In my recent article about Adobe’s new Buzzword online word processor, I mentioned that dozens of different web desktops have launched, attempting to bring features traditionally confined to computers to the internet itself. Adobe’s Share is a corollary to Buzzword and hasn’t yet been released to the public. When it launches, Adobe plans for it to be a repository for your documents on the internet. They’re launching into a field of competition, and things heated up on Tuesday after Box.net announced their new OpenBox service.
Box.net is a standout among the crowded field of online storage providers. They face competition from the recently acquired Mozy, eSnips, OmniDrive, XDrive, and several others. Box.net provides users with 1GB of free online storage and gives them a well-designed interface to store their files in, complete with folder organization. I was introduced to Box.net through the earlier reviewed/previewed Mosoto service which, like many other startups, relies on Box.net for backend storage. Box.net made news earlier in the year by allowing users to open office documents in Zoho’s Office Applications. All this was an effort to make Box.net far more than a storage place for documents. Instead, it was starting to become a launch point for work on the web. Just as with Macintosh’s Finder or Windows Explorer, documents could be opened and edited immediately, without waiting for a download.
OpenBox: The Launchpad
On Tuesday, Box.net has announced OpenBox, allowing their users the ability to open any sort of file – music, office and more – in various different web services. I had the opportunity to speak with Box.net CEO Aaron Levie, who called the announcement a “complete 180? from their initial widget strategy. Levie also blogged about the new announcement on the Box.net blog.The new service finally makes Box.net the launchpad for users, allowing them to store all their data in one place and edit it using a variety of applications. Users can post photos to their blogs, edit photos with Picnik or Snipshot, edit documents with ThinkFree or Zoho, or do various other things. Launch partners include Autodesk’s Freewheel, Echosign, eFax, Myxer, Picnik, Scribd, Snipshot, ThinkFree, Twitter, Zazzle, and Zoho.
Adding Box.net’s New OpenBox Partners to the Services Menu
Other platforms, like Facebook‘s, require developers to learn new programming languages in order to integrate their applications (in Facebook’s case, it’s FBML). Box.net’s CEO was eager to note that the process of integrating an application into Box.net’s online file storage system is “surprisingly easy.” Since Box.net doesn’t have a new API themselves, developers have the opportunity to build their API into Box.net itself, meaning they don’t have to learn anything new in order to participate in OpenBox. Additionally, Levie notes that the company is “trying to be very open” and attempting to match every company’s needs. Openness is nothing new for Box.net, which pioneered the use of APIs when it was one of the first online storage companies to release one in December of 2005. Prior to the announcement of OpenBox, Box.net could send and share files, but no access was granted to the file system itself.
The company is embracing the Web 2.0 concept of free data by allowing various applications to talk to each other, rather than using embeds. Box.net is also helping to standardize communications between apps. All of this is part of the search for seamless integration with other services and Box.net itself. Levie said Box.net would still approach companies for official partnerships, despite the availability of their SDK and API.
“As Complementary as Possible”
The ease of use for developers can only mean new and advanced features for users of Box.net. The release of the Software Development Kit on December 5 is sure to help Levie’s quest to create a “completely web based experience” in which users maintained a “core set of files online.” As I mentioned earlier, I share Levie’s view that Box.net can become somewhat of a “local file system,” hosting users’ files and allowing them to interact with them, as opposed to the typical backup and file transfer tasks that are usually reserved for online storage applications.
Creating a New Service with Box.net’s OpenBox
Box.net has also made sure that developers could keep a “consistent UI” for their applications, instead of forcing them to change the application’s design to match Box’s. When a user opens a photo in Picnik, they are transferred to the full application itself, not an embed in Box.net’s page. What I found most impressive is the ability of these applications to save the files back to Box.net. One can open a photo in Picnik to edit, make some changes, and then save the resultant file right back to Box.net. The desktop, literally, has become irrelevant.
Picnik’s UI is Consistent Throughout Editing with Box.net
Blazing New Trails
Box.net’s traditional competitors, companies like XDrive and OmniDrive, are suddenly being left in the dust with the announcement of OpenBox. Adobe Share, an application that ties into the earlier reviewed Buzzword, has yet to hit the market but promises easy and central storage of documents, but at the moment, cannot hope to compete with Box.net’s extensive offering. Levie, however, said he was thrilled to see Adobe getting involved with “online initiatives,” despite the fact that the company is now an “indirect competitor.”
Easy Integration with eFax
Levie’s favorite partner of the new OpenBox companies is Autodesk’s online CAD rendering, which he notes is “really rich” and all web based. CAD files, typically reserved for the realm of e-mail, are now available online and can be stored on Box.net for easy retrieval and viewing. Levie also impressed me with eFax’s integration. Now, it’s simple for users to fax documents directly from their local file systems. Clicking on the file menu brings up an eFax option, and users can choose a fax number to send the document to. eFax automatically renders PDFs, DOCs, and more. It’s an impressive step.
“Productivity Driven Solution”
Box.net finally allows users to upload files once, to a central location, in order to use them with a wide variety of web services. Integration with other third party services will not be available until December 5, but I am already amazed at the new features Box.net has added with its OpenBox partners. As Levie claimed, Box.net finally has become a “file system” for the web. The service is also not limited to technophiles; instead, it’s easy to use for even the casual user. Services are added via an “OpenBox services” menu filled with various checkboxes. To use the various services, simply right-click a file and go to the bottom, where OpenBox applications are available to interact with the file that was clicked on. The company currently boasts more than one million registered users. I imagine that number will skyrocket with this announcement.
Box.net’s Intuitive Services Menu
Box.net CEO claimed that OpenBox gives the company “more power to innovate.” I agree, and I believe that OpenBox has the potential to give the internet itself more power to innovate. The concept of a unified web file system, once nothing more than a pipe dream, is finally a reality with Box.net’s OpenBox. Box.net was once a simple widget platform for file storage. Now, it has the possibility to revolutionize our perceptions of the internet.