Dropbox and Adobe partner to make PDF editing less annoying

The PDF is the cockroach of file formats. Long after civilization has ended, an evolved form of one of the planet’s hardiest insects will attempt to read a PDF containing everything Homo sapiens learned before it went extinct. And it will not be able to do so because it’s using an outdated version of Adobe Reader.
Alright, so it might not be as dramatic as all that. But there is a certain sense of dread associated with PDFs: Even though many of us have to send them, I don’t think anyone’s ever particularly excited about having to work with them. Which is why Dropbox and Adobe have partnered up to make PDFs a little less terrible.
The partnership makes Dropbox the back-end for Adobe’s PDF-reading apps on Mac, PC, iOS, and Android. The desktop integration is available now; iOS will come next, then it’ll eventually make its way over to devices running Android. In doing so, it makes PDF transfer a little bit less of a hassle for office workers.
4. Composite_AdobeLink
Dropbox can already open PDFs in the company’s mobile apps. But you can’t edit them (beyond renaming them, which is all but useless), which means they have to use other applications. Soon, instead of having to open Dropbox, find a file, then send it to another app, you’ll see everything right inside Adobe’s app.
Here’s how Thomas Hansen, Dropbox’s global vice president of sales and channels and a former Microsoft executive, explains the partnership’s benefits:

This means you can do more with your PDFs, wherever you are. You won’t lose time waiting to get back to your computer to redline or electronically sign a contract, or add feedback to a design mock. And no more printing out a PDF, writing comments on it, scanning it, and emailing it as an attachment. Instead you’ll be able to open a PDF from Dropbox and edit it using the Adobe apps, then save and share your work easily through Dropbox.

That makes sense for mobile devices. But the integration on desktop is far less interesting. It’s not that inconvenient to locate a Dropbox file on a PC or Mac, and if you’re using a Mac you already have Apple’s PDF-handling app installed. It seems like this announcement was rushed out before its best part was ready.
Still, it could make things easier for some people who use Dropbox and Adobe Acrobat Reader (who knew they added the “Acrobat” in the middle there?) instead of any other combination of file synchronization service and PDF editor. The PDF is here to stay — we might as well take improvements where we can.

Google takes first steps toward finer-grained access in Google Drive

Google Drive has provided a simple but powerful model for file sharing. The creator of a file can invite others to share it, as readers (read-only access), commenters (read and comment access) or editors (read, comment, and edit access). But this opens the door to all sorts of issues, like being able to make a copy of a read-only document, in which case all bets are off.
Google has taken a big step forward in access control by allowing creators to limit the sorts of things other may do with shared files. Here you see the new controls at the lower right under ‘owner settings’.
Screenshot 2015-07-15 11.55.52
Owners can block other editors from changing access or inviting new users to access the file, and also they now can block downloading, print, and copy of the file for commenters and readers.
There is still apparently a backdoor, in that this phase of Google Drive Information Rights Management (IRM) can’t block users from taking a screenshot, or manually copying what’s in the document, as Emil Protalinski points out. The former can be controlled, but it will require a more elaborate system that can block operating system capabilities. These are the sorts of technology that extremely secure file sync-and-share solutions implement, like Intralinks and ShareFile. Google could be headed in that direction. But at the least, this is a first order degree of protection that will minimize confidential information’s mishandling.

Box announces new level of integration with Office 365, and drops storage limits on Dropbox Business tier

Box, the file sync-and-share player, made two announcements yesterday.
The first is Box falling into line with other vendors that have been dropping storage limits for business accounts. Box offered an Enterprise tier of pricing since 2011 — $35/user/month — that has unlimited storage. But not the Business tier — formerly limited to 1000 GB — is now unlimited for $15/user/month.
I’ve been tracking the free fall in file sync-and-store, as the cost of storing files is falling to zero. Recent events:

Things are changing at a blinding speed in this sector, and Box’s rapid accommodation of unlimited files as table stakes is an indicator of that new reality.
The second announcement was about the company’s relationship with Microsoft. In particular, Office 365 users can open, edit, share, and save files from Box in Office apps: Powerpoint, Excel, and Word. Also, users of Outlook can now share links to files in Box in Outlook email, and convert attachments to Box shared links.
I wonder how far this relationship with Microsoft will go? Or is it just a way to counter the weakness in Box’s product offering? While Box does have its own Box Notes app, that is no substitute for Office, Google Docs, or Apple’s suite of productivity tools.

Hackpad, where have you been hiding?

Despite the frequent mention of Dropbox — and its acquisition spree — on these pages, somehow I completely missed the announcement last week that Dropbox acquired Hackpad, a co-editor tool something like Quip (see Quip 1.5 adds new features, but not the ones I want), Draft (see Draft is a small and simple co-editor), or Editorially (that recently shut down, see Editorially is the co-editing solution of my dreams).
Unlike some of the other Dropbox acquisitions, like Loom, Hackpad is not being shut down. This is not a pure acqui-hire, so I logged in. Turns out I have tried using the tool a few years ago, but I don’t remember doing so. Now I wish I had keep the company in my sights, because it offers a broad and clever set of co-editing capabilities, and integrated into a very well-designed and sophisticated approach to sharing.
from How to use Hackpad:

A Pad is an editable content page.
A Collection is a label you can use with your team to stay organized. Click the name of any collection to see a full list of that Collection’s Pads.
A Workspace is a place where you and your teammates can share knowledge and collaborate.
  • Each Workspace has it’s own Collections and Pads. Easily create a new Workspace by clicking “+ new workspace” at the the bottom of the workspace navigator pane.
  • You can easily identify what Workspace you’re in by glancing at the URL of your page – i.e team.hackpad.com is the Team Workspace.
 A Workspace Member has access to all Pads in a workspace set to “all workspace users”. You can add a Member to a workspace by asking an Admin to use the “Manage this Workspace” link found on your homepage.
A Pad Guest is invited from the right side of any Pad. If this person has not been invited to join a Private site as a Member, they will have access only to this single Pad. If they have been invited to a Public Site, they will have read and write access to all of a Workspace’s Pads, just like any member of the public.

I’ve started to dig into Hackpad, and there are capabilities something like wikis — any text in a pad can be selected and used as the title of another pad, and the original text then serves as a link to the child pad. This can also be accomplished by typing an ampersand and then some text, as shown here:
hackpad.com_mlZvEsJykI5_0nH0NGPrz51_p.76052_1386290371029_@_childpadfromparentpad_4The text in the pads can be styled in many obvious ways, including means to add tasks, comments, lists, indented text, tables, embedded files, and images, and all the while Hackpad is tracking changes so that earlier versions can be pulled up. Lines that are bolded serve as headings, and are displayed in the right hand margin as navigation to various locations in the document. Here’s a hackpad:
Screenshot 2014-04-20 15.27.06
The talk balloon accompanies comments added to the text (using the comment icon in the tool bar or starting a line with ‘//’ makes a comment).
When shared documents are edited, you get an email showing the changes:
Screenshot 2014-04-20 13.43.48
Making a Switch
Hackpad is extremely rich, and it will take me some time experimenting with it to test all of its numerous features. More importantly, I have grown weary of the limitations of Workflowy, a personal information management tool I’ve been using for some time, especially with regard to text styling (see Small pieces, even more loosely joined).
Workflowy is an extensible outline, where sections can be shared with others. However, the sharing is based on a branch in the outline and all subordinate information, and not just a single line, which becomes impractical for many of the information I’d like to share.
I am going undertake a recasting of the research information I have been accumulating in Workflowy into a publicly shared Hackpad workspace (read only!), open to anyone who is interested. Also, in parallel, I am going to investigate how Hackpad might fit into the work of my Gigaom structured research activities, such as interviews, report drafts, and the like. So, this may serve as a the first of a series of posts investigating Hackpad’s applicability to various use cases, like sharing a research repository, drafting reports, and keeping track of notes from meetings and calls.

Information wants to be free, but some information has to be private

One of the greatest tensions in the transition to social tools in the enterprise is that between the benefits of openness and the need for access to confidential information to be managed carefully.
There are numerous use cases where information has to be kept confidential. Some instances are regulatory — like the US Federal government requirements for keeping people’s health data confidential and secure — are some are motivated by business rationales — like keeping trade secrets secret, or contractual requirements about confidentiality between business partners — or purely cultural drivers — like not allowing salary data to be shared freely among employees.
Nonetheless there are numerous business contexts where locking down information is a key concern. One way to consider this is to start at the outer edge, where the most extreme levels of security are in place, and then ramp back toward total openness — everything published openly on the web — in a step-by-step fashion.
Total security requires physical lockdown of information, and sharing only in secure facilities where no possible electronic or photographic copying is allowed. This is the sort of thing that governments use of state secrets.
The next level allows electronic transmission of documents, but not in the loose fashion that most of us use in our business work on a daily basis. There can’t be inadvertent publishing of an email attachment to someone not approved to see, it, for example.
Companies like Intralinks, BoardVantage, and Diligent have created solutions intended to manage the end-to-end security of documents in various use cases, such as the activities surrounding corporate boards, legal, financial, and intellectual property.
Intralinks VIA is a new offering from the well-established Intralinks company, one that is bringing together both serious security and some aspects of modern work management (social networks for the enterprise). I hope to review that offering and its competitors in depth later in the year.
The central premise of a secure digital repository is that the documents must always be in a controlled application. At the core is some sort of secure document repository, and a secured version of an operating environment. This means for example that no screenshots can be taken of a secure document, and standard techniques to manipulate documents, like adding them to email as attachments, must be blocked or managed through plugins. For example, an Outlook plugin might allow copying a file from the repository to an Outlook email, but only if the recipients of the email were all approved to see the document, and were also using secured email clients, as well.
Intralinks has created an inventive promotion associated with the ‘Oops’ moment in people’s lives, when they inadvertently sent out an email with confidential attach to the wrong people and the like. They have created some vignettes called Tales of Sharing dramatizing the downside of these security use cases. They can be found at the Unshare website.
The stories are actually kind of sad, because they all feature people who got their fingers slammed in the door, like the HR VP who emailed out the excel file with everyone’s salary to the entire company.
If you want you can share your own tale of “oops”, here:
unshare share
You’ll be pixelated and your voice will be disguised.
A very clever marketing play, I think.

Mendeley injects some pace into academia with fast, big data

London startup Mendeley is already beloved by researchers around the planet for helping them manage their work. Now it’s unveiled a new product that it hopes can help universities get a better handle on what’s happening right now. Goodbye slow, stuffy academia.

Lawloop.com takes law firm management to cloud

The co-founders of L.A. law firm Zuber & Tailleau got fed up with pricey, bulky, inefficient practice management software: So they built their own cloud-based offering. They say Lawloop.com brings document management, time-and-billing, eDiscovery functions to small law firms and in-house counsel affordably and securely.

Lion 101: Working with PDFs in Preview

Preview is definitely one of the under-appreciated gems of OS X. Preview actually has two main uses. One for graphics and photos, and another specific to PDFs. There are certain very handy capabilities in Preview that are only available when working with PDF files.

KnowledgeTree Debuts Android App for Cloud Document Management

KnowledgeTree, a service that lets businesses collaborate on and manage documents in the cloud, is now offering an app for Android phones and tablets, and automatic synchronization between mobile and desktop devices. KnowledgeTree lets organizations manage documents, and it specializes in collaboration within Microsoft Office.

Using Web Tools For Creating and Managing Contracts

When doing business online it’s always safer to have your agreements in writing. Fortunately, there are now a variety of tools that allow us to draft, share and sign contracts online. Here’s a roundup of some of those tools, and some tips on using them.