Online storage service looks beyond its role as a repository for files.
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Box on Monday introduced a cloud-based real-time document collaboration service called Box Notes, putting further pressure on Microsoft's Office empire.
Like Adobe Buzzword, Google Docs Zoho Docs and others, Box Notes aspires to provide a way to create and share documents in a Web browser, with Box's underlying enterprise storage service as the foundation. The service strives for a middle ground between the bells-and-whistles approach of Microsoft Office and a no-frills online word processor.
"Our belief is that existing word processors have overshot the market, building ever more complex features, many of them still related to printing documents," said Jonathan Berger, product manager at Box in a blog post. "At the opposite end of the spectrum, social communication and messaging applications have enabled new forms of continuous productivity not previously seen in the workplace."
Berger points to the inline toolbar in Box Notes as an example of a preference for simplicity over complexity. The inline toolbar appears only after the user highlights a block of text, to provide annotation and feedback options when contextually appropriate. He also points to the use of profile pictures in annotations as a way to easily focus attention on a single person's contributions in a collaborative document.
Google Docs, part of Google Apps, has been the highest-profile cloud-based document service. Google Docs debuted in 2007, following the company's acquisition of online word processing startup Writely a year earlier. Writely founder Sam Schillace joined Google with the acquisition of his company and left last year.
Box CEO Aaron Levie announced last August that Schillace had joined his company.
Box's more consumer-oriented competitor, Dropbox, also an online storage service, can be integrated with a variety of different content creation applications, such as iWriter, WriteRoom and QuickOffice Pro HD, to provide a single cloud storage backend. But Dropbox isn't providing its own front-end content creation tool.
Berger argues that Box Note is simple and secure because it's built atop the company's online enterprise-oriented storage service. Box, unlike Dropbox, has not been troubled by security incidents in recent years.
A recent Forrester Research survey of software decision makers found that two-thirds are planning to deploy, or are already deploying, cloud-based collaboration software. The research firm suggests that among enterprises at the moment, it's a two-horse race between Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365.
Box Notes is currently in private beta but the company says it intends to make the service more widely available in the weeks ahead.
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