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Commons vs Dropbox

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#1 hobbes



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Posted 26 March 2013 - 07:26 PM

How does Commons compare to Dropbox (mostly concerning user interface for file/folder sharing)?

Obviously Commons' backend for data storage is a P4 server whereas Dropbox uses cloud storage. And Common's server is user installed and managed versus Dropbox being a proprietary server(s).

It looks like Commons user interface is all through a web browser, whereas Dropbox offers a sleek client for Windows. The latter works naturally well with the file system for managing data whereas previous posts in this forum mentioned issues with Commons interface in dealing with folders.

I hope the "unofficial directive" of "don't add any complicated engineering stuff to Commons" leads to a sleek user interface that is just as easy to use as Dropbox but of course with awesome Perforce integration and thus grander features.

#2 Dan Auker

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Posted 26 March 2013 - 10:04 PM

Good question.  Commons and Dropbox (and the rest of file sync vendors) are complimentary and can envision the two solutions being deployed alongside each other.

There's no mystery to building a cloud-based data store.  Dropbox and its competitors have proven to be adept at allowing individual users to keep their files in sync across a range of devices.  That's been a winning formula in the consumer space but it has a lot to prove in the enterprise.

While there are many concerns around the security, reliability, compliance and auditability of DropBox and other cloud storage/sync vendors, the answer to your question is that none of those solutions offer advanced versioning.

Perforce Commons is focused on collaboration and versioning is an essential component of collaboration.  In fact as soon as you share a file, file versioning is, by definition, collaboration.

From the outset our goal has been to build a simple, intuitive interface that harnesses the power of the Perforce engine without making it intrusive.  We want to allow people to work in a way that is familiar and comfortable wile solving the file collaboration problems that waste time and result in mistakes and lost productivity - and if you have seen our survey, also make lots of people yell at their computers.

Simple versioning as offered by DropBox (and their competitors) doesnt solve collaboration issues.  In simple collaboration, the last person to save a version clobbers the changes of everyone else.  Lets say that you and Alex are working on version 5 of a file.  You make your changes and submit them, creating version 6.  Alex doesnt know that you have submitted your changes and goes ahead and saves his changes, creating version 7.  All the changes that you made in version 6 are lost - or to be more precise they are locked into version 6 and not reflected in version 7.

In order to avoid this problem, some vendors allow file locking.  Only one person at a time can work on a file.  Now you have another big problem - you have to sit around waiting for others to make changes before you get a shot.  Fast-moving companies can not afford to add this kind of cycle time on important files.

The biggest problem is that current cloud file storage/share/sync solutions actually make the versioning problem WORSE.  Shared files have a tendency to multiply across a network - at any given time there are many versions of the same base file and no way find and consolidate the changes.  Worse yet, communication about the file tends to be fragmented and siloed.  If I communicate to you about a file via email, noone else has access to that conversation.  So while DropBox broadens access to files it actually makes collaboration more challenging.

Commons lets many people work on the same file at the same time while providing an easy way to merge and consolidate all edits and changes into a single creative process.  When you are done working, you just drag the file into Commons and the File Valet makes file versioning (i.e. collaboration) easy.  File Valet tells you what version of the file has been edited, what changes were made, allows you to see the differences between two versions and AUTOMATICALLY merges Word and Powerpoint files.  Go ahead and do what you want with your files - edit them, send them, sync them - heck use DropBox if your IT team lets you - when you are ready to collaborate, just drop them into Commons.

Commons provides that single source of truth that enterprise teams need.  We store the complete file history (who did what when) and we store the threaded discussions and comments alongside the file - everyone can see them, so everyone knows what is going on.  I can also stay current on the things I care about by following files and when other people use @mentions to get my attention.  Communications become metadata for the file, solving many of the most common workflow and compliance issues businesses face in a simple and elegant way.

We think that DropBox is a great tool for keeping your files in sync across your various devices; however, it wont solve enterprise versioning and collaboration issues.  That requires a solution that combines the best aspects of social software with a powerful versioning engine (Commons, of course).  We believe that we solve different issues and that a hybrid architecture with Perforce at the core and a file sync provider at the edge is a likely deployment scenario.
Dan Auker
Product Management
Perforce Software
2320 Blanding Avenue
Alameda CA 94501
o - 510 473-3174

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