SharePoint Alternative: Igloo

It wasn’t all that long ago that Googling “SharePoint Alternatives” didn’t yield many results. Sure, you’d get listings like Dropbox, but SharePoint is so multifaceted that saying Dropbox is an alternative is like saying a baseball is the same as an apple – similar shape, but totally different purposes.

Fortunately, a lot of companies have made the jump into direct competition with SharePoint, offering not only file-sharing, but blogging, wikis, shared calendaring, and the ever-present social networking as well. This is great news not only for people looking for alternatives to SharePoint, but also to SharePoint itself, who I firmly believe could use a little more competition to help spur innovation and healthy competition – after all, “No Pressure, No Diamonds”. SharePoint proponents often bash the alternatives out there, but I never understood this mentality; the best tool for the job is the one that you’ll use the best, not the one someone else says is the best. Below is my take on Igloo, but ultimately you’re going to have to decide for yourself if it’s the right tool for the job you have in mind.

The Skinny On Igloo

Service: Cloud only.

Cost: Free for teams up to 10 people, $12/ user/ month after that.

Igloo is making some impressive inroads against SharePoint, and has won such customers such as Harry Winston, Mobilicity, Deloitte, The Keg, and The Co-Operators Insurance. Interestingly, it also counts several healthcare organizations in its roster of clients as well: Ontario Health Quality Council, Mental Health Commission of Canada and the American Psychological Association; these are interesting considering how shy healthcare IT can be towards cloud-based services.

Built by the Canadian company of the same name, Igloo offers a collaboration solution separated into Apps. Each app represents a discrete function that integrates with other Igloo apps to produce the entire Igloo system. The default apps are: Blogs, Calendars, Files, Forums, Microblogs (ie: Twitter/ Status updates), Wiki, Rooms (like sub-Igloos), Pages, and People. You can choose to leave the default apps as-is, or you can rename, remove, or add them as the needs of your team evolve; Igloo offers quite a bit of flexibility without the need to delve into code or obscure configuration screens.

Igloo App Menu
Igloo App Menu

 

The Good

Design

From the get-go, it’s apparent Igloo has put a lot of time and effort into getting a slick and accessible design in place. The application itself looks great: modern and unobtrusive, it knows you’re here to do work and for the most part stays out of your way. The thing I like about Igloo is they seem to understand how to provide a default structure and design that lets small to medium teams get started entering and sharing information early and easily. Many collaboration applications give you a blank canvas, which can be great, but also daunting from a “Where do I even start?” perspective.

Get A Room Already

Igloo Rooms allow for a kind of sub-igloo for a particular team or project, giving that team their own forums, blogs, wikis, etc. that is separate from the larger company. The Room’s home page displays a stream of microblog updates by the team/ project members, making it quick and easy to stay abridged of what others are doing. Project Rooms also incorporate milestones for a project planning lite experience; this isn’t full-on Microsoft Project, this is bare bones project management (and for some that’s enough). On the whole, Rooms appear to be a more effective implementation of what SharePoint calls “Team Sites”, which are the mainstay of many SharePoint deployments.

Mobile

The Igloo mobile app (available for Android and iOS) while not great, is certainly ahead of a lot of the clunky 3rd party SharePoint apps available out there. The app itself exposes all of the er, uh, apps available in your Igloo in a clean and well designed interface. Navigating through your igloo and finding content is straightforward and easy, as everything is already structured and well categorized in the various apps available.

Unfortunately, the mobile app is really about consuming content already available from your Igloo, and not so much about producing content on your mobile device. At the time of writing I could not find a way to add a file to a file app or edit a wiki or blog entry. The only means of content creation is to create a microblog post, which is fine for status updates, but if a client sends me an email with an attachment and I’m on mobile, it would be great to have a way to actually share that file in the igloo without having to wait to get back to my office.

Apps in the Igloo App - Appception?
Apps in the Igloo App – Appception?

The Bad

Search

When I first tried Igloo, I could not get the search to work – at all. Creating an article and subsequently searching for it yielded no results. When I tried it again some time later, search did find the articles and it was accurate, leading me to believe that much like SharePoint, the search indexer executes on a schedule, so expect to wait a while for changes to be reflected; in some cases, it was upwards of 30 minutes to an hour for my changes to be shown, and this is just too long. Search is the cornerstone of any collaborative application, and Igloo’s weakness here is a significant one.

No Wiki Markdown

Another annoyance is that there does not appear to be any kind of wiki markdown, meaning new pages and links must be made by clicking through the UI, rather than inserting a few characters (ie: [[This would be a link to another page]]). For someone that spends a lot of time in wikis, this was a big disappointment, and it means my time gets wasted clicking around instead of producing content.

Pimples

Igloo WYSIWYG Editor
Edit Like It’s 2001

Despite the excellent design and structure, there are some real oddities to be found in the UI: The biggest one being that the WYSIWYG editor looks like an old stock MCE Editor. Cramped button spacing and default icons are a stark contrast to the super-clean and modern UI. It’s a small blemish, but one that really stands out in the polished look Igloo has cultivated.

Igloos, Eh

Bob and Doug McKenzie
From the live webcam feed in my office

Finally, and this is a regional gripe – I cannot tell my American colleagues that “the file’s in  Igloo”. Can’t do it. Nope. As a Canadian, saying this phrase is tantamount to wearing a sou’wester while holding a Tim’s in one hand and a picture of the Queen in the other and saying “Aboot that file..” (FYI we don’t actually say ‘aboot’). I get what Igloo is trying to do with the name, but as a Canadian, the chuckles I get from Americans even mentioning the word ‘igloo’ are a bit much. Maybe they could have called it Beaver Lodge, or Much Ado Aboot Files (no – wait, those are terrible ideas, Nik).

Would this prevent me from buying Igloo? Absolutely not. But as a Canadian I can’t NOT make an igloo joke when given the chance, right?

Bottom Line

  • Igloo is great software, and being free for 10 people or less makes it a perfect option for small teams.
  • The design is stellar and easy to use, save for a few small gripes about the WYSIWYG editor.
  • Mobile App is ok, but room for improvement
  • Search issues I encountered were frustrating, and it would be great to see results showing up faster than 30+ minutes after being added.
  • No wiki markdown is a hard pill to swallow for me, and should be for anyone who spends a lot of time producing and organizing wiki content

 

5 Free Small Business Website Options

Almost every small business owner I’ve met has faced the same challenge: they need a website. They need it yesterday, and they need it looking good (at the very least better than their competitors). Here’s the rub: after all the day to day small business expenses, they have zero budget for a website, or their budget lies somewhere between a Tim Card with $0.27 left on it and the $20 they just found in the pocket of their spring jacket (woohoo!).

When we’re talking websites, like any project, the project management triangle comes into play: fast, good, and cheap – pick two. This isn’t surprising considering:

  1. 97% of consumers use the internet for research and/or purchases and
  2. Most web professionals make between $40,000 and $60,000 a year

Websites aren’t optional anymore – they haven’t been for some time – and the people who make them aren’t the basement dwelling web-hobbyists they were back in 90’s; many are highly talented and professional individuals that determine the course of a business.

So, what’s a small business owner to do? Well, when you have no budget, why not go with free? Below are five great options for small business owners to get themselves online that only cost you as much time as you’re willing to put into them:

Facebook Page

Creating a Facebook page takes all of 5 minutes, and is a tremendous first step in getting your business online. It provides all the basics: Location + map, contact info, photo albums, and ability to post any content you like. Some small business owners write off because they can’t be bothered, or think it’s just a tween time waster; this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the power Facebook offers. I guarantee most if not all your customers are on Facebook, and 5 minutes of your time to directly connect you to them is a tiny price to pay.

The good: Almost instant web presence, easy to set up and use, directly connect you with your customers.

The bad: This isn’t a ‘set it and forget it’ website; people are going to post and expect a response – neglect your Facebook page at your peril!

Google+

If Facebook is the 900lb gorilla in the social media room, Google+ is the 100 lb chimpanzee. Sure it’s a bit of a ghost town, but like Facebook the 5 minutes it takes to set up and use is well worth the effort to increase your web presence.

The good: Easy to set up and use, regular Google+ users are die-hards

The bad: Google+ has yet to really take off, and don’t forget to be there when someone posts!

WordPress

If Facebook is the currently reigning social media champ, WordPress owns the Blogging heavyweight belt. WordPress isn’t just about blogging though, it’s a full featured content management system that is endlessly customizable and above all easy to use. So while you can create a blog to regularly connect with your customers, you could also create a more static site that doesn’t need as much regular tending as a blog demands. With literally thousands of templates available (free and not so free), the options for your presence online are really endless.

The good: Easy to use, can be learned quickly, tons of templates available

The bad: The best free templates are used heavily throughout the web – don’t expect your site to be unique if you’re using one

Tumblr

Think of Tumblr as the Facebook of blogging. Posts are broken up into common content types: text, picture, video, link, audio, etc. Tumblr is an excellent compromise between the social connection of Facebook, and the flexibility and customization of content management systems like WordPress. With tons of themes available out there, it’s incredibly easy to set up and configure your own Tumblr site.

The good: Easy to use, very user friendly, highly customizable, tons of templates (free or otherwise).

The bad: Tumblr is very social-oriented – don’t let your site stagnate, connect with your customers! (See a pattern here? Take care of your website!)

Google Sites

If you’re looking for a more ‘traditional’ website but want the drag and drop easy set up instead of learning to code, Google Sites is for you. Simple, straightforward and aimed at creating a site in less than 15 minutes by someone with no technical skills, Google Sites has a lot to offer the small business owner.

The good: Easy to use, What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editing

The bad: Templates can be fairly cookie cutter.