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Dropbox Paper: What Is It

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

This new collaboration platform is designed to take on Office 365. Is it right for your business?

Credit: ShutterstockCredit: ShutterstockDropbox is best known for its comparatively simple file sharing and cloud storage, but, historically, it hasn't offered any kind of editing or collaboration tools. Therefore, it hasn't competed with the likes of Google Drive or Microsoft's OneDrive. Recently, Dropbox teamed up with Microsoft Office to offer some editing and collaboration features, but that still didn't put it on a par with Office 365 or Google Apps. So, Dropbox came up with another solution, Dropbox Paper.

What Is Dropbox Paper?

This platform lets teams create documents and to-do lists, assign tasks, share, edit simultaneously, chat, search for documents, store versions and keep files in sync across devices. It features a minimalist design, with some basic formatting available. You can add images, and write code that automatically gets formatted that way.

MORE: Dropbox vs. Box: What’s the Right Choice for a Small Business?

You can get someone's attention, providing they have access to the document, by using "@username" mentions. The mentioned party then receives an email, desktop or mobile notification that their attention is required in the Paper document. Alternatively, you're able to get the attention of everybody who has access to the document by using "@doc".

Google, followed eventually by Microsoft, dominated the online collaborative productivity scene for years, outstripping competitors such as Zoho with their widespread integration, intuitive interfaces and desktop and web-based applications. Paper is Dropbox's answer to these productivity giants. It's simple, it's collaborative and it's cost-effective, making Paper a serious contender in the collaborative productivity field.

There are two versions, one browser-based web app and a mobile app. There's no desktop version available, but the lightweight nature of Paper makes it a smart choice for businesses that operate in a cloud-based environment.

Why Would Businesses Choose Dropbox Paper?

The primary reason for businesses to choose Dropbox Paper is collaboration. The clutter-free work environment of Paper is designed around team culture and collaborative creations. You can give access to all the right people within your organization and all of those team members can access the document at the same time. Thanks to real-time collaboration, you'll each other's edits as they happen. Users are able to chat to one another right in the document, too, so they don't need to flit between different applications.

If you've got a Dropbox Business account, Paper comes with a solid set of security features to keep potentially sensitive data safe. For example, a user who has "admin" status can access and view all activity in Paper. They can also manage sharing and content access and editing permissions.

For businesses that may need to see earlier versions of documents, undo specific changes, or find out who did what, Paper stores all revisions since the creation of the document and, when you access the revision history, puts the author's name to the left of the text they contributed or changes they made. As well as changes to the document itself, Paper also stores the comment history, so if someone requested a change or had a brilliant idea that's been forgotten, you can find it easily.

Whatever business you're in, you're bound to have a lot of content, which can take up huge amounts of space on your servers or in your cloud storage. However, Dropbox Paper, as of February 2017, lets you create and store unlimited documents, and they don't count toward your regular Dropbox storage.

The ability to embed rich media, like video and music by simply pasting in a URL makes Paper a smart option for businesses that require dynamic content. For increased versatility, Paper also allows you to type or paste code snippets, giving you an easy way to document, comment on, or review code in a collaborative environment.

Another popular feature, particularly for creative businesses and those who include lots of imagery in their content, is the drag-and-drop image galleries. As you drag your images into the document, Paper automatically organizes them into gallery grid layouts.

What Are Comparable Products?

Google Apps for Work and Office 365 are the most obvious competitors to Dropbox Paper. Zoho Docs is another comparable option that's suitable for businesses. The two biggest competitors, Google and Microsoft, don't offer support for rich media or code snippets, but do provide other features that, as yet, Dropbox Paper doesn't.

What Are the Limitations of Dropbox Paper?

The most significant limitation of Dropbox Paper is that it's only accessible while you're online. So, if you lose your connection, you can't make any changes or even view documents. If you've got a stable internet connection and conduct the majority of your business remotely or in the cloud, this won't be too much of a deal breaker, but it's definitely something to know. EDITOR'S NOTE: On April 12, 2017, Dropbox added offline support to the Android and iOS versions of Paper, which solves this offline connection problem. 

You can only export files from paper in .DOCX or markdown files, and this function isn't compatible with Google Apps or OpenOffice. Notably, there's also no support for creating .PDF files.

There are also a number of notable omissions and strangely placed formatting items. The browser-based application, which prioritizes minimalism, doesn't provide an italic or underscore option in the menu. Although they aren't visible options, you can still italicize and underscore text using the keyboard shortcuts, however.

Headers are also something of an oddity. You can choose H1 and H2 header formatting from the available menu, but to create an H3 title, which is particularly common for blog content, for example, you need to preface the subheading with "###" as there's no way option to set an H3 title from the formatting menu. You also cannot go below H3, so if your business content regularly uses H3, H4, and H5, headers, Paper isn't the best option. If your team likes mixing things up with a variety of fonts, they'll be disappointed with Paper, which only has one available typeface.

Like all software and applications, Dropbox Paper has both pros and cons. It's a big step up for Dropbox and rivals Google Apps for Work and Office 365 as a lightweight, cloud-based collaboration environment for small and medium businesses. It does have limitations, but that may change as the tool evolves.

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