Apple’s New Software – WWDC 2014 Recap

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Another year, another opportunity for Apple to wow its developers and get the rest of us excited about new features coming soon to an iDevice near you. Apple’s World Wide Development Conference happened today and Apple didn’t leave us hanging. With OSX 10.10 Yosemite and iOS 8, there are plenty of new features, most designed around the idea of seamless movement from device to device to device, with nary a skip in the workflow. For the geeks, Apple has rolled out a new developer language called Swift with features to make the designing process easier. For iOS, there are new features that developers can take advantage of, including: Homekit (a tool that will permit apps to interface with the OS to control external devices – like home security, heating, lighting, etc.); Healthkit (a tool to bring together fitness information from various external tracking methods); the ability to work with third party keyboards, as well as predictive typing like Swiftkey; better communication between apps and iOS; access for third party apps to TouchID; third party widgets; family share for iOS purchases so that everyone can benefit from downloads; shared photo editing through new iOS Photos app; improved Siri performance; and, changes to the App store including the ability to download bundles.

For Yosemite, users will find improvements to AirDrop,  iOS inspired flat design, and  an expanded Notifications function, which will also work with third party app widgets. It will also be able to leverage iCloud Drive – Apple’s answer to DropBox, with 20 GB for $.99 per month and 200 GB at $3.99 per month, synced across all of your devices. And, it works on Windows too. iCloud Drive will make for easier work within Apple apps across devices, improving efficiencies. MailDrop allows Mail users to attach large files without restriction using iCloud Drive. Users will also be able to edit image attachments with simple annotations. Safari has changed its look, and will show recent people you have messaged and RSS feeds and a thumbnail of open tabs. You will be able to view text messages and make phone calls on your computer in the new OSX. Tweaks and shine, rather than a significant overhaul.

While I didn’t note a great deal of business-ready features, iCloud Drive is certainly interesting for those who use Apple products for their office suite. And, the improvements and tweaks to both OS’ will make Apple devices more user-friendly, which is always a good thing.

What do you think? Was there anything you were hoping for that Apple missed? Or are you satisfied with the next iteration of Apple’s operating systems?

UPDATE: Something I missed in yesterday’s live blogs – Google is no longer the default search engine in Safari in iOS. Say hello to Bing. And even cooler: DuckDuckGo, my fav private search engine, is now an option in Safari as well – no tracking allowed!

Microsoft Office for iPad – It’s About Freaking Time

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Yep, it’s finally here. After lots of promises and years of delay, Microsoft has finally released a true Office for iPad suite (no more emulations from third parties). Maybe this move is to counter Apple’s semi-recent decision to bundle its iLife apps (Pages, Numbers  and Keynote) for free. Maybe they just finally got around to it. Who knows? But here it is, so I figured I should check out exactly what Microsoft is offering to Apple users.

As expected, Office for iPad is a collection of three apps  – Word, Excel and Powerpoint, of course, in addition to the previously available Microsoft – iPad offerings.  The apps are free, but there is a catch – to do more than view (in other words, to create or edit) docs, you will need the Office 365 subscription, ranging from $6.99 to $9.99 per month for Home Personal or Premium, or one of their business subscriptions. Then, the tablet will have access to the same material available through Office Online, including use of OneDrive for storage.  With an Office 365 subscription, you get five tablet set ups and five desktop setups of the suite.

The apps for iPad are more robust than one might think – they do look like their desktop counterparts to a degree. Of course, with the emphasis on touch interface. Most common features are included in the iPad version, while more arcane features remain desktop only (for example, you can footnote on the iPad, but forget about Mailings and Reference tools). Manipulating text follows the usual iOS protocols for selecting, cutting, pasting, etc. You can track changes, co-author docs, and spell check (although there is no grammar checking or thesaurus tools). There are 16 templates in Excel for iPad, which should cover most of the scenarios you would need on a mobile basis.

For free, you can read, view and present. For a monthly fee, you can create and edit. I would imagine the cost would be justified in the business setting if you are a heavily Office-oriented firm. You can get a 30 day free trial of Office 365, so you can assess whether the new mobile / desktop setup would work well for you. Make sure you are running iOS 7 or later. Oh, and they have versions for your iPhone and Android device as well.

Check out the promo video and screenshots below. The apps are nothing if not beautiful to look at.

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Dropbox Tips

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Despite all the concerns and discussion out there over cloud usage by legal professionals, Dropbox still remains one of the most popular applications among lawyers. I am not going to discourse on whether or not that should be the case – the internet is rife with the opinions of very capable commenters on the subject – just remember that there are Bar rules out there about lawyers employing reasonable measures to ensure security when using the cloud. My personal use, however, takes into account the potential risks as well as rewards of using this free and cheap multi-user, cross-device sync app that a majority of cloud users have embraced. That means I enable security features whenever possible and store documents I have no fear of others potentially having access to.  While that may limit others’ use of the service, I still find plenty of utility in Dropbox when I need to collaborate or share with someone else – and I have chosen not to use my other favorite sharing / storage service, Google Drive.

First, as with any other online service, make sure you have a very secure password – please, no 1234567! Did you know that is one of the most popular passwords out there? No duh! Make it hard to crack with letters, numbers, symbols and mixed caps. Also, disable automatic user log in on your computer and log out on your devices when not using the service. And, now that they offer it, enable two-factor verification – I have it on all services that allow for it, like Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. Dropbox has it too – all this means is that when you (or anyone) attempts to log into your account on Dropbox, you will get a text message on your phone with a verification code that you will also need to enter to get into your folders. Dropbox also encrypts files on its side of the fence and you can too – check out Boxcrypter, which I wrote about here in the Studio, for an extra level of encryption on YOUR side of the fence. Some content creations applications, like Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat, let you password protect at the document level. You also can set Dropbox to selectively sync only certain files, thus limiting unwanted access where syncing isn’t really necessary.  No guarantees that these steps will prevent any and all security breaches, but it certainly improves your odds in keeping your data intact.

Besides syncing, sharing and backup, there are some pretty cool uses for Dropbox. Automatically upload your photos from your devices to Dropbox by enabling the auto upload feature in the app. Set up remote printing by creating a print queue folder, and setting up a script that will look to the folder and print locally at home anything you add to it while on the road (thanks Amit Agarwal at Digital Inspiration Blog). If you use 1Password for your secure password storage, you can use Dropbox as a password backup application. Backup your WordPress blog to Dropbox using plug ins such as  WordPress Backup to DropboxWP Time Machine andBackupBox. Use Wappwolf to automatically share, convert files, sync, zip, unzip, encrypt, decrypt  and employ actions in other applications such as  Evernote, Facebook, Flickr using Dropbox. There is little doubt that Dropbox’s popularity is one of its benefits – there are plenty of very smart users out there who create applications to extend the reach and utility of Dropbox because they use it too.

One last little gift to you: MakeUseOf has a cool chart showing off some of Dropbox’s tips, tricks, keyboard shortcuts, and tools and plug ins. Check it out – this really only scratches the surface of what you can do with the service. And remember, always sync responsibly!

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Foogi – A Cross-Platform Calendar & Scheduling App

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In Outlook in my enterprise, I can easily and quickly check to see who is available for a meeting at a given time. Definitely an efficiency booster.

But what if you are trying to coordinate times and attendees outside of the organization, using different platforms? Yes, of course there is an app for that. Foogi promises to match up invitees’ calendars to find the free / available times in which you can schedule your meeting. Foogi is not a calendar replacement. Instead, depending on how much information users share within Foogi, it will compare schedules and offer times within the existing calendar app so users can create an event. It works across a broad spectrum of calendaring systems, including Outlook, Gcal, iCal, etc. – users just need to have the Foogi app installed on their phones. If they don’t have Foogi installed, the app will send time suggestions to invitees by email, with one click meeting acceptance. It automatically adjusts for time zones.

If you are like me, it is at about this point in time when you start wondering about how much information are you actually sharing here? Foogi’s page indicates that only the starting and ending points of your available times are shared outside your device. There are some features coming down the road that will allow users to custom tailor what users show for available time, such as only show up to one free hour per day, or only availability on certain days during certain times. Even if you choose not to share availability in the app, you will soon still be able to see others’ available times in your calendar to ease the scheduling task.  Another soon to be released feature is the ability to group contacts and see all free / busy times for group members in the same interface to speed up the meeting creation process.

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Another thing to keep in mind is that Foogi users will automatically show in your contacts list – so app usage is shared with other app users. While slightly intrusive, it does serve to make the app more seamless. While offline or out of signal, Foogi stores your notices and will push them to your device once your are back online.

Also, in order to get the app, you have to provide your email address and cell number – the app is texted to your device, where you install from there. iOS, Android and Windows phone flavors.

It is free. Which is always nice.

I haven’t used the app yet, but if you can get around the issues of sharing your app usage and partial calendar information with Foogi contacts, and are fine with giving out your number and email in order to load it, the app does promise a feature we often take for granted here in the enterprise in Outlook. It certainly is a nice thought that you might be able to leverage that same convenience across devices and for free, using the ubiquitous smartphone calendar that rides around in your pocket.

Here’s the promo vid for your viewing pleasure.

Free Law Project Is Now Even Bigger, Ergo Better

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I wrote about the Free Law Project here in the Studio back a few months ago. Why wouldn’t I? The Project is all about making public information freely available to the public. You can research and download material from state and federal courts for zip, nada, zilch.

More recently, I got an email from Michael Lissner, one of Free Law Project’s founders. He tipped me off to a massive influx of new material at the Project – LawBox made a huge data donation of 1.5 million opinions, opening up 350 new jurisdictions. You can grab it from FLP’s bulk download page, and see what is available from their coverage page.

They have also added a bunch of features – star pagination, improved citation “cross walk”, judge information, a database of all known reporters, and a database of American jurisdictions.

Well done, guys. I, for one, am rooting for you!

 

oTranscribe: Free, Open Source, Easy Transcription Web Tool

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Recording your thoughts, lectures, or other audio sources is all well and good, but maybe you want to memorialize those sounds in written word. There are plenty of tools out there to accomplish this, but thought I would mention here one that recently came to my attention. oTranscribe, developed by journalist Elliot Bentley, is a web app that allows you to import an audio file, open a word processor and type while the audio plays. It will play whatever formats your particular browser can process and has a built-in file converter. Controls are found on your keyboard, which makes it easier to stop, rewind, etc. You can insert time stamps with Ctrl + J or Cmd + J, which will allow you to jump to the insert points. The transcription is stored locally in your browser’s cache, nothing is uploaded. While this means you can’t access the goods from another computer, you also enjoy greater security with respect to your data. 

The keyboard stroke controls include the following:

Audio playback

  • Esc: Play/pause
  • F1: Rewind
  • F2: Fast-forward
  • F3: Slow down
  • F4: Speed up

Text editing

  • Ctrl+B: Bold
  • Ctrl+I: Italics
  • Ctrl+J: Insert timestamp

Note: On OS X, using Cmd instead of Ctrl.

Chromebook / Chrome OS alternative controls

  • Ctrl+1: Rewind
  • Ctrl+2: Fast-forward
  • Ctrl+3: Slow down
  • Ctrl+4: Speed up

Pretty cool. Thanks Elliot!

New Solo Tech Columnist AT Solo Practice University

 

 

 

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I just love Solo Practice University – an online resource for solo and small firm lawyers that covers everything from wills, estates and trusts and construction law to how to run your law practice and, my personal favorite, leveraging technology to make your work bigger than your size. I am on the faculty there – I completed a course a while back on using Google in your law practice. And I just started writing a monthly technology column at SPU called, appropriately enough, “Solo Tech.” A lot of my content will be similar to what you may see here, with a solo practice bent. Check out my first article at the link here. And thanks to SPU for letting me step up on my tech soapbox!

PacerPro – Going Free-ly Into The New Year

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Remember PacerPro? That cool web service that helps you interface with PACER in a much more civilized manner than the actual PACER site? I introduced it here in the Studio a little over a year ago. At that time, it was an introductory release with an anticipated monthly cost and separate charge for  mobile app access. At the price, it was still a fantastic bargain for anyone who has to deal regularly with the federal PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) databases, with documents numbering in the billions. You may recall from my post here that it offered a great cross database searching and filtering, (which is sorely lacking from PACER), great document management and bookmarking features and mobile access and no additional Pacer charge for pulling documents out of the archive.

So, how do you make an already awesome service even awesomer? You offer it for free. That’s right. Free. You still are charged for your PACER access, as your PacerPro account is tied to your PACER account, but because of how PacerPro is set up, you can minimize those costs through better targeting and filtering of your results. In case you don’t remember what the PACER charges are, access to court documents costs $0.10 per page, with a cap in a single document at $3.00. The cap does not apply to name searches, reports that are not case-specific and transcripts of federal court proceedings. Because PACER is a transactional system, you can’t go back and access your prior research efforts without having to pay twice or more.  PacerPro, on the other hand, allows you to bookmark your cases and return to them in the My Cases tab.

Another small but useful feature of PacerPro is the data behind the documents – when you save a document out of PACER, the file naming convention makes no sense and you have to rename everything so that you can figure out what you have pulled down. PacerPro uses a smarter naming convention that defaults to a file name that makes sense, which saves you some time when saving and moving on to the next document.

Another thought to keep in mind – while the paid services offer some access to the materials in the PACER system, only PACER has everything in the PACER system. So, when you really need to be sure you have every federal filing, you should check your search in the PACER database, using PacerPro to get your results in real time.

There are lots of details in the information that PacerPro shows that really make the service useful – you can see when dockets have been updated, you can see more key information about the matter on the results page than you can in regular PACER, etc. All these features make PacerPro more efficient and user-friendly.

Why the change of price? PacerPro is adding paid features at some point in the future. Even at free, however, the PacerPro basic service is quite robust and useful, so I can only imagine how cool the paid features will be. Here is the list of current features from PacerPro’s FAQ:

  • Simultaneous searches. Search across one or more district courts in real time.
  • Aggregated results. Say goodbye to wading through multiple web pages to see complete results.
  • One-click download. Download the entire docket with a single click.
  • Freebies. Previously downloaded documents are free.
  • Automatic PDF labeling. PacerPro saves you time by sensibly labeling your documents.
  • Bookmarking. Once you’ve found a case on PacerPro, you’ll never need to search for it again.
  • One-click docket update. Dockets update at the push of a button.
  • Advanced docket search tools. Locate the right record with robust search options, including boolean and proximity searching.

Wait. You say this isn’t enough free goodness for you? Then check this out. PacerPro has taken on the task of monitoring the uptime status of the various district courts across the United States. You can check out the “health” of the courts’ online systems at this link here.  There is a scale that looks a lot like Weather.com’s storm rating graph – from green and healthy to red and acute or even black and down – across the various districts. At writing, the Federal District Court for the  District of Connecticut is looking quite red and acute, while the District Court for the District of New Hampshire is green and healthy. Hover over the districts to see the actual upload speeds. You can get speeds from the last hour up to the last minute – very useful real time information if you are down to the wire on a court filing. You can generally see the high performing and low performing courts, and can even compare court speeds to the speeds of other popular sites, like Healthcare.gov, and Google.com. The site promises that more courts will be coming soon. There’s a Twitter account right now that provides live updates when court sites go down (https://twitter.com/PacerPro). Very cool feature, indeed!

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One last add: Ellen Gilmore, a reference librarian at BOALT, is in the process of creating a series of short videos which demonstrate how to use PacerPro’s free services. You will be able to  check them out at the pacerpro.com site once available.

UPDATE: the tutorials are live at this link.

So, all good from the fine folks at PacerPro. Check out the service by signing up for free with your email and PACER credentials and let me know what you think. I think you will be impressed.

Boxcryptor Encrypts Your Cloud

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I know, I know. Don’t tell me. I have been a bit AWOL for a while. Day job and miscellaneous other excitement.

But I’m back, and have something to talk about, which certainly helps when trying to write. The common complaint raised by cloud opponents is the lack of security when you move your valuable data out of your direct control and into the ambiguous grasp of a server in Mozambique.  For those of you out there using the cloud and enjoying all that mobility and freedom, you may be interested in a little tool called Boxcryptor. Boxcryptor is an encryption application for common cloud services like Dropbox, Box, Google Drive and SkyDrive, all of which I happen to use, as well as any cloud using a WebDAV standard. It is also platform independent, so you can use it on your Mac or PC, Chromebook or Android or iOS device.

Boxcryptor creates a crytopgraphic virtual drive on your computer.  Files are encrypted locally before uploading them to your cloud of choice. Files are encrypted on an individual, rather than grouped, basis for added security. Any file dropped into an encrypted folder within the Boxcryptor drive will get automatically encrypted before it is synced to the cloud. To protect your files, Boxcryptor uses the AES-256 and RSA encryption algorithms. I love that it basically encrypts files on the fly, as part of your normal process of creating and saving data – just drop your files in the special secure drive rather than your usual cloud folder. You will know that your files are encrypted when you look in the cloud and see the .bc extension following the file name. It looks really simple to use, which is always nice.

Of course, to be really useful, the cloud has to allow for multi-party file sharing. It’s one of the main reasons to use it! Boxcryptor supports this, and accomplishes it in a secure way.

You won’t be able to see your encrypted files without Boxcryptor installed. So, you will need to have it on any computers on which you intend to view your sensitive material. However, once installed, just enter your Boxcryptor password to get into your materials. A word of caution here: that password information is not stored either locally or with Boxcryptor and you won’t be able to retrieve it if you forget it, once it is set. So choose carefully and store it somewhere safe. Since everything is locally encrypted, Boxcryptor has no access to your data either, so no worries there.

Boxcryptor is free for personal use and it does  offer AES-256 and RSA encryption, secure file sharing and mobile apps. The limitation is that you can only use one cloud service at a time with the free. Unlimited personal for $48 per year allows unlimited providers on unlimited devices. Company subscriptions offer multiple cloud services at once as well, along with groups, with multi-user pricing that goes down as you add more users. Company plans start at $96 per year for unlimited business use. The company plan also offers a master key and password reset function, enforce policies and centralized management and invoicing.

Because Boxcryptor believes its product is of particular interest to legal professionals, they sent me along a coupon code for Studio readers of 20% discount on their regular prices (discount code: boxcryptorlaw20, valid until December 31, 2013). So, if your resolution for 2014 includes greater cloud security, hop on that train and grab yourself some Boxcryptor.

Create a Slide Show On The Go with These iOS Apps

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I have talked before here in the Studio about breaking out of the old Power Point mold with some spiffy iOS apps. I have been preaching the joys of Haiku Deck ever since I first discovered it, and have converted quite a few individuals to its benefits, including my son’s school and my boss, who thought the pictures behind my very dry Medicare slide deck were wholly awesome.

I have a few new ones to share, which are ideally suited to the iPhone, in my opinion. While they aren’t as perfect for that lengthy business presentation as Haiku Deck,  they all offer an interesting angle on the slide show problem, with the  benefit of a backing track.

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 2.38.56 PMThe first is Shadow Puppet (free). Using your own photos and voice, you can create a narrated show on your device that can be shared via email. You recorded dialog is matched to the images. The interface is very easy to navigate and the process involves three simple steps: select photos, add voice, and send. During creation, you can zoom and tap on images to focus the show with motion effects. Along with email, you can share to your favorite social networks, or message to a phone number. It does require setting up an account, for which you can use social network credentials if you choose. All in all, a very easy way to combine photos and dialog for a compelling presentation, all from your iDevice.

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Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 2.48.32 PMThe next app is Slidestory, (free). The resulting slide shows are short – only 32 seconds, but you may find you can accomplish a lot in that time frame. You need between 5 and 15 slides to create. You can apply filters to the slides, select some music from the selections offered in the app and create an ending slide. Hit render and then save to your camera roll. Very easy indeed. The show will be timed to your music selection, and the app will apply motion effects (think Ken Burns) to build interest. Optimized for iPhone 5, iOS 6 or later.

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Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 3.25.24 PMAnother option is MYMUSIAC (free). This app is really a gateway to a private social network, much like Instagram. You can pull in photos from Instagram or Facebook, or your camera roll. Add music from your iTunes library. You can invite friends to add to the slideshow, and you can text or share slideshows privately. The app employs a dropbox-like interface, encouraging group show creation. The resulting show will match the music. The event feature permits public or private use of the app.

 

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These are fun apps with obvious personal application, but I challenge you to come up with some professional use for the tools. Slideshows of events that you can share with colleagues, or quick presentations using your own photos as backdrops, which you can create on the go. Yes, the iPhone is a Swiss Army Knife indeed.