Collanos: Free sharing tool for teams

Collanos has a lot of the right stuff for keeping teams up to date on files and discussions...but it's not quite ready for prime time yet.

Collanos is a new and ambitious product that's designed to keep teams up to date on the files they're working on, and to provide a repository for discussions and other resources like Web links. It's got great potential. Which is a nice way of saying it's not ready for the real world yet.

For workgroup file sharing, Collanos is headed in the right direction. CNET Networks

At its core, Collanos is a peer-to-peer file synchronizing utility, sort of a scrappier version of Groove, or a buttoned-down version of Tubes (review). It is a free, downloadable (45MB) application. This goes against the grain of Webware's philosophy, but we're giving Collanos a pass because it enables teamwork for groups of people connected only by the Internet. Also, there are downloads available for PC, Mac, and Linux, so the software-centric nature of the product doesn't actually exclude people (except those who are averse to downloads).

With Collanos, you set up "workspaces" and then you invite people to them. You can have many different workspaces, and invite only certain people into each of them. You drag files and Web links for your teams into the appropriate workspaces. Collanos also lets you set up discussion threads, standalone notes, and to-do items. Everything in a workspace is synchronized to other workspace members via P2P connections. In the current, free version of the product, there's no central server to handle files for people who are offline or to allow Web access to files; that will be added later as a premium service.

For sharing files, it works. I could see it being used to keep distributed workgroups in sync on key files. But despite good functionality, we won't be using this version here at Webware for several reasons. Here are three.

1. The 45MB download. I don't want to have to nag people to load this thing.

2. Confusing discussions. There are discussion objects, personal IMs, and notes, and it's not clear when to use which. Five minutes after we loaded this tool up, we had already lost track of where our first discussion was located.

3. A major synchronization flaw. If two people open and update the same file, only the last person to save it will see his or her changes replicated to others in the group. This could very easily happen if two people are offline, working on a document on an airplane. When they land and sync up, somebody's going to lose his or her work. Not cool. Collanos CTO Franco Dal Molin acknowledged this issue at the New Tech Meetup in San Francisco last night and hopes to post an update soon.

I hope to see this product updated very shortly, since it could solve a real small-business issue--for free.

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