google Drive, or uploaded from a computer.

Dashboards provide a quick overview of the status of tasks in a project.

The free version of Asana offers unlimited tasks, projects and conversations -- but only for up to 15 members. More than that, and you'll have to pay US$9.99/user/month or sign up for an enterprise contract. The paid versions also include more advanced dashboards, search, reporting and user management functions. 

Google docs

Google

You can piece together a free collaborative working environment for a small team using Google's free tools. Starting with a personal Gmail account for each user, up to 10 people can share a video call or 100 people can participate in a group chat using Hangouts.

Teams can coordinate schedules using Google Calendar; collaborate on the editing of texts, spreadsheets and slideshows using Google Docs, and share files using Google Drive. Managing access to documents is a fiddly affair involving each user maintaining their own lists of group participants and setting rights for each document.

Google charges US$5 and up per user per month for G Suite, a combination of Gmail, Docs, Drive, Hangouts and Calendar for business, with a range of tools for securely managing users, devices and data thrown in.

Framacloud
Framasoft

FramaCloud

Framasoft has created a sprawling suite of online collaboration tools, all free and usable without registration.

Framacloud includes a text editor (Framapad), a spreadsheet (Framacalc), a survey tool (Framaforms), a shared calendar (Framagenda), a mind mapper (Framindmap), project planners (Framaboard, Framaestro), a lightbox for creating and sharing slideshows (Framaslides), a team chat room (Framateam), a mailing list manager (Framalistes), a videoconferencing tool (Framatalk) and a shared file store (Framadrop).

The services aren’t just free to use, they’re also free as in freedom. (Framasoft is French: Remember freedom fries?) That means that you can also download the code and install it on your own server, creating your own instance of the apps.

Not all of Framasoft’s offering has been translated into English, so it might help to speak a little French, at least to begin with. Given the common design language used by so many of the services we’ve looked at, though, you’ll probably figure it out without trouble, and when you do, you can help your colleagues using the free collaborative translation tool, Framalang.

If you think it looks as though Framasoft is trying to match Google’s Gsuite feature for feature, you may be right. The organization is also behind a campaign called “De-google-ify internet.”

dropbox paper

Dropbox

Dropbox, a collaboration tool? Well, yes, and all the more so since the arrival of Dropbox Paper.

The Dropbox service started life as a place you could store files online, syncing them between different machines and sharing them with colleagues, customers or friends.

Now, though, Dropbox Paper offers a place where you can comment on those files, see others' comments, and receive notifications in the browser or a mobile app when changes are made. 

The company offers a small number of templates in which you can embed documents of all kinds, including audio recordings and video -- or you can go freestyle and create your own.

Dropbox offers individual accounts with up to 2GB of storage for free; up to 1TB costs US$9.99/month. Business accounts with team management, additional regulatory compliance features and up to 2TB of storage cost $12.50/user/month.

invisionapp
InvisionApp

InvisionApp

InvisionApp is a collaboration tool for designers. 

It allows you to create wire-frame designs for web pages and apps, visualizing how they will function, and to share them with customers and colleagues for feedback and comments.

Collaboration takes the form of a webcast in which the all participants can doodle on the screen or type their feedback in a chat window. Modifications to the original design file, though, can only be made by the document's owner.

The free version is limited to one board or prototype.

For US$99/user/month, a team of up to five can collaborate on the design of an unlimited number of boards and prototypes, inviting other colleagues and customers to their screencasts as for the individual account. 

twiddla

Twiddla

Twiddla is a super-simple whiteboarding tool that's acquired a complex series of extensions.

You can use it to draw diagrams, to annotate images, and to chat about what's on the screen.

You'll have to be quick, though: The free version allows you to hold a meeting with up to 10 people for just 20 minutes.

Paid tiers remove the limits on duration and participants, and add features such as password protection, voice conferencing and vanity URLs. Pricing starts at US$14/month.

slack

Slack

Slack has become something of a hub for online collaboration tools.

Many of the other tools we've highlighted offer Slack integration as a feature, and Slack itself proposes integrations with many others.

At its heart, Slack is a series of group chat rooms, with tools for controlling who can access which rooms, and for searching and managing chat histories and attached documents. 

Using the same application, mobile app or web interface, it's possible to participate in group chats owned or operated by many different organizations.

Slack isn't just about chat: it can also make voice or video calls, and store up to 5GB of files and images attached to conversations. 

The free version limites the number of third-party services that can be integrated to 10, and the number of messages that can be searched to 10,000. Paid tiers allow allow organizations to invite guests into their Slack rooms, to use single-sign-on and two-factor authentication tools, and to hold video conferences with up to 15 participants. File storage is also expanded -- up to 10GB per person, rather than per organization.