Watchdox releases "Watchdox Apps," cloud-based Windows app integration with its file syncing product

Last December I wrote that WatchDox bought InstallFree and that I loved the combination of the two companies. If you're not familiar with either company, WatchDox is one of the "corporate Dropbox-like solutions" with a keen focus on DRM and document & file security.

Last December I wrote that WatchDox bought InstallFree and that I loved the combination of the two companies. If you're not familiar with either company, WatchDox is one of the "corporate Dropbox-like solutions" with a keen focus on DRM and document & file security. InstallFree had an HTML5-based web access product to easily connect users to remote Windows apps (via RDSH) via a standard browser.

Yesterday WatchDox announced the release of the latest version of WatchDox (I think it's 3.0?) that integrates the InstallFree stuff (which they've renamed to "WatchDox Apps"). I went down to their office in Palo Alto last week for a demo, and it's awesome.

The main problem this solves is that you can now use any Windows app without breaking out of the WatchDox ecosystem. Before this you'd have to "save" or "download" the file from your file syncing product (Dropbox, Box, ShareFile, etc.), then open it in your app of choice, then save it back into your file syncing product (all while hopefully replacing the original so you don't end up with two side-by-side versions). Not only is this process cumbersome and fraught with opportunities to break everything, it's also insecure since the files are constantly moved in and out of the secure environment.

The way most file syncing products handle this is to incorporate their own built-in document editors. (So you can edit a Word doc or Excel spreadsheet from within the app itself.) These editors are great because they're written as little lightweight apps that are built for touch, so they're easy to use on phones and tablets. The downside though is that these built-in apps can only handle certain file types—typically the standard Office file types and simple things like PDFs, text files, and image and video viewers. The other problem is since these viewers are 2% of the size of Office and touch-based, they don't fully handle all the formatting and features many Office documents need. They often don't include all the fonts, and there's no way they're going to support things like pivot tables and PowerPoint animations and stuff like that.

This is where WatchDox Apps comes in. WatchDox licensed SmartOffice (an iOS and Android product for editing Office files, similar to QuickOffice) for basic touch-centric editing, viewing, and annotating of Office files (online or offline). 

Then if the user needs to do more serious work or needs to work with a file type that's not supported by the built-in editor, the full Windows desktop application is just a click away via WatchDox Apps. (A click which opens a built-in browser window that connects to the remote Windows desktop application running on RDSH which itself grabs the file from the WatchDox repository directly on the server.) For example:

Watchdox app example

It's hard to see the magic in this screen shot since it looks like a normal HTML5 client connecting to a remote Windows app which is nothing special since Ericom, VMware, Citrix, Wyse, and others have the exact same thing. What's cool here though is how integrated everything is. I mean it's like you just simply buy Dropbox and get this too. Compare that to the licensing and technical complexity to build something like this with Citrix (by combining XenApp and ShareFile). You'd end up with a solution that's more expensive, complex, and doesn't offer the same security and DRM as WatchDox. And this functionality isn't even available in the VMware Horizon Suite yet. But with WatchDox it's good to go.

WatchDox originally conceived this to be an "either/or" solution, where customers would either want the real local SmartOffice-based editor or they'd want the full Windows desktop applications delivered remotely. But in testing with customers they found that people want both—even individual users want both depending on the specific scenario of the moment.

WatchDox's chief product officer Ryan Kalember explained that there's a hierarchy of functionality that's needed depending on the scenario. First you just have to be able to view things correctly. Click a button, view a doc. Then it would be nice to do annotations right onto the app or into the docs. And finally the last step is full support for editing and creating content. So "view, annotate, create." And in a lot of cases maybe just offering view and annotate is fine offline, or fine via mobile, while create/edit can be left to clients with keyboards and mice that have internet connections.

To that end, WatchDox has built an annotation capability that lets users draw, markup, and annotate on any file format. (Because all the document rendering is done on the backend and the annotations are a meta layer which is rendered separately is on top of that, they can track them separately of the actual documents.)

Shifting gears a bit, the new version of WatchDox also has a "broadcast" that lets users share the remote Windows Apps. Basically you click the share button and it gives a URL that anyone can use to view the remote app's screen. Broadcast is not meant turn this into a major collaboration suite, but hey, it's built in and it works. (And it works with any Windows app, so it's cool and simple.)

The entire WatchDox system (including the InstallFree stuff) is also available via an SDK, so if customers want to plug any (or all) of the functionality into their own apps, WatchDox is fine with that. In fact if a customer simply wants to re-skin and re-brand the whole thing, WatchDox fine with that too. (WatchDox says that users typically like apps that are "their company's," so if that means your WatchDox file sync web app environment is called "GlobalMegaCom" instead of "WatchDox," WatchDox has no problem with that. (Compare that to Box, for example, who's super rigid about not letting people hide their branding.)

Overall uptake to WatchDox has been strong. They have a bunch of big-name reference clients, and their largest customer has 70k seats. Hopefully they'll be able to count TechTarget as a customer soon too! I love the concept of what they do in general, and combing the Windows-based WatchDox Apps is a huge win.

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