Here’s the idea: Because even the newest and most advanced iPads have limited horsepower, on-the-go artists have to wait until they can get back to their laptop or desktop Photoshop app to perform complex imaging acrobatics.
The new Adobe Photoshop Mix, a cloud-based image editor and compositor that debuted as part of Creative Cloud 2014, will actually perform some processor-intensive functions — like content aware fill, lens correction and shake reduction — in the cloud and deliver the results to your iPad.
With Mix, not only can you open native Photoshop PSD files, but you can even choose to open a single layer of a PSD file for editing on your Apple tablet. Of course, the app can also access all the photos in the device’s Camera Roll, and let you use its in-app photo shooting feature to capture new images.
Adobe has other high-level mobile imaging apps — notably Photoshop Touch — which lets you do some mighty complex tasks with an iPad or iPhone and your fingertips. The difference between the two is not only what they can do, but where and how.
Mix is much easier to use than Photoshop Touch, and it’s free, compared to the $9.99 price tag for the iPad app. But that’s only fair because with this debut version, Mix offers a limited number of high-caliber options compared to Photoshop Touch, though it performs these feats without taxing your iPad’s processor.
In addition to this cloud-based madness, Mix also offers an assortment of down-to-earth image editing functions that most photo enthusiasts will recognize from consumer editing apps such as Aviary or Camera+. You can use Photoshop Mix to adjust exposure, contrast, saturation and clarity with handy sliders and real-time previews. You can apply looks — filters in Instagram parlance — or extract parts of photos to combine two different photos together in a composite.
In addition to local files, Mix lets you access images from your Creative Cloud account, Lightroom Mobile library and Facebook account. When you’re done with your picture, or get to a point where you can stop working, you can export even layered and masked images back to Photoshop on the computer or publish your work to the Adobe-owned Behance community for help or comment. (Note that Behance is only available to Creative Cloud subscribers, while Mix is available to anyone.)
The Mix interface is similar to Adobe’s recent iPad apps, including Photoshop Touch and the new Adobe Sketch and Adobe Line: Horizontal orientation, with left-side vertical navigation lets you pull the photos you want to work with into the canvas.
The Cut Out Photos feature is reminiscent of the quick select in Photoshop — you use your finger or a tablet stylus to select parts of an image, just as you would with a mouse or pen tablet on the desktop. If you want to combine parts of one image into a second photo, this technique combines them via guided steps in the interface
As in the past, Adobe has employed gestures to scale, move, transform, resize and change the arrangement of image elements. Swipe two fingers to the right to undo and back to the left to redo, though sometimes this gesture winds up moving the whole photo.
Its ease of use is a real advantage for many reasons, not the least of which is now that Adobe has made its $9.99-a-month Photography Program a permanent offering of Creative Cloud, it will likely attract more of the enthusiast crowd to the subscription program that includes Photoshop CC and all the Lightroom apps.
The content aware fill feature worked quite well in various images, and very much like it works on the desktop. The upright function also performed respectably, and as expected. Less of a success was the Shake Reduction feature. On several shaky images I tried, the effect mostly resembled sharpening which, though adjustable via the slider, also left artifacts. I thought the local Clarity control in the enhance module actually did a better job on at least one image I tried. While the result was still a little soft, at least there were no accompanying artifacts.
One snag I see with Mix is bandwidth. It took on average two minutes and 15 seconds each to do a lens correction and a shake reduction operation, start to finish, on iPhone images. It took two minutes and 13 seconds for a three-layer, 24MB PSD file to load into the Mix interface from Creative Cloud and more than five minutes for a 67MB multiple-layer PSD file to load for example, on my Wi-Fi network. If your home network isn’t fast, Mix’s cloud activities might be a problem.
As a 1.0 product, Adobe Photoshop Mix makes a respectable debut out of the gate. But to live up to the Photoshop title, I expect that future versions will have even more capabilities.
Photoshop Mix is a significant achievement for Adobe. It’s one of the first mobile apps developed with Adobe’s new Creative SDK, a software library that the company is now beta testing with an eye toward distributing it free of charge to third-party developers.
Unlike Photoshop Touch, Adobe has shown with Mix that complex photo manipulations do not have to be difficult to accomplish. It operates step-by-step with formulas that give you outcome choices. Its round-trip, non-destructive editing features are convenient and forgiving.
Connectivity may prove the most profound barrier to some users, however. While Adobe generally states that Wi-Fi connectivity will yield better performance than cellular, even with Wi-Fi, mileage will vary for cloud functions. Nonetheless, there are an abundance of elegant local options that you can save to your camera roll that do not require a fast connection.
It’s unclear at this point how long the cloud-based features, which are described in the app as premium offerings, will be free to use, and Adobe will not comment on that.
You have nothing to lose in checking out Mix on your iPad right now. Not only is it free, but even with an Adobe ID login, you still can opt for the free subscription, which gives you 2GB of server space to save your work.
What’s in a format? Does that which we call a GIF by any other name invoke just as many lols?
Just yesterday, Twitter started supporting animated GIFs. But there’s a catch! What Twitter ends up showing you isn’t actually a GIF at all. EVERYBODY PAAANIIIIIIC.
Note: don’t actually panic. This isn’t a bad thing. Quite the contrary.
As noticed by the folks over at Embedly, the “GIFs” that end up in your Twitter feed aren’t actually GIFs at all. They’re technically not even really image files in a strict sense — they’re more like video files without sound. They’re MP4s, embedded with the HTML5 video tag. Even if you upload a GIF, it’s converted into an MP4.
While the GIF/MP4 difference may seem trivial, it’s actually a pretty damned smart move on Twitter’s part. Why? Compression, compression, compression.
You see, for all of its ubiquity and seemingly recent popularity, the GIF is an antique. It was introduced in 1987, picked up animation support around 1989, and… hasn’t really changed since. The upside? It works pretty much everywhere. The downside? The format is nearly 30 friggin’ years old, and its age shows in maaaany ways. That’s why lots of GIFs are just a few seconds long with awful color, yet many megabytes large.
Video compression, meanwhile, has come a pretty long way in the past 30 years. An MP4 can be twice as smooth and thrice as pretty, but still come in at a quarter the file size.
For Twitter, that means lower bandwidth bills. For you, that means less waiting around for GIFs to load.
Are there drawbacks? Sure. Some browsers don’t play friendly with HTML5′s video tag yet, so Twitter would have to fallback to something else in those cases. (Oddly, as far as I can tell, Twitter is falling back to Flash there.) Some browsers also make it a bit less straightforward to save MP4s for later resharing. But over the next few years, we’ll probably see the switch from GIF to MP4 become fairly commonplace.
That raises the question: what do we call these little looping bits of silent animation, if they’re not actually GIF files anymore?
Most people don’t care about the technical implementations of one thing versus another – they just want an easy-to-remember word for whatever they’re referring to. And once that name gets popular? Changing its usage is like trying to move a mountain by yelling at it. See: “Xerox” for photocopies, “Photoshop” for photo editing, or “Googling” for “not using Bing”. Half a decade from now, will the term “GIF” have been abstracted to mean anything short, silent, and looping?
App translation and localization service OneSky‘s best-known clients include Scribd and QuizUp. With so many app translation providers out there, however, how does OneSky differentiate? Co-founder Loki Ng says the startup, which is based in Hong Kong and will open a San Francisco office soon, gives clients an easier workflow by providing a translation management platform that lets app developers and professional human translators connect without having to exchange countless emails.
Android and iOS developers are provided with an SDK that they can plug into their app with four or five lines of code, which allows them to take screenshots and tag all phrases they need translated. Then they upload the screen shots to OneSky’s platform for translators to reference. While translators are working, they can see exactly how the phrase will be displayed, giving them a better idea of how it fits into the context of the app.
OneSky supports more than 30 popular file formats for iOS and Android apps, so developers don’t have to convert technical files into Excel documents in order to for translators to access written content.
“They can just upload technical files and we can parse all the files for them and make sure that our translations will not crash their files,” says Ng. “Then they can download the translated files after that. We can help them do validations so they can even hook up the API to automate the whole process, so the engineering team can forget about the translation process after the integration.”
Another feature that helps simplify the workflow for developers is OneSky’s support for Google Play, Amazon’s Appstore, and the iOS App Store. For the latter, OneSky’s system automatically downloads an app’s description from iTunes. Translators can then use OneSky’s platform to make sure that the translated version of the description will fit within iTunes strict character limits.
Ng says that most translations are available within a day if they are 2,000 words or less.
OneSky is currently working on a new feature that will help clients do on-device testing. Translators will have the particular device an app is meant for, like an iPhone or Android tablet, so they can use the app and check for any problems or awkward translations. If they spot any issues, they update the translation on OneSky’s platform. Clients will be notified immediately so they can download the most updated files for their app.
OneSky currently has 2,000 translators, who it found by asking local translation agencies for referrals. Then they ask applicants to complete a test. All translators must live in countries where their target language is a main or official language, so OneSky looks at their IP addresses to make sure they are based where they say they are. The company also does random spot checks to weed out translators who deliver poor quality work.
Most of OneSky’s clients are from Europe or the U.S. who have developed apps originally in western European languages like English, French, German, and Spanish. Most are targeting expansion to other European countries. OneSky also works with game publishing company Yodo1 in China to help developers enter that country, since it can be a difficult market to tackle without a local partner.
The company monetizes by charging about 10 to 13 cents per word. OneSky is currently working on a feature called OneSky Academy, or a series of articles that will give developers tips on how to localize apps for different markets, and plans to seek funding by the end of this year or next year, depending on how fast the company grows, says Ng.
Read the original post: OneSky’s Platform Makes Translating Apps Easy
It hasn’t been a great couple of weeks for Box.
First came word that Intralinks bought DocTrackr, an information rights management vendor that Box reportedly had its eye on. Then last night, the Wall Street Journal and others were reporting that Box plans to delay its IPO.
What’s happening here?
It could be a case of simple bad timing or even misinterpretation. For what it’s worth, Box spokesperson, Ashley Mayer told me last night in an email that the company will not be commenting on the timing of the IPO. That changed today when a company spokesperson issued an official statement in response to the spate of articles on their IPO:
“Our IPO has never had a set date. Since filing, we’ve planned on going when it makes the most sense for the market. That plan hasn’t changed.”
And a person close to the company told me he was amused watching the tech press trip over itself over this story (guilty as charged) because no tech company is on the road right now due to the current market volatility. As this person said somewhat exasperatedly, “A delay would imply there was a schedule.”
So what we have is a classic case of conflicting stories. Tim Walters, who is partner at Digital Clarity Group also thinks it might be a non-story for many of the reasons Alex Wilhelm outlined in his story on TechCrunch last night regarding the sorry state of tech stocks in general these days, but Walters says a delay would not be without risk.
“It *could* hurt sales efforts, and revenue (and so eventually the IPO) insofar as competitors will (or should) start spewing FUD about Box possibly being sold, or struggling, or lacking management vision, etc. But that just means that tomorrow’ FUD will have a slightly different composition than yesterday’s — and it’s up to Box’s hired-gun, enterprise-experienced sales executives to figure out how to deal with that,” Walters wrote in an email.
Geoff Bock, principal at Bock & Company, who has been writing about content management for many years says this may force Box to look at where its value proposition lies and that may not be a bad thing in Bock’s view because much of Box’s offering has become commoditized.
“It’s important to remember that Box got started as a networked file sharing service for the mobile revolution — providing easy access to files from any device. Yet these capabilities are now commodity features, available from a multitude of vendors large and small,” he explained.
Bock sees the market battleground transforming to developing and deploying mobile apps that have smart access to backend enterprise resources and he believes if Box can exploit this they can evolve past the commodity services model.
“It’s clear to me that Box provides important services. The company seems to be investing in metadata management and APIs to integrate with existing enterprise resources. Box may well become the mobile middleware that powers these third-generation experiences. The jury’s still out and I am continually looking for proof points,” Bock said.
Bock’s vision is actually in line with comments that Box CEO Aaron Levie made at South by Southwest in March in an on-stage interview with Jessi Hemple from Time’s Brainstorm Tech. Levie said that in five years he sees his company transforming to one where customers build applications on top of the Box platform, rather than using the Box app directly as they do today.
Lawrence Hawes, who is principal at Dow Brook Consulting and has been covering the cloud collaboration space for a long time, says the biggest risk with a delay is that potential investors might get spooked.
“Potential investors may have another look at Box’s finances and growth prospects, and then decide to not participate or to do so at a lower share price,” he said. Hawes added, ” Box may well have to price their initial offering lower and raise less capital than they wanted; they will get a better sense of that when they finally start their road show and talk to prospective institutional investors.”
For Hawes, the big, unanswered question is whether Box will still be able to raise enough money with this IPO to gain a couple of years worth of operating funds. “If not,” he says “they may have to agree to be acquired by a larger firm to make an exit that satisfies current investors.”
But Bock has different advice for investors. “I would advise investors to follow the metadata and the middleware as they try to value a third-generation platform. There’s much more at stake than securely mobilizing access to shared files.”
Whatever the outcome, it seems that Box is at a crossroads and what happens over the next few months could define the future direction of the company, one in which they continue as an independent though publicly traded company or one in which they are sold and absorbed into another organization.
IMAGE BY FLICKR USER DOUG WALDRON. USED UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0 LICENSE.
See more here: Box IPO Delay Wouldn’t Be Without Compromises
Microsoft. For a generation of technology executives, the name strikes fear into even the most iron-willed business leaders. A lion among gazelles, its very gaze into a market could cause investors and analysts to flee in terror. Yet, its name has become a punchline among today’s technorati, a joke about formerly dominant companies evolving into large, plodding kludges. Missed deadlines, delayed products, and canceled features are only some of the ways the company has disappointed both consumer and enterprise users.
The rest of the tech world has not moved slowly. Within just a handful of months of each other in 2006-2008, Apple introduced the iPhone, Amazon introduced AWS, Google introduced Android, and Facebook introduced News Feed. Together, these companies quickly became the quadrumvirate of tech, to the point that MG Siegler wrote last year that: “any rational thinker (meaning those outside of Redmond or anyone who hasn’t made a career as a .Net developer) knows that Microsoft simply no longer belongs” on the list of top tech companies.
From Office to Xbox, Microsoft has had all the individual products and services it needed to fulfill our wildest tech imaginations. Yet it always seemed that inefficiency and politics prevented the company from becoming the key brand in technology.
Microsoft, though, has always had the critical ingredients for success. We expect our data to be portable, usable across all of our devices and apps. We want to be continuously productive and entertained depending on our mood, and we want services that work at the speed of our decentralized, mobile world. From Office to Xbox, Microsoft has had all the individual products and services it needed to fulfill our wildest tech imaginations. Yet it always seemed that inefficiency and politics prevented the company from becoming the key brand in technology.
Times are changing. Just take a sample of some of the recent news over the past few weeks from the Redmond behemoth. It launched Office across devices, including on iPad and Android, to decent acclaim. It’s building a new disruptive startup lab headed by a well-known force from DARPA to take on GoogleX. Bing is now at an 18.6 percent market share in the United States, slowly gaining on Google’s dominant search engine market share. It’s even making Skype group calls free.
Perhaps most importantly, the company finally seems ready to shed its past software strategy and fully embrace the future of cloud-backed devices. Its new CEO, Satya Nadella, published a letter a month ago outlining a renewed focus on positioning Microsoft at the center of this new world by creating a “cloud for everyone, on every device.” Almost at once, it seemed that Microsoft could start to harness its full energy in one direction, including the $20 billion in revenue and $5.66 billion net income in Q1 that it announced last week.
A Microsoft with a strategy is a deadly force in the race for tech supremacy, and Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon are deeply vulnerable. Our device and cloud environment has led to a convergence of strategies between the five major tech players, focused on continuous engagement (with Facebook a major exception, which I will discuss shortly).
Apple, Google, and Amazon all offer devices that can connect you to a world of content; they also offer tools to let you be productive. All three have consumer cloud strategies for you to save your files and data, allowing the companies to seamlessly synchronize your files across devices and apps (Amazon’s offering is much more nascent, particularly its applications, but its intentions are the same). All have initiated key projects in the television space as well, bringing entertainment in the living room into the cloud world.
Microsoft seems to have all the requisite product lines to aggressively compete.
Indeed, of the current four great powers of tech, Facebook seems to be the one potentially facing the most trouble. Its Facebook phone flopped last year, and the company has yet to hint at a next-generation device. While it certainly dominates in certain file categories like photos, it lacks a comprehensive cloud data strategy that would put it at the center of its users’ files. And while Oculus could provide it with a new and unique entertainment offering, such hopes seem distant given the device’s current state of development.
When you consider these strategies, Microsoft seems to have all the requisite product lines to aggressively compete. Its Xbox console already has a strong showing in the home entertainment space, and it managed to ship 1.2 million units of its next-generation Xbox One console last quarter. Its OneDrive already has decent integration behind Office 365, ahead of Apple’s iCloud. Internet Explorer continues to have a dominant share of the desktop web browser market, and Microsoft is beginning to make important forays into content distribution.
In addition, Microsoft has one killer advantage over everyone else: its software lies at the heart of enterprise, meaning that the vast majority of workers are already exposed to its products on a daily basis. This hasn’t always been the best experience – its online Office productivity suite has been buggy and badly integrated across mobile devices, its social features are still immature even following the Yammer acquisition, and its cloud strategy hasn’t had the success that it perhaps wanted. Yet with Microsoft’s renewed focus, its dominance in the corporate world can be a key channel to get it access to consumers.
There is, of course, one gaping hole for Microsoft: mobile. Its acquisition of Nokia notwithstanding, it is clear that Windows Phone is not going to successfully compete with the entrenched offerings of Apple and Google. But this failure may actually be a blessing. Microsoft has no comparative advantage with its own hardware products, so it must build apps and services from the ground up for all devices. In short, it can be the cloud world’s version of Switzerland, offering the most compatible software in the world.
In a world where services are becoming central to the tech industry future, analysts would be remiss to ignore a company that seems just a few careful strategic steps away from rebuilding its shattered empire.
There is plenty of work to do, of course, and the difficulties Microsoft has faced in the past are not going anywhere. Its various software divisions have traditionally worked poorly with one another, and its product leadership has been variable at best. Its focus on rock-solid reliability is a huge point for enterprise, but its product culture often dilutes great design thinking down to checklists that further get cut as deadlines approach. As the company moves away from released software to a subscription model, that pressure will hopefully subside, but the culture needs a significant evolution if it wants to compete.
Microsoft also needs to reintegrate itself with the startup community. Its BizSpark program is noticeable, but its efforts pale in comparison with the general excitement around Amazon’s AWS and Google’s App Engine. On the other side of the pipeline, it needs to reconsider its M&A strategy, which has been noticeably quiet at a time when Apple has quickly accelerated acquisitions, and both Google and Facebook have made significant multi-billion-dollar acquisitions in the past few months.
For Microsoft, these early signs are promising, but all may be for naught. Yet, in a world where services are becoming central to the tech industry future, analysts would be remiss to ignore a company that seems just a few careful strategic steps away from rebuilding its shattered empire.
Image: Shutterstock composite
Read more from the original source: Microsoft Is Technology’s Comeback Kid
Google explains its results come from measuring request-per-second improvements using three simple HTTP benchmarks: Hello, File, and JSON, which improved 130 percent, 30 percent, and almost 100 percent, respectively. Hello provides a measure for how many basic connections an HTTP server can handle, File simulates the server accessing and serving static content, and the JSON benchmark offers a proxy for performance of REST apps.
Image Credit: sergign
Note: Not an actual screenshot; just a mockup of what the weather icons could look like in practice
While I’ve been a fan of the Chromecast since the beginning, I find myself using it more and more lately. During the work day, I end up using it for all of the random videos I want to watch but that I don’t want taking up my laptop’s screen space or taking my full attention.
As such, my office TV almost always has Chromecast’s idle screen on it.
Right now, that just means it spends much of the day showing a clock and any one of Google’s many pre-selected Chromecast wallpapers. Sometime soon, though, that screen might get a bit smarter.
The idea, it seems, is that a quick glance at the Chromecast home screen would tell you what sort of weather to expect (Sweater weather? Tank top weather?) and whether or not you’ll need an umbrella. For people like me who tend to have Chromecast up on a screen more often than not, it’d be a low-bandwidth way to make the idle screen a tad more useful.
It’s easy to imagine Google going deep on this, especially with their work on stuff like Google Now. It could show upcoming meeting reminders, package delivery trackers — basically, a second-screen dashboard for your life. At a certain point, though (for anything more personal than weather, really) you’d probably want it to be a separate application rather than something that’s on by default.
These days, it seems, everyone’s a videographer. We can attribute (or blame) that phenomenon at least partly on the ubiquity of video on smartphones and consumer cameras.
But now there’s a way for mobile filmmakers of all levels to push even harder beyond creative limits. VFXWarrior today launched Ultrakam, the first and only iOS app that can record 2K video—a higher resolution than Full HD.
With Ultrakam, you can shoot in either H.264 (iFrame) or M-JPEG codecs to yield up to 2240 x 1672 pixels, or 70 percent more than 1920 x 1080 Full HD. The app’s ability to capture 4:2:0 full range color shows denser blacks and whites.
“My vision is to create the most powerful tools for the next generation of content creators and to integrate mobile devices as a professional tool in content production,” said Hassan Uriostegui, the developer behind Ultrakam. The emphasis is both on high resolution and minimal compression.
Ultrakam works on late-generation iOS devices, including the iPhone 5s, 5c, and 5, as well as the iPad Mini and iPad 3. Each has its own hardware specs and thus the app has operational variations that conform to those limits.
Shooting a movie with Ultrakam on the iPhone 5s using the H.264 codec, for example, yields the highest resolution possible from the software—some 70 percent more pixels (2240 x 1672) than Full HD with footage captured at 20, 24, and 30fps. When alternately using the M-JPEG codec, 2K resolution on the iPhone 5s has 35 percent more pixels than Full HD (1936 x 1446), at the same frame rates.
On the iPhone 5 in contrast, Ultrakam’s recorded 2K video yields 1936 x 1446, however that footage is only available at 20fps using the M-JPEG codec. iPhone 5 users can also record regular HD video at 24 and 30fps in both M-JPEG and H.264 codecs.
In addition, Ultrakam lets you create 640 x 640 proxies in the player, so you can view and interact with smoothly running 2K material on your handset.
Though Ultrakam’s target audience spans a range from casual shooters to professional cinematographers, its developer designed the feature set with indie moviemakers in mind. In addition to high resolution capture, Ultrakam also provides special effects capabilities.
Slow motion recording converts the 120fps video shot on the iPhone 5s to 12, 24,or 30fps on hardware that supports it. However, resolution is limited to 1280 x 720, with shooters able to choose M-JPEG or H.264 codecs to generate up to 10x slow motion effect. Timelapse resolution is 2592 x 1936 with either codec, with playback speeds of 6,12,24,and 30fps. The app also records CD quality audio in uncompressed Stereo Linear PCM format.
“Ultrakam was designed working closely with indie filmmakers and we added what they asked for: timelapse and slow motion,” Uriostegui said. ”This way, directors can easily switch between live action, timelapse, and slow motion recording with maximum quality and control.” All videos recorded with Ultrakam are accessible in the camera roll, where users can preview and delete recordings. Filmmakers can export movies recorded in the H.264 codec to share with other applications.
Ultrakam also features a remote control panel for wirelessly transferring files from your phone or laptop, and is accessible via any Web browser connected to the same Wi-Fi network. If you need to quickly transfer files, you can also access them via USB or iTunes file sharing.
Users can play the files on the phone and preview the Audio/Video Sync via the app’s gallery. During playback, users can freeze and extract a video frame and send it to Ultrakam’s color grading companion app, Cinekolor. This allows filmmakers to start designing color looks that can be exported into programs like After Effects, Scratch, Lustre, or Nuke.
For all its high level specs, I found that Ultrakam handled quickly and easily on my iPhone 5, with a simple, intuitive interface. Just point the phone in landscape orientation, and hit the red button. Controls for white balance, focus, and exposure are available, and just like in many sophisticated photo and video apps, you can independently lock both focus and exposure.
A readout at the bottom of the window reminds you which specs you chose. To change those, tap the Gear icon to see a compact, elegant control grid that is easy to understand and swift to operate. Presets automatically give you a range of video qualities from the highest to the lowest and Web, with a single tap. Tap the play button to preview or halt playback. You can manually go forward and backward by dragging your finger across the screen.
The new Ultrakam Remote Control app, released alongside Ultrakam, is a companion app for both the iPhone and iPad versions. This Bluetooth remote app lets you control shooting remotely with controls for focus, exposure, white balance, and recording. It operates only with Ultrakam installed on the shooting device.
Ultrakam is a universal app for both the iPhone and the iPad and is now available on the App Store for a discounted price of $7.99 (the regular price will be $12.99). The Bluetooth-based Ultrakam Remote Control, is now available for a discounted price of $2.99 (with a regular price of $5.99). Both apps require iOS 7.
Late last night, a tweet was spread far and wide showing that a DMCA notice had blocked a file from being shared on a Dropbox user’s account.
As of this afternoon, it’s seen just shy of 3 thousand retweets.
What was going on? Was Dropbox suddenly doing something sketchy? Were they suddenly lurking around their users folders, digging for copyrighted material hiding amongst personal files?
Nope. The system is neither new, nor sketchy. It’s been in place for years, and it’s about as unsketchy as an anti-copyright infringement system can get. It allows Dropbox to block pre-selected files from being shared from person-to-person (thus keeping Dropbox from getting raided by the Feds), without their anti-infringement system having any idea what most of your files actually are.
Before we dive in, a few things to clear up:
If you know what “file hashing against a blacklist” means, feel free to skip the rest of this post. Dropbox checks the hash of a shared file against a banned list, and blocks the share if there’s a match.
If those words sound like voodoo to you, read on.
In computer science, there’s a incredibly popular concept called “hashing”.
It’s used just about everywhere — from allowing web services to check your password without having to actually store your original password, to confirming that a file wasn’t somehow changed as it traveled from user to user.
A hash function, in this case, is just an algorithm which spits out a unique identifier based on what you feed into it.
Hashes are usually just strings of characters. The hash for File A might be “4f2900f2fdfaf”, while the hash for File B might be “dba7b12a19fe9″. Dropbox’s hashes are probably waaaay longer than that (to allow for a higher number of unique hashes), but you get the idea.
With a properly implemented hash function, running the same exact file through the algorithm twice will return the same identifier both times — but changing a file even slightly completely changes the hash. So changing File A by even a few bits should change its hash to something entirely different, like “e3c277c771c8e”.
(This image is a modified version of a public domain image shared through Wikimedia Commons)
This identifier can be used to tell you if a file is exactly the same as another file — but it’s a one way street. The hash couldn’t tell you what that original file is, without you already knowing or having a copy of the file to compare it to.
It might help to think of a hash like a fingerprint. Everyone’s fingerprint is unique, but it can’t be used to identify a person unless you already have a record of that person’s fingerprint to compare it to. Likewise, a hash-based DMCA compliance system can’t tell what a file is, unless it’s exactly the same as a file that has received a takedown request.
When you upload a file to Dropbox, two things happen to it: a hash is generated, and then the file gets encrypted to keep any unauthorized user (be it a hacker or a Dropbox employee) who somehow stumbles it sitting on Dropbox’s servers from easily being able to open it up.
(Note on encryption: Dropbox handles the encryption keys, so they theoretically could look at your files if they were legally required to. Their system has checks in place, both physical and technical, to keep employees from poking about your stuff on a whim.)
After a DMCA complaint is verified by Dropbox’s legal team, Dropbox adds that file’s hash to a big blacklist of hashes known to be those corresponding to files they can’t legally allow to be shared. When you share a link to a file, it checks that file’s hash against the blacklist.
If the file you’re sharing is the exact same file that a copyright holder complained about, it’s blocked from being shared with others. If it’s something else — a new file, or even a slightly modified version of the same file — a hash-based anti-infringement system shouldn’t have any idea what it’s looking at.
In other words: at least based on what they’ve stated publicly, Dropbox isn’t actively scanning through your crap on a hunt for copyrighted materials. There’s no human (or even a robot) listening to your MP3s to try and find hot leaked Fergie tracks, or reading through your Harry Potter fanfic collection. They’ve just got a big list of files that they can’t let be shared, and they identify these files in a way that is deliberately blind to what any non-blacklisted files actually are.
Now, none of this is to say the hash-based system is without its security concerns. If required to by the government, for example, Dropbox theoretically could identify any user who had a certain exact file stored on their account. But the same would hold true for pretty much any cloud-based storage system where the user isn’t handling all of the encryption themselves.
For the record, here’s Dropbox’s official comment on the tweet:
There have been some questions around how we handle copyright notices. We sometimes receive DMCA notices to remove links on copyright grounds. When we receive these, we process them according to the law and disable the identified link. We have an automated system that then prevents other users from sharing the identical material using another Dropbox link. This is done by comparing file hashes. We don’t look at the files in your private folders and are committed to keeping your stuff safe.”
Here is the original post: How Dropbox Knows When You’re Sharing Copyrighted Stuff (Without Actually Looking At Your Stuff)
FileThis, the cloud-based document filing service that works something like Mint.com, in that it automatically logs into your online accounts then gathers data on your behalf, is now taking its service mobile with the introduction of the FileThis iOS application.
The service was first announced at MacWorld in 2012. Today, FileThis can access your documents saved online, like your bank statements, bills, and other files from your credit card companies, cable/Internet provider, your mobile operator, insurance company, online trading account, health insurer and more. Those files are then synced to the cloud storage service of your choice for safe keeping, including Evernote, Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, Personal and, now, FileThis’s own online storage solution called FileThis Cloud.
In addition, users can also scan and upload their own files using a desktop application designed for Mac.
The idea for FileThis came about after co-founder Brian Berson and his brother had to move their mother to an assisted living facility and were faced with having to work through 20 years’ worth of her documents. They didn’t know what to save and what to toss, and it was an overwhelming task to say the least.
“Going through all of that, I realized that we’re living in the 21st century – we’re living in a digital world – and yet, as consumers, we still deal with a lot of paperwork,” says Berson. Documents come to us in the mail in paper format, while others are made available digitally, but not easily accessible to us. It’s the latter that is FileThis’s main focus. It’s trying to make it easier for us to collect, organize, archive and search across those online files, which are today scattered around the web.
To get started with the service, U.S. consumers sign up for an account, add their preferred archival destinations (e.g. Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote, etc.), then add their connections to their online accounts at their utilities, financial services, online retailers like Gap or Amazon, and others. There are now around 350 supported institutions you can connect with, and the company is adding 20 to 25 more each month.
Berson says that once FileThis supports 3,000 institutions, it will reach roughly 85 percent to 90 percent of most used services on the market. (It’s currently at 75 percent, he estimates, because the 350 it supports now are the largest ones.) The average user on FileThis has 12.8 online connections, he also notes.
The product is a freemium service, with up to six institutions available for free, and a paid tier ($4.99/month, 30 connections) for those who need more. Though the company declined to provide exact user base figures, it’s now in the “five digits,” we’re told, and is seeing an 18 percent conversion rate from free to paid.
Now available on mobile, FileThis’s application for iPhone and iPad lets users connect to their online accounts, configure their cloud storage preferences, and view their saved files while on the go. But it also adds a key feature that works around one of the service’s earlier pain points: file uploads.
Before, users would have to scan their paper files to digital format — a time-consuming task, at best, and certainly a cumbersome one for those who don’t have an at-home desktop scanner. With the mobile app, you can instead snap a photo of a file or receipt and add it to your FileThis online collection.
That will see the service competing to some extent with another newer startup, Mustbin, a mobile app that last winter raised $4.5 million in Series A funding for its personal data organizer. I’ve personally found Mustbin very handy for keeping track of all the random paperwork I’m still handed out there in the real world, from receipts for new tires to vet bills to financial statements and more. But FileThis’s app now offers a compelling alternative, especially because I know my files can be archived on a platform that will probably stick around for a while, like Google Drive or Dropbox.
San Francisco-based FileThis, co-founded by CTO Trent Brown, is a 10-person company backed by $2 million in funding from undisclosed strategic investors, including an unnamed Fortune 500 company. (FileThis’s SEC filing only reveals John Wortman of Valeo Financial Advisors is involved).
The new iOS application is available as a free download here. An Android version will be available in May.