Services & Software

Egnyte keeps work group files in sync--for a price

A new groupware app can keep work group files synchronized. But it's a little too hard to use and too expensive as well.

Egnyte is a new business groupware application that's rolling out at the Web 2.0 Expo. It's entering a very crowded market--the product is can be put in or near the same buckets as business wikis, groupware apps such as Groove, Sharepoint, and Collanos (review), and pure Web 2.0 apps such as Basecamp--but at its most basic it's a file synchronization engine.

By the way, it's pronounced like "ignite," not like "egg night."

Egnyte views appear as little boxes with lots of options. CNET Networks

Egnyte lets you designate directories, individual files, and e-mail folders for sharing. You can collect several items into a "view" (for collecting resources on a particular project, for instance), and invite people into that view. The files and e-mails that you put in a view are then automatically uploaded to Egnyte via a small client application, and they remain synchronized with their original files on your computer (PC, Mac, or Linux box). When other users work on the files, their changes are synced back to you.

It's reminiscent of Tubes (review), the simple peer-to-peer group file sync product I covered in January. But one big difference between Egnyte and many other personal sync engines (such as FolderShare and BeInSync [review]) is that Egnyte keeps historical versions for all files. That means that if you put a PowerPoint presentation into a view, a colleague modifies it, and you don't like the new version, you can easily find and reuse your older one.

Each file and view also gets its own micro message board, which is useful to discuss resources in the system. The system also shows you how files are related. For example, if there's a document that was sent as part of an e-mail discussion, you can find that discussion. A similarity engine lets you find items related to each other even when they are not directly linked.

Inside a view, you can do a lot (too much) with your files. CNET Networks

The app is free for individuals, with a 1GB storage limit. Since all files on Egnyte are copied to the system's central servers, storage limitations matter. Pure peer-to-peer systems like Collanos don't have this sensitivity. Corporate versions go for $30 a month per user, with 30GB of storage (or $15 a month for 15GB of storage). Those prices are too high; that's $360 a year per user, which is more than a full productivity suite at corporate rates. The company will also sell you software so you can put the data behind your corporate firewall.

Besides price, the other big downside to Egnyte is usability. I got lost more than once when I was experimenting with the product. To take advantage of Egnyte, users will have to spend time learning its concepts and terminology. In the Web 2.0 world, that's no longer acceptable. It needs to be obvious how the service works right away. Yes, synchronization is a tough concept to explain. But that's not our problem, is it?

This is an interesting tool but it needs to be made more accessible, in more ways than one.