Dropbox vs Box: What's best for the enterprise?

Box and Dropbox are often described as arch rivals, but the two cloud storage giants have historically served very different customers, with Box laser-focused on the enterprise and Dropbox on consumers and small business users or freelancers.

However, Dropbox has been ramping up its business product in recent years, culminating in 2015 with the announcement of an enterprise tier of its product to compete with Box's more established cloud content management service.

So, with both vendors targeting the lucrative enterprise market, which cloud storage option is the best choice for your business?

Features

Dropbox's entry into the enterprise space put it into direct rivalry with Box. Both offer unlimited file storage, secure access to files across devices and collaboration tools as standard.

The enterprise-grade Dropbox brought domain management tools, greater admin controls for IT departments, granular collaboration insights for managers, a range of custom integrations, and deployment support, as well as setting up a team of 'customer success' managers.

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Both vendors continue to enhance their enterprise products with new features. At the BoxWorks 2018 conference, the company unveiled Box Feed, a new feature which provides personalised real-time updates, comments and recommendations about the files and folders on which a user is working, which are tailored to their relationships with the people and content in their organisation.

Box also launched a new set of workflow automation tools, which now sits under the Box Relay banner. The vendor then announced that this set of capabilities was 'rebuilt from the ground up' in May 2019 to include better visibility into automated processes, mobile push notifications and a new set of triggers for 'if this then that' situations and when new content is uploaded.

Read next: Box puts automation at the heart of its product vision

“The new Box Relay brings powerful automation to improve these critical business processes, whether it’s creating sales proposals and marketing assets, or driving budget sign-offs and contract renewals, and more. Enterprises now have one platform for secure content management, workflow, and collaboration that’s built for how we work today," said Jeetu Patel, chief product officer at Box, as part of a press release.

Box now also offers a range of machine learning capabilities known as Box Skills, which allow users to automatically structure their content with intelligent labelling, classifying, transcribing and other features. The first three skills were for audio, video and image intelligence, which together make it easier categorise and search for multimedia content within Box.

Developers can also use the Box Skills Kit to build their own custom skills, for example by combining IBM Watson's Speech to Text and Natural Language Understanding services to process customer service recordings and surface priority issues.

Read next: Box adds machine learning to cloud storage with Box Skills

The vendor also offers a workflow tool called Shuttle, which aims to solve the unglamorous issue of moving enterprise volumes of files from a complex legacy system into the cloud, and another tool called Relay, which allows users to create custom workflows for repeatable tasks like processing invoices or on-boarding new employees.

Dropbox made its most significant step towards being more of an enterprise content hub in June 2019, when it revealed "the new Dropbox".

"It’s a single workspace to organise your content, connect your tools, and bring everyone together," the vendor outlined in a blog post.

This includes the early access launch of two new standalone Dropbox apps for business users, which aim to become your workplace hub instead of quietly being embedded within Windows and MacOS native file systems, which you can still do if you prefer.

Imagine a combination of Google Drive with a set of integrations with the likes of Atlassian, Slack and Zoom, as well as the ability to work on documents, regardless of what productivity suite you use, natively within the app. The app also shows you what your colleagues are working on in real time and has boosted search to include the contents of a document.

Speaking to Fast Company in June Dropbox CEO Drew Houston said this was aimed at “turning Dropbox from the filing cabinet to the conference room. There’s people, and there’s content, and you can have conversations, and it can be on the whiteboard. That’s metaphorically the evolution of the experience we thought no one was really building."

Alternatives

Tech giants Google and Microsoft offer similar content hub products of their own, but with certain drawbacks. The advantage of products such as Google Drive and Microsoft OneNote is that employees are working with these systems and apps already, so they can stay in the same environment. The drawback is that these apps can be unresponsive when it comes to storing and collaborating on non-native file types, so video files or text documents that aren't Google or Microsoft documents can be tricky to work with.

Dropbox tries to solve these problems for customers with the release of Smart Sync (formerly Project Infinite) and Paper. Smart Sync promises a means for accessing all of your files, whether stored locally or in the Dropbox cloud, from Windows File Explorer (Windows 7 backwards compatible) or Mac OS X Finder without the lag of a network drive.

Read next: How Dropbox plans to eliminate on-premise content storage with Smart Sync and team folders

In practice this means files saved locally will display with the familiar green tick and files stored in Dropbox will appear alongside but with a grey cloud symbol. Your computer will simply download these files when you need to access them, taking up less precious hard drive space.

Then there is Paper, essentially the Dropbox answer to Google Docs. This standalone app allows teams to create and collaborate on documents in real-time, either in a web browser or mobile app.

Integrations

Both companies are keen to be the 'content hubs' for their customers, meaning deep integrations with other office software is imperative.

Dropbox formalised this in November 2018 with the launch of Dropbox Extensions. This is a set of integrations with vendors like Adobe, DocuSign and Vimeo, which allow users to seamlessly launch actions like editing a file or sending an eSignature, directly from Dropbox.

In his blog post on the subject, SVP engineering, product and design Quentin Clark uses the example of getting a contract signed. "You have to send someone the contract, they download it, sign it virtually, probably save it somewhere, then send it back to you before you finally save the signed version back to Dropbox," he wrote.

This is similar to what we heard from chief product officer at Box, Jeetu Patel, a few months earlier, again showing the priority alignment between the two vendors.

Patel told Computerworld UK that Box is looking to combine deep vendor integrations with a layer of automation to allow for seamless handoffs between actions. For example, "this article you may write, you might want to share it with a couple of colleagues and send to your editor and when that happens it is all manually done in an email, so we wanted to go after that workload and make it lightweight and solve that problem," he said.

Box unveiled the public beta versions of the Box for G Suite integration in 2018, allowing users to create, open, and edit Google documents from their Box account.

Dropbox soon followed suit, unveiling its own deep integration with G Suite in April 2019, which allows users to create and store Google Docs, Sheets and Slides in Dropbox.

Dropbox introduced Microsoft Office integration back in November 2014 and Box followed suit by partnering with a newly open Microsoft in June 2015. As members of Microsoft's cloud storage partner programme, both Box and Dropbox announced a new string of integrations in January 2016.

Users of both services can now co-author Microsoft documents and have changes saved back to Box/Dropbox in real time. A new iOS integration means documents can be created, edited and saved back to Box or Dropbox via the popular Microsoft apps for iOS. Finally, customers can attach content saved to Box or Dropbox into emails in Outlook, instead of having to tediously save items to your desktop beforehand.

Dropbox Basic, Pro and Business users with a paid Microsoft Office 365 licence can use these integrations immediately. The same applies for Box personal and business users. Both Box and Dropbox also integrate with Google apps and Salesforce.

Box was the first of the two companies to launch a Windows 10 app (compatible back to Windows 8), allowing customers to integrate their box files with the Windows file picker. This means users can work on a Microsoft Office Word, Excel or Powerpoint file and have those changes saved back to Box without leaving the Windows 10 environment, whether on mobile, tablet or desktop.

Dropbox launched a free Windows 10 app (compatible back to Windows 7) in January 2016. Similar to Box, users can access and work on files saved in Dropbox seamlessly within the Windows 10 app. Users can also utilise Windows Hello access controls instead of a password to unlock their Dropbox.

At Box World Tour Europe 2016, Box announced Box Zones, taking advantage of current partnerships with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and IBM Cloud to allow users to store content in numerous locations across the globe, such as Germany, Ireland, Singapore and Japan. Then, in 2019, Box announced that it's UK zone was live, allowing customers to store all of their content in UK data centres.

Admin tools

In August 216, Dropbox revamped its admin tools, called AdminX, before adding new functionality in May 2018.

The original admin console gave IT teams granular file event logging, down to individual edits, additions and deletions, which can be filtered into an admin log, so your boss can check if you have opened and read that TPS report.

Now admins can manage membership down to sub-folder level to ensure that people inside and outside the company can only access specific folders.

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