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Will Dropbox's New Feature Be Enough?


Dropbox wants legitimacy in the Enterprise, and it’s racing to get all the boxes (no pun intended) checked that will win it official entry through company doors. 

To be fair, according to Dropbox for Business product manager Anand Subramani, they already have 4 million users in businesses. We haven’t called any of them to ask if they’re spending a dime on the service; in fact, it would be interesting to know how many of them are personal accounts or shadow IT.

But as we’ve asked workers at large enterprises to try to create accounts on the enterprise file sync and share (EFSS) service, the most common response we get is “it’s blocked.”

Qualifying for Enterprise Entry

Dropbox knows this, so it's busy adding features and functions that will earn them the blessing of CIOs. At the same time, they have to keep their current users happy by preserving the simplicity of the consumer app that has an impressive and unprecedented 300 million individual users.

It’s with the latter in mind that Dropbox completely redesigned its service and its app earlier this year so that, from a user’s vantage point, the Dropbox and Dropbox for Business experience would be (almost) identical. On the back end they’ve added things like single sign-on, remote wipe, account transfer, sharing audit logs, etc.

Today Dropbox for Business is unveiling view-only permissions for shared folders. This feature is available under an early access arrangement for Dropbox for Business customers. (Note: You can become a “customer” by signing up for a 14-day free trial.)

The reason it’s available only via early access right now is that “we like to get critical feedback before officially releasing products,”  said Subramani, adding that “it’s the best way for us to finalize.” He insists that the early access program isn’t for bug-bashing or because it’s in an experimental phase.


Why Do We Need Shared Folders?

For anyone who isn’t familiar with shared folders, they’re a place for teams or groups to share content. In the case of legal documents within a company, for example, you might need to share them with a variety of users and departments, most of whom you don’t want making changes. The “view only” feature accomplishes that.

At the same time, you might want to allow the lawyers within the firm to make modifications to the documents, so you don’t want it to lock everyone out. It’s worth noting that unless otherwise requested, Dropbox always puts the latest version of a document first.

There are three roles around shared folders, said Subramani.

  1. Owners, they decide who gets access to what and what kind of changes are authorized, or not.
  2. Editors, they’re permitted to modify documents
  3. Viewers, they can see and digest the content, but cannot make changes

Dropbox for Business administrators can activate this feature from the Admin Console.  It is available for all operating systems and for all mobile devices according to Subramani.

Right On Time or What Took You So Long?

Though we didn’t poll every EFSS vendor to see if it offered view only permissions for shared folders those that we write about say that they have had them for years.

“We’ve had them as an option for nearly the entire life of the product,”  said Colin Jordan of Egnyte.

Box, via its website,  said that it pioneered security for shared folders and role-based security.

Jeetu Patel, General Manager of EMC Syncplicity,  said they’ve had them from the start as well.

Dropbox Waits Until Customers Ask

Some companies innovate primarily around customer requests. That’s how Dropbox for Business seems to work. We asked Subramani why they were introducing this feature now.

 “This is the right time (for view only permissions on shared folders)” he told us.

“We want to make sure we are adding features that are most useful,” he elaborated. “We get 1000’s of requests a day, so we slowly look at what will touch the most people.”

While that’s one way of looking at it, Jeetu Patel, General Manager of EMC Syncplicity has another.

“As with any vendor, we listen carefully to our customers. However, we also believe that our job as innovators means anticipating and solving problems that our customers did not realize they had, but once they have it they can't live without it,” he  said.


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