Product Reviews

Control Your Metadata

Make sure the information you distribute is only what you really want out there.

Before I dig into this product, let me paint a scenario:

You have a team in Company A that handles contracts, non-disclosure agreements and so on. Creating these documents takes a lot of time so the people in that group use a standard template. Now let's say they generated the template from a document they used to do business with Company B. They want to use this document, change a few words, and make it work for Company C. Now all these communications are hush-hush because Company A isn't giving the same pricing to both companies.

The team sends out the document and a week later, after much negotiation, Company C backs out of the deal, saying it doesn't want to do business with a company that would give better pricing to the competition. How on earth did Company C know?

What Company A doesn't know is that Company C's IT department looked at the document's metadata and discovered that it was originally drafted for Company B and reported this to management. Out of disgust, Company C yanked the deal right before signing.

The problem was the metadata. You know what that is—Word and Excel files have it. It's data that reveals who drafted the document, the title, the revision history (if you're tracking changes on the document), comments and other information that you would prefer not get out. In most cases, Word and Excel keep that information hidden from the user; however, it's very easy to retrieve, especially if people use it to gain intelligence.

In our little scenario, Company A found it quite embarrassing, as well as lost some business. There's also a chance that, if this information gets back to Company B, there may be problem.

Out-of-Sight is a small but comprehensive tool that will seek out and remove the metadata from within these documents, anywhere it may be lurking. The software loads as an add-in for Microsoft Word/Excel, so the functionality is available from within the programs themselves. Essentially, click on the Out-of-Sight icon and indicate, by checkbox, what types of metadata to scan and clean. You can set it to just report or clean it all out, saving a new file with the metadata removed.

Out-of-Sight has a couple of other features. The first, batch processing will allow you to scan several .DOC files (or .XLS if run from within Excel) at once. It also has a Microsoft Outlook function that will launch Out-of-Sight for any docs or spreadsheets attached to an e-mail. Finally, Out-of-Sight has an administration tool that allows a more network-centric implementation, allowing administrators to control Out-of-Sight installations and create a more controlled metadata handling process.

Now, I did find one setback. When I initially loaded Out-of-Sight, I was presented with a rather enigmatic error, telling me that, "Programmatic access to Visual Basic Project is not trusted." Essentially, the software really couldn't run without the Visual Basic Project flag turned on and the macro set as "trusted." There was nothing in the documentation to cover this, and I saw nothing during the install warning me to set these checkboxes. Typically, Office turns these flags off as a security measure, so it would have been nice to know that I had to turn these on.

SoftWise Out-of-Sight 2.0

Out-Of-Sight performs its analysis of a document in preparation for cleaning or just reporting. (Click image to view larger version.)

SoftWise has a pretty linear licensing structure for this product, which makes it nice in regard to costs for larger organizations. It also has a maintenance/subscription option, which provides new releases as they roll out. This might be interesting, as Out-of-Sight is scheduled to integrate a few more features, such as PowerPoint support.

All in all, Out-of-Sight is a nice little tool, well priced for the functionality it offers. My only fear is that it may be overlooked in larger environments, due to its size. However, for those environments needing metadata cleanup tools, this one will certainly do the job.

About the Author

Rick A. Butler, MCSE+I, is the Director of Information Services for the United States Hang Gliding Association.

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