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Jive brings workgroup collaboration to Microsoft Office

Jive has given its enterprise social-networking software what it calls its biggest overhaul yet, giving users the ability to collaborate on Microsoft Office files and use the product from mobile devices, including an application built specifically for the iPhone.

Jive's Social Business Software (SBS) 4.0, which the company will release on Tuesday, comes with a new “connector” that allows users to jointly author, view, annotate and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files.

With this functionality, multiple users can simultaneously work on Office documents on their PCs and have their changes reflected and consolidated on a single copy of the file hosted centrally on the SBS server. This approach is meant to replace the practice of having workgroup members e-mail Office documents among themselves as they collaborate on them.

Considering how ubiquitous Office is in workplaces of all sizes, Jive made a good move by adding this type of collaboration functionality, which Microsoft has yet to provide natively in the suite, said Bradley F. Shimmin, an analyst with Current Analysis. “Jive has in a way leapfrogged Microsoft's own intentions [for Office collaboration],” Shimmin said, referring to Microsoft's plans for a Web-hosted version of Office, called Office Web Apps and still in development.

Meanwhile, the new Jive Mobile module opens up the ability to post content to SBS threaded discussions, blogs, documents and status updates via e-mail from cell phones such as the BlackBerry. In addition, the module has a “native” iPhone application that provides a user experience very close to how SBS works on the desktop, according to Jive.

Giving access to enterprise collaboration tools from mobile phones is becoming a must-do for vendors like Jive, as users increasingly expect to be able to continue this type of work while away from the office, Shimmin said. “What Jive is doing here isn't revolutionary, but rather necessary,” he said.

SBS 4.0 also offers enhancements to the suite's Bridging Module, which is designed to let users import comments and discussions in public SBS forums into private SBS forums for internal analysis and collaboration. For example, a company that provides public SBS forums to its clients for customer support can funnel into a private SBS forum a discussion it considers important. That way, the appropriate business officials can jointly review it, posting comments online and drafting plans of action.

SBS, introduced in 2006, belongs to a new wave of enterprise collaboration software that has emerged in recent years as alternatives to traditional wares from Microsoft and IBM's Lotus. These new collaboration tools tend to be easier to set up, less expensive and more intuitive for end-users. They're modeled after Web 2.0-type applications popular among consumers, such as wikis, blogs, discussion forums and social networks, albeit with IT management and enterprise security features.

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