Box Ups Ante To Challenge SharePoint

File sharing tool gets an update that includes desktop sync for both PCs and Macs, improved security, and more social features.
Top 20 Top Add-Ons For Microsoft SharePoint
(click image for larger view)
Top 20 Top Add-Ons For Microsoft SharePoint
Happily tweaking Microsoft like Scott McNealy used to do in his prime, Box CEO Aaron Levie announced a round of upgrades to his firm's cloud content management system that he said is designed to make SharePoint even more irrelevant.

Box is adding a revamped version of its desktop sync tool, which for the first time will be available for the Mac as well as Windows, along with improved security and new social features, with a preview of additional social features that will be delivered in the coming months. The announcements came at BoxWorks 2011, the company's first user conference.

After asking if there were any Microsoft "spies" in the room, Levy quipped that since Skype is a Box customer, and Skype is now part of Microsoft, "for the first time in history, Microsoft employees can now share information."

More generally, Levy challenged the notion that IT departments will ever achieve "the magical rainbow of enterprise value" by continuing to assemble complicated layers of databases, content management systems, and middleware internally.

[ Learn more about Box Synch. Read Box Syncs Cloud With Desktop ]

Craig Butler, the CIO for AAA of Northern California, Nevada, and Utah, who was one of the IT executives who joined Levy onstage, said his organization's move to cloud computing was driven by the realization that searching for that rainbow "was becoming a pretty futile exercise--and meanwhile we were leaving a trail of wreckage behind us as we created things that we then had to operate and maintain." AAA began its move to the cloud with the adoption of and has been adding components such as Box ever since, he said.

Ben Doyle, director of IT at Enterasys Networks, said trying to provide access to documents from anywhere on any device "was a problem we had tried to solve for years with SharePoint, and we just came to the realization that it was never going to happen." Employees were "taking matters into their own hands," using consumer file sharing technologies such as DropBox, and IT decided it had to get ahead of the trend by providing something that was as convenient but more secure and manageable, he said. That's when his company adopted Box.

Levy said information sharing within organizations tends to be hindered because as the organization grows, it creates more information silos. "Our vision at Box is to change all of that, so that the more people you have and the more data you have, the more value you have," he said.

In a separate interview, Levy acknowledged that Box does not do everything that SharePoint does. Box is a tool for file sharing, and SharePoint also provides Web content management and many other advanced features. However, only a few companies use SharePoint to its fullest potential, Levy said, while many of the customers Box is attracting tell him they used SharePoint primarily for file sharing. They are shifting some if not all of that to Box, he said. Box in particular is positioning its cloud hosted file sharing as a better system for today's mobile workers and for sharing across company boundaries.

The new Box Sync allows users to share files by saving them to a designated directory on either a PC or a Mac. Through the Web interface, users can also assign tasks such as "please review" to another user to help ensure follow up.

To improve security, Box will also be delivering a new Trusted Access feature in the next few months. This allows users and administrators to grant access to files and folders more selectively, to only a limited number of users, or devices, or Internet domains, and revoke that access if necessary. For example, if you lost your phone, you would be able to disable access from that device.

To simplify secure access, Box announced a partnership with Okta, a provider of single sign-on systems that supports hundreds of different cloud applications and connectivity to enterprise identity sources like Microsoft Active Directory. Box has similar single sign-on technology partnerships with VMware and Ping Identity.

Box will also continue to make its software more social by enhancing the activity stream built into its service, which shows updates on which files have been added or modified and allows users to add comments. To keep that update stream from becoming an island onto itself, Levy said Box will integrate its content-centric activity stream with the news feeds provided by other enterprise social software. The first of these integrations, announced Wednesday, is with's Chatter, using the Chatter Connect API Salesforce introduced at its recent Dreamforce user conference.

In the coming months, Box will also make its activity stream more personalized, allowing users to see the content updates that are most relevant to them rather than just an organization-wide stream of updates. Box also plans to build more social workflow capability into the product, Levy said.

Attend Enterprise 2.0 Santa Clara, Nov. 14-17, 2011, and learn how to drive business value with collaboration, with an emphasis on how real customers are using social software to enable more productive workforces and to be more responsive and engaged with customers and business partners. Register today and save 30% off conference passes, or get a free expo pass with priority code CPHCES02. Find out more and register.

Editor's Choice
Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing