October 2021 status: A pitch and a farewell

This month we released CryptPad 4.12 with some much anticipated new applications.

NGI DAPSI Pitch Day

On the first day of the month we took part in the DAPSI Pitch Day. All of the funded projects gave updates on their progress. We were in very good company alongside Delta Chat, postmarketOS, and many more. All projects were succesful in moving to phase 2.

Tweet from NGI DAPSI about the pitch day

We were happy to present the progress on INTEROFFICE, our project to improve the import/export of popular office formats to/from CryptPad. Most of the technical work on Web Assembly converters is done. This means all conversions happen in the browser (rather that on the server like in most other tools) and we can do this without seeing any of the content that is being converted.

Part of the project is to release this work as open-source packages so other projects can benefit from this work. We are planning to do this in December once the libraries have been thoroughly tested on CryptPad.

Preview of the new "Open in..." feature. Right clicking a compatible file in the drive shows this menu

CryptPad users will benefit too, with new functionality becoming available on the platform. Files in popular formats such as .docx, .xlsx, .pptx, .odt, .ods, and .odp are no longer being treated only as static files once they are uploaded to CryptPad. A new menu item called “Open in …” makes them editable in the corresponding application. Which brings us to:

Two new app releases

We have long been planning to add OnlyOffice’s Document and Presentation applications to CryptPad, completing the suite that started with Spreadsheet in 2019. The improved inter-operability we built with INTEROFFICE makes this a good time to finally release these applications, to make the most our of the new imports and exports. As part of the 4.12 release we launched these new apps as “early access”, which means only subscribers on cryptpad.fr can create new documents and they are available on other instances if administrators opt-in. We wrote about this in more detail in our last post.

Preview of the new Document application.

Preview of the new Presentation application.

This launch made us reconsider our current release schedule. We may revisit this in the near future and move towards a slower pace where each release would have bigger changes. This would potentially come with a more readable naming scheme as well, perhaps taking a leaf out of Canonical’s playbook where Ubuntu releases are time-stamped rather than numbered. We will come back to this, likely in the new year, and write about any changes here.

NGI0 PET coming to an end

This month marks the end of the NGI0 Privacy Enhancing Technologies program (previously known as NLnet PET), that will wrap up on October 31st. CryptPad has benefited a lot from this funding, with 3 projects over 3 years. To name but a few, these are some of the major features that were made possible through this support:

  • Teams (incl. team drive, roles, etc)
  • Full documentation for users, administrators, and developers
  • Calendars
  • The Form application

We are very thankful for this ongoing support. NGI0 created an approachable way for development teams like ours to access funds from the European Commission, creating real impact with minimal red tape. The fund was established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission’s Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825310.

This concludes this month’s updates. Next up for the team is some thorough testing of the new applications and fixing any issues that get reported by early-access testers. Besides this we will be continuing with work on INTEROFFICE towards the project conclusion in January 2022.

Announcing two new applications in early access: Document and Presentation

Today we are beginning to roll out some major new features for CryptPad. We have integrated the two remaining OnlyOffice editors for text documents and presentations into CryptPad’s real-time encrypted collaboration engine. This completes the OnlyOffice suite, as spreadsheets have been available for some time. Like our spreadsheet editor, these two new applications only rely on OnlyOffice’s client-side components, not its server.

This work is combined with our ongoing efforts to improve import and export of documents funded by NGI DAPSI. As a result CryptPad will be much more inter-operable with existing office suites and their file formats, for example with the ability to import and export docx, pptx, and xslx files, as well as the open document formats odt, odp, and ods. Additionally, documents in these formats that are uploaded to CryptPad will no longer be treated only as static files. A new “Open in” menu makes them editable in the corresponding CryptPad application.

Preview of the new Document application.

Preview of the new Presentation application.

When we launched OnlyOffice spreadsheets at the beginning of 2019 we were inundated with support tickets as teething issues inevitably surfaced. As a team of three people handling both development and the administration of cryptpad.fr, support is a key part of our work but also the most time consuming. With two new OnlyOffice applications included in this launch we are very conscious of the risk that our effort to provide an accessible service interferes with our practical ability to improve its underlying technology. The solution we have settled on is to launch the new Document and Presentation applications as early access.

On cryptpad.fr this means that — at least for now — only people with a subscription will be able to create new documents and presentations in the new applications. They will see a warning that these applications are experimental and should not yet be trusted with important data. Anyone else will be able to open and/or edit these documents as normal when they are shared. Based on how this initial period goes, we’ll decide how and when to relax these limitations.

To be clear, CryptPad is free software and will remain as such. The code for these new integrations is freely available, and will be available to all other CryptPad instances if the administrators choose to enable early-access applications.

We think this gradual rollout will result in a smoother launch and ultimately in a better experience with CryptPad for everyone. We are not interested in putting paywalls around various parts of the platform but we do have to find ways to manage our workloads in order to continue developing it. Projects such as NGI DAPSI come with deadlines that have to be met in order for us to receive their funding.

Early access means that everything remains open-source, and eventually will be available to everyone. It rewards people who support the project with a first view of much anticipated applications. This is a new thing for us, but we believe this delay to access new applications is a relatively minor step. The bigger picture is that we are working towards the long-term success of CryptPad. This involves being fully funded by our users while they currently account for only 1/3 of our budget (subscriptions on cryptpad.fr and donations combined). EU research projects such as NGI DAPSI currently cover the remaining 2/3. We have more ideas to encourage people to support the project, and to involve them in the future of the platform. One of them is giving subscribers a vote on our roadmap to decide which new features get prioritized. We will come back to this in due course.

Everyone benefits from sustainable open-source. Our recent work has advanced the state of the art in document conversion in the browser, rather than on the server where user data is exposed. This will be released independently of CryptPad so other projects can reuse it. If you are eager to see this in action, and to test the new Document and Presentation applications, please consider subscribing to a plan on cryptpad.fr to help make CryptPad sustainable for everyone.

September 2021 status: Changing seasons

September is always a busy month for us as many people return from holidays to their regular schedules. Along with the changing of the physical seasons, we’re marking a number of project milestones as well.

Dropping support for Internet Explorer

Microsoft’s Office365 platform officially stopped supporting Internet Explorer 11 in August, and we decided it was a good time to do the same. Up until our 4.11 release we were careful to maintain compatibility with this browser that had not received any new features since 2013. Moving on from IE lets us rely on modern functionality, simplifying our code and making CryptPad smaller and faster to load.

End of NLnet PET

As described in our toots and tweets on September 9th, 4.11 also included significant improvements to our Forms app. With this second round of changes deployed we are nearly ready to close our third and final NLnet PET project before NLnet foundation concludes their NGI0 Privacy-Enhancing Technologies program.

NLnet’s advocacy for open-source software and direct support of its developers has had an incredible impact on our project and hundreds of others like it. If you haven’t already done so, now is a great time to skim through the list of projects they’ve funded to count how many of them you personally use!

DAPSI Phase 2

We’re also approaching a milestone for the NGI DAPSI project that we’ve been working on in parallel. We’ll present our latest research into client-side file format conversion, including some prototypes that we hope to deploy later in the year and our findings from the survey on file format conversion requirements that closed earlier this month. If all goes well we will receive a second round of funding to continue with the proposed work plan.

A brief pause in our regular release schedule

The next few weeks are likely to be quite intense for us. We’ll be focused on wrapping up our current projects and preparing to launch a new round of projects for 2022. There are several very promising opportunities on our horizon and it looks like we’re going to have to hire to be able to follow through on all of our plans.

We’ll announce exactly what positions we’re looking to fill within our team and provide updates to our roadmap as soon as a few more details are finalized. A number of important deadlines happen to coincide in a short timespan, so we’ll take a short break from our regular release cycle and resume our usual pace later in October.

Until then, thanks to all our supporters!

Relocating our blog

This is just a quick announcement to say that we’ve moved our blog from blog.cryptpad.fr to blog.cryptpad.org. Visitors to the old URL will be automatically redirected to the new one. Anyone who has subscribed to its RSS feed will continue to get updates for the new address.

This blog is the first of a few services that we plan to host under the CryptPad.org domain. Our goal is to provide some better separation between CryptPad (the open-source project) and CryptPad.fr (the public instance that we host). In the near future we plan to introduce a project website featuring general information, an overview of our roadmap and finances, and a directory of public instances.

August 2021 status: Forms hackathon and a new social media account

This month the team has been operating at reduced capacity as we took turns taking much needed breaks. There is less than usual to report on so this status update will be a short one. Rest assured however that lots of things are in preparation for the near future.

We released CryptPad version 4.10.0 with some inital improvements to Forms.

Forms hackathon

August was the time for the yearly XWiki seminar (held mostly virtually again this year). During the traditional hackathon sprint we worked on presenting Form responses in a more appealing and useful way, using basic bar charts.

Experiments with Charts.css

We experimented with Charts.css at first, and were impressed. In the end there were too many tweaks necessary to make it work with CryptPad styles, so we ended up re-implementing our own minimal table-based bar charts. These are now used on the response page to show a timeline of responses and visualise question results.

The new graphs on the Form response page

We will re-use these charts where relevant on the rest of the platform. For example the admin panel now shows a graph of instance performance.

There is a lot more coming to Forms. We are currently working on a host of new features and improvements to address issues and requests raised during our research over the summer. All of this will be covered in next month’s post (hopefully), for now I will leave you with this teaser:

@cryptpad_design on Pixelfed

As you may have noticed, the image above is embedded from the @cryptpad_design account on Pixelfed. This is a new experiment in communicating about the design work that goes into CrytpPad. Pixelfed is part of the fediverse, so you can follow from accounts on Mastodon, Pleroma, etc (there is also an RSS feed). Followers will get sneak previews of upcoming features, random screenshots, and highlights of FOSS design tools. Subscribe if that sounds interesting to you.

This wraps up our news for this month. The team is busy with Forms v2 and there will be lots to talk about in the near future. In the meantime, our research survey about document import/export is still open for feedback to inform our future work improving document conversions.