by Edward Mendelson
RATING – GOOD
Setup and Interface
You start out by opening a trial account, a refreshingly simple process that doesn’t require credit-card data or any other private information. You’re offered the option to upload your company logo during the setup process. A couple minutes later, HyperOffice created my “portal”—a webpage with the company name as the first part of the URL (e.g., veggieburgers.hyperoffice.com).
When you log in to your HyperOffice portal, the site takes a few seconds to configure and load a clean-looking desktop page. The desktop displays a toolbar at the top, the company logo that you uploaded during setup, a navigation sidebar at the left, and—occupying most of the screen—a three-column summary encompassing messages, tasks, notes, links, and a news feed from CNN and other outlets. Clicking on a plus-sign icon next to each list lets you create messages, tasks, reminders, notes, and other items. You can use the spacious sidebar icons at the left of the screen to jump to your e-mail, calendar, stored documents, group memberships, and other features.
Design and Customization Options
You can accept the portal’s default layout, but you’ll probably want to customize it. If you didn’t upload a company logo during initial setup, you can add it at any time. I created a thought-for-day motto that appeared at the upper left of the desktop page—and you can add any motivational or any other text you choose by typing the text into the options settings for the page. I also added some Web links to the links section, and was slightly annoyed that the only way I could add an icon next to each link was to upload an image file. It would have made a lot more sense if the link feature imported the same tiny “favicon” that appears in my browser’s address bar when I navigate to the page on the link.
The news feed also struck me as odd, partly because the time stamps on each news item reflected a different time zone from mine, even though I correctly specified my time zone in the site’s customization menus. A HyperOffice rep told me that the news feed feature will be replaced before long, partly because it’s so unpopular with users. For now, you have to find the setting that lets you turn it off to make it go away.
After customizing my portal, I added additional users, all of which received e-mail addresses and customizable desktops of their own. Each user got a private document folder, a private calendar, private notes and other features, in addition to access to the shared document folders, calendars, and other features accessible to the entire group. I could also create multiple groups and assign users to those groups.
I also created multiple “profiles”—sets of features suitable to different groups, making it easy to design different home-page portals for co-workers and customers. I was impressed by HyperOffice’s ability to link data files kind. The menus that display calendar items, document information, tasks, contacts, and more include the option to link to any other item. This means you can link the documents that you’ll discuss at a meeting to the calendar entry for the meeting, and you can link any e-mails about a document to the menu for the document itself.
Design and Interface
I was impressed by the uncluttered design of the interface, but the spare design sometimes made the interface less informative than it ought to be, and some of the service’s terminology was unclear. For example, in the Documents menu, when you manage multiple versions of the same document, one of the menu options is “Collapse All Versions.” If you’re familiar with Microsoft Word’s ability to combine two versions of a file, you might assume—as I did—that the “Collapse All Versions” options would combine all the saved versions into a single version. But in fact the command merely deletes all previous versions of the file. I would have been happier had the command clearly stated that.
Another issue in the Documents feature is the absence of clear advice on how to open a document so that you can save your revisions back to your HyperOffice site. If you right-click a stored document and choose “Download file” from the menu, Internet Explorer opens the familiar “Do you want to open or save this file” dialog. If you click the “Open” button—the obvious choice for editing the file—and you then edit, save, and close the file, your changed version won’t get saved back to the HyperOffice site, but to a hidden folder in your Internet Explorer cache. Only an IT expert will be able to find it. You won’t get any warning that your revisions aren’t saved where you’d think.
You could spend hours revising a file, and, when you return to it later, find that it’s still the same as it was before you started. This behavior isn’t HyperOffice’s fault—it’s Microsoft’s bone-headed way of handling files that you open from remote sites through Internet Explorer. Still, HyperOffice should warn you about Microsoft’s mistakes, and tell you to click Save instead of Open, and then edit the saved copy of the file and upload it again to HyperOffice. My contact at HyperOffice that this was a problem, and indicated that a warning may be added soon. All collaboration sites you can access through a browser have a similar problem, but Citrix’s WebEx WebOffice minimizes the problem by displaying full instructions for downloading files next to every file. HyperOffice should do the same.
Another way to reduce this Microsoft-created problem is to use Windows’ built-in Web Folders feature for opening and saving files on HyperOffice’s server directly from Windows Explorer. HyperOffice provides a simple tool for accessing files through Windows Explorer, but this adds the complication that you have two different ways of accessing the same file. Technically-challenged colleagues may be confused.
Microsoft Compatibility, Help Tools
HyperOffice also provides an optional add-on tool that synchronizes contacts and calendars between Microsoft Outlook and your HyperOffice. This tool doesn’t work with Outlook running in Cached Exchange Mode (which you probably use if you get your mail from a Microsoft Exchange server), so you likely won’t be able to use the Outlook-sharing tool if you’re now using Exchange and you want to experiment with HyperOffice as an alternative. It’s all or nothing.
HyperOffice’s interface includes links to useful training videos and live help. When you sign up for a trial run with the service, you get invitations to interactive webinars about its features. I suggest taking advantage of these resources, because HyperOffice is a complex system that’s easy to get lost in, despite the overall clarity of the interface.
For example, if I had followed my own advice and consulted with HyperOffice before testing the Outlook-sharing tool, I would have learned that the tool doesn’t work with Outlook in Cached Exchange Mode, and wouldn’t have wasted time wondering why the tool reported that it was synching contacts and calendars when in fact it wasn’t.
I prefer to test software and services on my own, without handholding, but if you’re considering HyperOffice for your business, you should take advantage of its extensive help services and encourage all your colleagues to study the training videos also.
Worth The Hype?
Overall, I was deeply impressed by HyperOffice’s depth of features, tight integration of all its elements, sleek appearance, and crack support team that was admirably responsive in both acknowledging the problems I discovered, and in many cases, fixing them almost as fast as I reported them.
In the future, I plan to take a closer look in at such rival collaboration software services as Cisco’ WebEx WebOffice, IBM’s Lotus Notes, and Microsoft Exchange, but from what I’ve seen of recent versions of these other packages, HyperOffice should be high on your list of collaboration services to consider thanks to its combination of relatively low price and up-to-date interface.
As always, when you’re storing your data in the cloud, you’ll need to test the speed and reliability of the service, and whether the provided services matches your needs. HyperOffice has the look and feel of an ideal solution for a wide range of business users, but it’s up to you to whether it’s ideal for you.