Dear Congress: Get your grubby paws off the internet - I'm looking at you, SOPA and PIPA

In case my opinion isn't entirely clear, SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) are junk.  The laws display a catastrophic ignorance about how the Internet actually works, are so poorly written as to invite abuse, will most certainly be abused (based on how the MPAA and RIAA have conducted themselves in the past), and will move the United States uncomfortably down the road towards a fragmented, censored Internet.

If you aren't all that technical and want an idea of what's wrong with these laws, reddit has a good post on the topic.

CM/ECF errors in the Central District?

Some time in the last week my address and e-mail information reverted back to old information in the CM/ECF system for the Central District of California.  It happened to at least one other attorney.  Have you heard about this happening to anyone else?

Collaborative editing now available for the Microsoft Word Web App

Microsoft announced today that it is adding the ability for multiple authors to simultaneously edit Word documents on SkyDrive using the Word Web App.  Imagine sitting at a mediation, working on part of a settlement MOU while someone back at your office edits or adds content to some other part of the document.  You could even quietly collaborate on a settlement agreement with opposing counsel so that you had a long form agreement ready for signatures right there.  Crazy.  Microsoft has been slow to refocus on new areas of competition, but it is building a head of steam with Google in its sights.

Adobe Acrobat X Review Part 2 – Feature Focus: Portfolios and Redaction Tools (Updated)

In Part 1 of my Acrobat X review, I provided an overview of changes to Acrobat X and described changes to the look and feel of the Acrobat X family of products.  But no list of new features will matter unless those new features matter to you.  With that in mind, I want to dive into a few of the new and enhanced features of Acrobat X that are likely to be of use in the legal setting.

PDF Portfolios

Adobe introduced “PDF Portfolios” in Acrobat 9.  Acrobat X enhances the PDF Portfolio concept in crucial ways, filling some gaps from the first version of the tool and fixing a key issue that prevented me from making more than passing use of the PDF Portfolio tool.

If you haven’t seen a PDF Portfolio, think of it as a wrapper, much like a zip file, but with interactive properties.  When you assemble a PDF Portfolio, you can include multiple files, of different file types, inside the Portfolio.  Once created, the PDF Portfolio is more like an electronic binder that can hold Microsoft Office files, pdfs, flash videos, graphic file formats, and, interestingly, folders and web pages, among other types of supported content.

Why not just covert all your files to pdfs and then combine them into one giant pdf?  There are actually many reasons why using a PDF Portfolio can prove to be a superior alternative to merging multiple files into a single PDF: 

  • You can add or remove whole files easily, without having to find and select the specific pages that come from one file.
  • You can preview files without having to open them in their original, native applications.  In other words, you or your recipient can view a word document or an excel spreadsheet without ever having to leave Acrobat.
  • You can change individual files within the PDF Portfolio without affecting the other files. For example, you could renumber pages in one document without renumbering other documents in the PDF Portfolio. You can also edit other file types in their native applications from within a PDF Portfolio.  Changes you make are saved to the file within the PDF Portfolio.
  • You can sort component files with the help of user-created categories.  These categories can be changed, removed, or hidden.  Once you’ve created categories, sorting is as simple as clicking on a column name to sort the list, just like you would do in Explorer.  [More on a sorting-related enhancement below.]
  • You can print all the PDFs in a PDF Portfolio, or selected certain PDFs.
  • Search one or all files in a PDF Portfolio, including different file types incorporated as component files.
  • Add non-PDF files to a PDF Portfolio without converting them to PDF.
  • The original source files added to a PDF Portfolio are not changed when you create a PDF Portfolio. Changes you make to the component files within a PDF Portfolio do not alter the original files. You can move a PDF Portfolio without any risk of losing its components.
  • Include the same file in multiple PDF Portfolios.

PDF Portfolios have a number of use cases that should be of interest to the legal profession.  In my case, I have used PDF Portfolios to create mediation briefs with exhibits.  I have prepared mediation briefs that incorporate as many as 30 attached exhibits, all wrapped into a PDF Portfolio.  At least for Mediators that are tech-fans, this was easier and less expensive than sending everything to a printer for binding.  But when I created PDF Portfolios in Acrobat 9, I found that I had to use a file-naming trick to organize the files in my Portfolio.  Acrobat 9 did not allow you to control the order of files in a PDF Portfolio; they were alphabetical, using alpha-numeric rules.  To sort the exhibits to my mediation briefs, I had to use a two or three digit number with the exhibits to get them to sort right (e.g., “Tab 01 – Name1” “Tab 02 – Name2,” etc.).  If I used a single digit for “Tab 1,” it didn’t sort correctly when I made it up to “Tab 11.”

Acrobat X fixed that difficult limitation.  Now drag-and-drop organizing is available.  This makes the PDF Portfolio so much more flexible.  Now you can create a Mediation brief, a client document package, or an evidence repository, complete with customized tags for sorting and a comment field for annotations.  You could actually use a Portfolio as a “hot documents” binder that you update as a case moves along.

The interface, like the rest of the program, is clean and attractive: 

Screenshot 1

Acrobat X also includes a number of additional tools for layouts, themes, backgrounds and colors.  A Portfolio can be branded with a firm’s identity colors and logo (but don’t overdo it; heavy-handed branding makes my head hurt): 

Screenshot 2

The PDF Portfolio tool is now a feature with some punch, thanks, in no small part, to the small but crucial addition of drag-and-drop sorting to organize the PDF Portfolio.

Redaction Tools

You’ve probably heard the stories about firms filing “redacted” documents with courts, only to become front page legal news when someone discovered that the “redaction” was an easily removed black box over the sensitive information.  And despite those stories, I still encounter law firms that don’t understand how to use the redaction tools in Acrobat.  For example, opposing counsel in a case that I am currently working on revealed personal contact information because of an incorrect redaction.  Things like this should no longer be happening.

While redaction was available in Acrobat 9, the redaction and security tools are enhanced in Acrobat X.

Among the new features in Acrobat X Pro is the ability to customize the appearance of text or images marked for redaction. You can change the fill color and the opacity at the bottom of the window to personalize how redaction marks appear before they are applied.  I find this enhancement helpful when reviewing a long document for redaction.  A fill color makes an unapplied redaction stand out until you are ready to apply it.

You can also repeat a redaction mark across multiple pages when, for example, a number or e-mail address repeats across pages.  Just mark the first instance, right-click and select “Repeat” to apply the same redaction to additional pages.

Acrobat X has also improved its ability to find and permanently remove metadata, annotations, attachments, form fields, layers, and bookmarks.  The Remove Hidden Information feature can now find content including JavaScript, links, and overlapping images and shapes.  I haven’t tested this yet, but this enhanced tool might help when a pdf is rejected by an electronic filing system, such as the painful system used by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

PDF Portfolios and enhanced redaction and security tools are two feature sets that law firms should take into account if an upgrade to Acrobat X is under consideration.  Importantly, these two feature sets are only available in Acrobat Pro X and above - two good reasons to spring for Acrobat Pro X.

You (or your support staff) should know this Acrobat feature

I'm working on Part II of my Acrobat X review.  Until that is finished, here's a bit of instructional advice that will help you survive that dreaded court requirement to consecutively number exhibits.  Compliments of PDF for Lawyers, the "Header & Footer" option in the Document menu allows for the addition of all sorts of numbering and labeling schemes.  I must confess that the ease with which pdfs can be created and assembled and the increasing ease with which documents can be e-filed with some courts has had an unexpected side-effect on some of my filings - I forget the exhibit labeling requirements imposed under some rules of court.  It was almost easier to remember when you had to go to the trouble of hand stamping each page or running the exhibit through a laser printer a second time.

AT&T finally allows (err, finishes testing) updates for two of its Windows Phone 7 handsets

The Windows Phone 7 update debacle is crawling to its final resting place (at least for the current set of updates...for some U.S. customers...on AT&T).  As of April 19, 2011, Microsoft was allowed by AT&T to deliver updates to Samsung Focus and LG Quantum owners (but not the HTC Surround).  Microsoft engaged in some speculation about whether the carrier-specific updates could be received by phones that had been updated though "hacker" means, such as the ChevronWP7.Updater technique delivered by Chris Walsh (who was, allegedly, told by Microsoft that his update method would prevent phones from receiving future updates), when it suggested to the public (contrary to what it told Walsh) that such updating techniques might block future updates.  As an aside, Chris became a verb when phone treated to his update tool were characterized as "Walshed."

Well, I can now confirm that the fears of brickdom were greatly overstated.  My Samsung Focus, which was somehow updated (Walshed) with the ChevronWP7.Updater tool (I am shocked, shocked to learn of "hacker" updates on my phone), recevied and applied the carrier-specific and OEM firmware updates through the normal channel yesterday.  The AT&T address book tool was installed.  The Focus-specific firmware was also updated.

As far as the potential of Windows Phone 7 for the legal set, this OS will need the "Fall" update, called "Mango," before it will have all the tools in place that most attorneys/IT departments/corporations would want for a wide deployment.  New development tools are about to be released, with access to a huge number of new APIs.  Major software developers should be able to deliver much improved productivity tools with the Mango release this fall.  What I can't wait to...read about...is whether the ChevronWP7.Updater tool that evidently worked very well for the current round of updates will be able to pull the Mango update as soon as it is ready.  This would allow phone owners to bypass the many months of "testing" that AT&T will perform.  That's right - I can't wait to read about that.

Microsoft finally admits that carriers can block updates to Windows Phone 7 without using word "block"

Not that anyone believed otherwise, but Microsoft admitted this morning at MIX'11 that the update process for Windows Phone 7 can be stifled by mobile carriers.  The Live Blog at Day 2 of MIX'11 in Las Vegas includes comments from a number of reporters that specialize in Microsoft coverage.  My Windows Phone 7 (running the NoDo update on an AT&T phone thanks to the intervening magic of technology pixies) is fantastic, but it's hard to recommend this train wreck to law firms as the mobilie solution for attorneys.  I'll take a wait-and-see-and-don't-hold-my-breath approach as we run through this firedrill again in the fall with the much more substantial "Mango" update.

If AT&T won't update Windows Phone 7 phones, you can do it yourself

Not that I'd ever advocate circumventing a mobile carrier because, unlike virtually every other mobile carrier on the planet, it won't release operating system updates for Windows Phone 7 (yes, AT&T, you are that carrier), but there is now a handy tool that let's you do just that.

Windows Phone Secrets has a story on this simple do-it-yourself utility.  Chris Walsh wrote the program that allows the update in spite of a recalcitrant carrer and provide the utility at his blog.  Simple Mobile Review provides a documented, step-by-step guide to using the utility.

Conspiracy theories already exist, but the utility Chris wrote was only possible after Microsoft released a support tool for Windows Phone 7.  Maybe it was coincidental that the tool allowed easy bypass of a non-cooperative carrier.  Or maybe Microsoft put a tool out there knowing precisely what could be done with it.  Seems a bit much to say that it was lucky coincidence that a tool capable of circumventing carrier update blocks was so easy to use for that purpose that it took all of one day to write the program to implement it for that purpose.  But I'm no programmer, so how would I know? 

I consider this (and by "this," I mean jabbing a stick in AT&T's eye) to be part of my role as a pro-consumer advocate.  But these tips are about self-empowerment.

Adobe Acrobat X Review Part 1: Overview and Feel/Appearance Changes

I've been meaning to deliver a comprehensive review of Acrobat X for about three months now.  It's not that I don't like the product; it is an exceptional piece of productivity software.  Rather, life has been in the way.  Between an absurd amount of work to do and moving into a new home and a six year old daughter that demanded the scraps of time between working and packing and moving, well, something had to give.  But this review has been slowly taking shape, in scraps of sections and screenshots, until it was close enough to done that I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.  So, much delayed, here is my comprehensive review of Acrobat X, with a strong slant towards the smaller law office.

Overview

As I said about Acrobat 9 when I compared it to Acrobat 8, this is a mature product.  Changes in products with this degree of longevity tend to be, for the most part, evolutionary rather than revolutionary.  Think about Microsoft Word for a minute.  The differences between Word 2010 and Word 2007 are not the giant leaps that happened when Word 2.0 (the first version I used - and how amazing it seemed back then) stepped up to its next version.  The same can be said of Acrobat X, though it includes a few revolutionary suprises amonst the evolutionary improvements.

Acrobat X family includes Acrobat X Pro, Acrobat X Standard, Adobe Reader X, and the Acrobat X Suite (Acrobat X Pro, Adobe Photoshop CS5, Adobe Captivate 5, Adobe Presenter 7, Adobe LiveCycle Designer ES2, and Adobe Media Encoder CS5).  I am going to focus my review on the standalone produce, Acrobat X Pro, and its features, while occasionally identifying features that are not available in the Standard edition (if you are going to buy Acrobat X, just get the Pro edition already - you know you want all the features).

Opinions as to the top new features can vary, depending upon what you do most with Acrobat.  But, generally speaking, the most significant new features in Acroabat X Pro are: 

  • Customize PDF Portfolios by selecting from new layouts, visual themes, and color palettes (Arcrobat 9 introduced PDF portfolios, but formatting and ordering of contents was limited)
  • Automate multi-step tasks and share with others using the new Action Wizard (save a multi-step document processing macro and share it throughout your firm)
  • Enhanced paper-to-digital functionality for scanning and OCR (prior versions had OCR, but the file sizes and accuracy are both improved, as are the capabilities of export tools)
  • Integrates with SharePoint (considering how impressive the latest version of SharePoint is a document management solution that anyone can afford, this is a big feature for law firms)
  • Streamlined commenting and access to mark-up tools
  • Customizable Quick Tools area (make Acrobat X work better for you by placing your frequently used tools right where you need them)
  • Experience enhanced PDF viewing with Reading Mode (much like kiosk mode in a browser, the "chrome" is limited and the document is the focus)
  • Improved web experience to open and view PDF documents (better solution for converting web sites to pdfs)
  • Work with Microsoft Windows 7 and Office 2010 applications
  • Send and store large documents using services at Acrobat.com (I've already found SendNow at Acrobat.com to be an efficient tool for sharing very large files; Acrobat X integrates those online features)

Other enhanced feature of great importance in the legal field include: 

  • Enhanced removal of metadata
  • Better form creation tools
  • Enhanced document comparison tool
  • Export search results to a PDF or spreadsheet (this is an amazing feature if you want to keep a record of how you found key information in a document set)

While I still maintain that this is an evolutionary update, there are some impressive new features in this edition.

Feel and Appearance Changes

It looks to me like Adobe decided to incorporate appearance elements throughout its product line, much like Microsoft has done with the Ribbon in its Office applications.  The Acrobat X Pro interface now makes use of a tools area that is not unlike the tools panels familiar for years to Photoshop product users.  You need to see the clean new interface to understand, but, if you read this review without access to a full browser, the idea is that frequently used options are available in a Tools/Comment/Share panel on the right side of the Acrobat interface, but the panel gets out of your way when you don't need it.  Here is a screen shot of Acrobat X in its basic configuration:

Screenshot 1

Note the "Tools" "Comment" and "Share" text above and on the right of the document.  When you select one of the "links," for lack of a better term, a variety of tools appear in a panel on the right side of the document:

Screenshot 2

In this example, the panel has opened to the "Action Wizard," which includes preset actions and a tool for creating your own actions.  [Note:  "Actions" are like macros.  You could, for example, create an action that applies a customized bates label to documents.]  The tools you see in the panel on the right can also be accessed through menu controls.  Whatever works best for you is the way you should use the program; there is no one right method for accessing features.

Returning, for a moment, to my comment about a unifying design theme in Adobe programs, take a look at this screenshot from Photoshop Elements 8:

Screenshot 3

A graphics creation and editing program will have very different features from Acrobat, but the common design cues are unmistakeable.  I consider this to be a major plus.  When programs place the same types of tools in the same places, it makes it that much easier to pick up a new program and hit the ground running.  It makes the software more approachable, and I think that Adobe has, over the last two versions of Acrobat, stepped back from a features-only focus to a broader viewpoint where user experience is as important as the obligatory list of new and upgraded features.

Certainly, the presence of the "Share" panel in Acrobat X (and in Photoshop, for that matter) highlights the increasing recognition that "cloud-based" services will soon match or surpass the desktop computer in importance.  SendNow is integrated in Acrobat X, but so is SharePoint access.

Acrobat X is a better looking, easier-to-operate update to the mainstay in electronic document creation.  Acrobat X is a worthwhile upgrade from Acrobat 9 and a must-have upgrade if you are using any earlier version of Acrobat.

The next Part of this review will dive into some of the key features that should interest attorneys.  When the review is complete, I will creat a Table of Contents post that links back to each review part.

Windows Phone 7: What's the deal?

"Murder will out, certain, it will not fail." –Geoffrey Chaucer

Sorry to have been remiss in my posts recently, but a move to a new home has been far longer and far more painful than anticipated.  That doesn't mean that I'm not paying attention to current events; I just haven't had time to write about them.

One current event that has been on my radar involves Microsoft's new mobile phone operating system, creatively called Windows Phone 7.  I was very excited by the previews I saw.  I dumped my iPhone for one of these phones on release day.  The operating system is, in my opinion, much more elegant than the iPhone OS.  I still like it.  One problem: the phone updates that Microsoft promised to release before the end of 2010 still aren't here.  Whose to blame?  Microsoft?  The various carriers?  Handset manufacturers?  The truth will out, as they say.

Microsoft was painfully silent about what was happening.  It didn't say anything about what was happening or where the blame who  Then the Interwebs began to pound away (e.g., this post on the Windows Team Blog and this AT&T discussion thread on Facebook, and, yes, I gave both of them a hard time).  Then Microsoft announced that all was well with the "NoDo" update and announced its release.  Problem is, nobody was receiving updates...at least on AT&T.  Then some industrious snooper found a  page on microsoft.com that clears things up a bit - the Where's My Phone Update page.  Notice (if you care) how the AT&T phones are all in the "testing" phase, while other phones have update delivery scheduled.  I call horse hockey on AT&T.  It isn't "testing" this update.  The update was done in December.  I believe that I am officially being jerked around.

Very poor form, AT&T.  You deserve all the contempt you receive on this issue.  So do you, Microsoft, for being such wimps about a project that you can't afford to let flop out the gate.  One might even say that I might not have purchased the phone or would have paid less for it had I known the truth about how updates would (or would not) work to add missing features in a timely manner and fix bugs. I feel like I am the target of unfair competition...