With latest features, Box.net claims edge over SharePoint, Google Docs

One analyst is not ready to call the new Box.net a SharePoint killer, however

Just as Google Docs makes collaborating on documents via the Web easier than Microsoft Office does, Box.Net enables corporate workers to share documents and other files more easily and beyond firewalls than Microsoft SharePoint.

Box.net's killer feature, along with its "freemium" business model, has enabled the cloud content management startup to serve up more than billion files to 3.5 million users, including those at 50,000 businesses, CEO Aaron Levie said.

Like Google, however, Box.net has neither made a major dent in Microsoft's business, nor reaped a financial windfall. The number of paying business customers is "in the pretty high thousands," with only a tiny handful buying licenses for the entire organization, Levie said.

Box.net and Google were comrades-in-arms in the struggle to unseat Redmond. "They've done a good job of replacing Microsoft Exchange, we do a good job of replacing SharePoint," said Jen Grant, vice-president of marketing for Box.net.

Now, the two are also competitors. Google announced last week that users of Docs and its paid counterpart Google Apps will soon be able to store any type of file on its platform.

To stay ahead of Microsoft and Google and other competitors, Box.net announced two new features on Wednesday.

The first is a time-saving document viewer built into Box.net. The feature converts documents into Flash files that users who can easily skim or view, instead of having to download onto their desktop to open with Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop or Windows Media Player.

The variety of file types supported by Box.net is wide: Microsoft Office, including the .docx and .xlsx of Microsoft Office Open XML, OpenOffice, images stored as JPEGs, GIFs, TIFFs and more, MP3 songs, FLV Flash videos, and even Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator files. Box.net is even working on adding support for CAD files.

Users can view the files at full-screen resolution and even print them, though the resolution may not be as sharp as the original document, Levie said.

Box.net can also collect statistics on who has viewed the document and how many times. It cannot, however, collect those stats if the document is downloaded and edited by a desktop app such as Microsoft Office, or a via Box.net partner app such as Zoho Office.

Another new feature is the ability for users to easily embed links to the documents stored on Box.net on any Web page or site.

To appease enterprises, Box.net expects to win the SAS-70 data security certification in February.

While Levie grants that Google has the engineering prowess to easily add its own document viewing feature, he argues it's low on its priorities.

"Google is not focused on content. They don't have an admin console, no reporting on who is sharing what, no workflow or collaboration features in their shared folders. That's where we sit apart," he said.

Microsoft's SharePoint, even its SharePoint Online version, remains a complicated option for those focused on quick file collaboration with people outside of their company, Levie said.

Larry Hawes, an analyst with Gilbane Group, said that may be true. He likes Box.net's new improvements, but he's not ready to call Box.net a SharePoint killer yet.

"Box.net is a good alternative to SharePoint for file-sharing, but SharePoint is so feature-rich, there are so many things that Box.net doesn't attempt to do," Hawes said.

Eric Lai covers Windows and Linux, desktop applications, databases and business intelligence for Computerworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @ericylai, send e-mail to elai@computerworld.com or subscribe to Eric's RSS feed .

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon