Doing Business | IT & Technologies

January 31, 2017

Dropbox finally brings its Google Docs competitor out of beta

Dropbox’s latest tool for businesses, a piece of collaborative editing software called Paper, is launching globally today. Paper has been in the works at Dropbox for quite some time, having first been announced in October of 2015 before entering a public beta phase in August of last year.

Dropbox’s software is similar to Google’s suite of workplace cloud apps. Paper — itself a minimal document editor and writing tool like Google Docs — is the focal point, while all of Dropbox’s other services and features now plug into and augment the experience.

Paper is Dropbox’s latest attempt to court businesses away from Microsoft and Google, or at the very least to encourage companies to pay for Dropbox services on top of what they already use institutionally. It’s part of Dropbox’s ongoing shift away from consumer storage and apps and toward enterprise software that is both more lucrative and self-sustaining. The company shut down its Mailbox email app and Carousel photo storage service back in 2015. In place of its consumer focus, Dropbox has been pouring more resources into Paper and other projects that make its mobile apps and website a place to perform work, instead of a barebones destination for files.

The biggest question now is whether Paper is the transformative product Dropbox wants it to be. Because many organizations do already pay for Office 365 or Google’s G Suite, Dropbox knows that it must play nice with competitors’ products or risk alienating workers who either enjoy using Microsoft Word or Google Sheets or do so out of necessity. To that end, Dropbox Paper isn’t focused solely on creation. It will let you import, edit, and collaborate on a number of other file types from Google, Microsoft, and others.

“We fully expect Paper to be used in environments where people are using Microsoft and Google products,” says Rob Baesman, Dropbox’s head of product. “That’s the rule, not the exception.” Still, it’s an open question whether Paper is substantive enough to fend off competition. Just last week, competitor Box revealed its own note-taking productivity software that accomplishes many of the same tasks.

To its credit, Dropbox sees Paper as a way to unify the disparate and messy modern workflow. “At Paper teams can create, review, organize content in a flexible work space,” Baesman adds. He describes Paper as “one part online document, one part collaboration, one part task management tool, one part content hub.” In other words, Dropbox wants Paper to be the final destination of files and the place where serious work is performed on them. So while a file may start somewhere else, Dropbox wants it to end up in Paper, where it syncs with team folders, can be shared with anyone in the organization, and enjoys a documented timeline throughout its many changes.

Dropbox is also throwing in some new features to Paper that signal where the software could be headed next. One of these features, still in the beta phase, is the ability to collect work into separate “projects.” These projects now have special viewing and filtering options that help them more easily be categorized and tracked over time. You can also assign employees to projects and set due dates, similar to task-management software products from Asana and Trello.

Another aspect of the Paper launch is what Dropbox is calling Smart Sync, a new feature that turns the entirety of a company’s Dropbox account into accessible folders on the desktop file system on Mac or PC. With Smart Sync, Dropbox is trying to ensure employees can perform all sorts of work without having to jump back and forth to a browser window. It builds on a prior feature that let you store a Dropbox folder in your toolbar and file system, but Smart Sync adds speedier and automatic syncing, eliminates storage requirements for the physical hard drive, and introduces Dropbox design elements like the bubbles of team member photos that indicate who the file is shared with.

Because Dropbox is still existing in two worlds, caught between its old freemium consumer model and its modern business-centered pricing tiers, the Paper and Smart Sync launches have a few stipulations. Paper will work for everyone starting today on mobile and the web, regardless of your Dropbox plan so long as you live in one of the 21 language markets the launch covers today. If you’d like to use administrative features with Paper, you’ll need either a Dropbox Business or Enterprise plan. And if you want to use Smart Sync, it comes free of charge, but only for those business customers and only through its early-access program.

Text by The Verge
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