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First look at CatalystWeb

CatalystWeb is a new small business software service that runs in your browser. It provides the functionality of Microsoft Outlook, combined with shared documents and corporate instant messaging. You can read up on the Catalyst launch blog for some background information by Bob Mathew.

The public website has a very clean and professional layout, and explains all functionality and benefits of the CatalystWeb product. The free trial signup process was also quick and easy. You provide a few details (company name, desired username and password, etc), and a minute later you receive a confirmation email with login link.

The initial login process took a bit more time than I anticipated: besides providing administrator credentials, you can set up all the users of your small business here. Even though you can import a user list from CSV, the other screens take too much time for the inpatient user. Luckily you can skip the user setup process altogether and complete it at a later time. In fact, that's what I recommend doing, since you have to setup departments and locations later on anyway.

CatalystWeb: Initial admin view

Once you arrive at the main interface, you'll quickly realize that this application is truly capable of replacing your daily Outlook functionality: it contains features such as personalized views, public distribution lists, public folders for messages and files, you can define master lists for your organization, message templates, etc.

In fact, this web based office is perhaps almost too powerful for at least part of the target audience: I don't think that the very small businesses will use all functionality that is available to them. This is even more true due to it's not so easy interface. Sure, it is very clear and consistent, and help functionality is available. But it lacks discoverable functions, everything is so tidy that you might miss a lot of handy functions just because you don't see them.

A lot of popup windows at once (Click for larger image)

Another small issue with the interface is that every action you perform might result in another popup window. At a certain moment you'll have 4 or more popups open, and all start with the same title (your personalised URL) followed by the popup window title. This means that a quick glance at your Windows' taskbar will not help you in finding the right popup.

Anyway, these are all items that can be improved upon, especially since it's a web based service and you don't need to install any software or updates. I'm sure feedback from early adopters will make them fine-tune the interface.

All in all, CatalystWeb is quite a mature product for a freshly released service, and it will definitely provide a lot of functionality you can use in a small business. Initial learning curve may be a bit steeper than what they promise, but that shouldn't hold you back from giving the trial account a try!

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  Posted by oVan on Thursday, November 22, 2007 | PermaLink | 0 comments
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