Archive for mobile

Review : Dropbox Paper is Paper Thin

Dropbox Paper, currently in Beta, is the latest product from online collaboration company, Dropbox. Based on their Hackpad acquisition and formerly called Notes, Paper is entering into the crowded fields of collaborative writing applications. Its competitors include Evernote, Box Notes, Quip, and even Google Docs and Microsoft OneNote and Word. Paper follows the model of Evernote and Box Notes more closely in that it presents a minimal and clean interface with fewer formatting and organizational capabilities than word processors such as Google Docs or Microsoft Word.

Like Evernote and Box Notes, Paper is best used for writing quick documents and sharing them. There are a small amount of formatting capabilities as well as the ability to include pictures and attach files. The theory is that it is easier for teams to communicate ideas by not getting caught up in the writing and instead dropping in content that is relevant and sharing it. Paper certainly follows this philosophy closely by providing an easy to use interface (primarily because there isn’t much there) and a commenting capability similar to Microsoft Office Online’s.

Unfortunately, the usefulness of Paper is hindered by a number of missing features. Even for a Beta product these are glaring omissions.

  • Organizational tools are mostly missing. Outside the ability to create sections headers (H1, H2, etc.) there is no way to break documents into smaller chunks. This makes Paper documents look like a stream of consciousness. In all fairness, Evernote and Box Notes are the same. This is likely an intentional part of the design. You can organize using folders and sub-folders but that creates collections of documents and not well-organized ones. That means it’s fine for taking quick notes but not for content creation or organizing projects. This is a stark contrast to Microsoft OneNote’s page and tab interface.
  • Paper doesn’t store notes in Dropbox folders. Paper has its own folder system and documents are not stored in an end-user’s Dropbox folders. This simply makes no sense. All of an end-user’s files may be stored in DropBox folders but their Paper notes are in a different set of folders. The Paper folders are not synced with the desktop either. This is unique to Paper and not in a good way. Why would anyone want to keep Paper notes separate from other files, especially project files? It doesn’t make sense at all.
  • There doesn’t seem a way to turn Paper notes into formal documents. If a team is just pushing ideas around then Paper is perfectly adequate. If a note needs to be turned into a formal document such as a PowerPoint deck, Word document, or even a PDF, there’s no good way to export the note into those formats. Sure, cut and paste works and one can always print to a PDF using a printer driver but this is not the most user friendly way to do this. Exporting to a common format and putting it into your Dropbox folders seems obvious.
  • No Android mobile app. There may be an iOS app comign since there was a Hackpad iOS app but there certainly is no Android one. How can a major company launch into Beta without an Android app? It boggles the mind.
  • The UI needs work. It isn’t obvious how you access formatting features. Sometimes you hover over the empty space and see a circle with a cross in it. Other times you select text. In either case, a toolbar pops up with mostly different but some overlapping functions. It’s not at all intuitive. Quip doesn’t something similar but you can always access the toolbar via a right-click. Obvious, obvious, obvious.

More than anything, it’s not clear why we need Paper or why Dropbox would put so much effort and money into it. If the point is to have a note taking and sharing application for Dropbox fanatics, then why aren’t Paper notes kept with other Dropbox files? If it’s a new way to collaborate and work, then why is it so similar to Box Notes and Evernote? Is it minimalism for the sake of minimalism? It can’t compete for collaborative content creation with Quip, Google Docs, or Microsoft Word. Paper doesn’t support semi-structured note taking like Microsoft OneNote (a key function for projects) or easy web clipping like Evernote. It doesn’t even sync notes to the desktop like… well, everyone else.

Paper is too little too late or misconceived form the start. It’s the kind of minimalist application that a handful of team members might start using but quickly outgrow. Dropbox is launching it into a crowded field of well-established players including Box, Google, and Microsoft. The worst part of Paper is that it is removed from Dropbox proper which will surely irritate the Dropbox aficionados. Simple put: It is not clear why someone would use Paper when there are so many better choices already available. Maybe version two will be better.

Tackling Complexity and Security – The InformaticaWorld 2015 Big Picture

The message from IT professionals at InformaticaWorld 2015 this past week was pretty clear. Complexity is making data management tough to do these days. Cloud and mobile was, in their minds, a great boon to business. Both gave access to applications that used to be frozen on desktops. It also meant that data security was more complicated than ever and the amount and type of data rapidly expanding. New IT architectures, microservices and containers, were leading to more flexible and easier to deploy applications. The unfortunate side effect was data silos of structured, unstructured, and semi-structured data. Add to this mix machine data a.k.a dark data – data generated by and for devices and computer systems themselves – and the data landscape has become a complicated mass of different types of data, spread throughout thousands of sites, systems, and devices. It almost makes one long for the days when all of a company’s data was in a handful of SQL databases that powered a few applications.

Teasing value from all this data had become a headache to say the least. If just finding the data an organization needs to analyze is hard, making it useful sometimes seems impossible. Data is dispersed through the organization and often quite dirty with errors or no clear way to connect data together. Thankfully, technology has advanced beyond a data warehouse where we stuff aggregate data from a few systems. We can now build data lakes – data repositories with cleansed data and prepackaged and have user-friendly query capabilities that can tie together information from many disparate systems. This has had the unfortunate effect of creating a needle in the haystack problem. Business analysts now have access to so much data that it’s easy to drown in the data lake.

The same was true of data security. Mobile devices, cloud systems, and containers have made data much more portable and, hence, dangerous. It used to be that a company could secure its network and critical databases and the data was mostly safe. The sophistication of threats has, however, increased dramatically. More important (and somewhat perverse), by making data available to many more business users, in order to get more value out of data, managing the security of data has gotten more difficult. Between complexity and security, using an organization’s data to its advantage is, in some ways, harder than it used to be.

And that was the point of many of the announcements at InformaticaWorld 2015 of course. Project Atlantic is a great example of a forward thinking product strategy. It looks to harness dark data by converting it into something useful to a human analyst. In an ironic twist, Informatica is using machine learning to transform machine data into something people can understand. Another announcement, Project Sonoma, looks to simplify the management and use of Hadoop-based data lakes. Products like this, along with user facing tools such as Rev, will make data lakes more accessible allowing business users to gain value from huge amounts of corporate data. Informatica is expecting to add streaming data to Project Sonoma in 2016 which should greatly enhance the ability to use Internet of Things and other machine data as well as streaming social media data in data lakes. Remember, getting data into a data lake is one thing, making use of it is really hard. Project Sonoma looks to take allow companies to spend more time getting value from data instead of managing it.

Finally, Informatica demonstrated a variety of technologies for securing data. Informatica has had data security products, including data masking, for a while but now have a full management layer called Secure@Source. This product provides a dashboard that shows where there are data security flaws and when policies are being violated. It’s a tool for both the DBA and security administrator which sits squarely in both the data governance and security fields of IT.

A picture emerges from this conference of a company that is very different than it was even five years ago. While Master Data management is still the core business, Informatica has made it clear that they are really the data value company. The mission is to help customers do more with data by making accessing, securing, and integrating data across the enterprise a much easier process. And this is something that IT and business users can agree that they need.