If you’re looking for an alternative to Google Docs that doesn’t do automated backup but could serve as a decent cloud storage resource, check out Box.net. In a matter of seconds, Box has you in a live account and creating an initial storage folder. You then decide if you want the folder to be private (“just me”) or shared. If the latter, then you enter the email addresses of invitees and designate them as editors or viewers. Wait a moment and you’ll get an email confirming the folder creation. This initial folder makes sure you have at least one storage target. You can add more people to your group through the Collaborators tab in the main interface.
Box’s UI is respectably clean and intuitive, although this is helped by often not being able to multi-task, as you might if uploading files and managing collaborators simultaneously. An Updates area will show you recent file changes and accesses. All Files is where you’ll probably spend most of your time if you approach Box for storage. A Java upload tool makes drag-and-drop file additions into folders a breeze, and if you create a Web Doc while browsing inside of a folder, that’s where it’ll get saved. The upside here is ease of document creation, but we should would have preferred that it get saved as an RTF rather than Box’s proprietary .webdoc format.
Not least of all, Box has its OpenBox directory, essentially a collection of widgets and plug-ins for the cloud service. You’ll find applets for Twitter, FedEx, Salesforce.com, iPad, iPhone, LinkedIn, Facebook, Gmail, Google Docs, Outlook, and many more. Once you’ve added an applet, you can access its functionality from the task pull-down located to the right of each file in the All Files area.
In our first batch upload with the free service, transfers started out uploading at roughly 50 KB/sec, but then settled into about 15 KB/sec, reminding of the nostalgic days of dial-up. Fortunately, a “Hide Pop-Up” button lets uploading continue in the background. Moreover, given the data we moved, we suspect Box may be underestimating its true transfer rates.
Veering deeper into Google Docs territory, Box gives you a document editing tool that covers all the basics except image resizing. The editor appears in a new browser tab, keeping your main storage area available. By default, all images you embed within documents dump into a folder called Web Document Images—a handy short-cut if you repeatedly use the same graphics.
We found Box’s doc viewer to be excellent. In fact, this author is a bit shy about admitting that he still uses WordPerfect (for a writer, it’s just better than Word, period), but Box incredibly supports viewing of Corel’s native WPD format along with Adobe PDF, AI, and PSD as well as Open Office and MS Office formats. Google Docs won’t even try to display WPD files. Above a viewed document, you’ll find a File Options pull-down menu for generating shareable document URLs. If you subscribe to Box’s Business or Enterprise plans, you can password protect the links and give recipients direct access to the file in the cloud for editing rather than just viewing it. These accounts also give you version tracking.
As a document storage and sharing resource, the free Box “Lite” service is easy and impressive, and the poky uploads shouldn’t offend too much. If you want to use Box for multimedia and general storage, you’ll want to upgrade beyond the free 1GB teaser. Step into 10GB for $9.95 per month, which will also boost both your upload speed and your file size limits from 25MB to 1GB. (Hard to imagine much video applicability with a 25MB file cap.) Business accounts charge $15/user/month, add 256-bit encryption, reporting, full-text search, a 2GB file size limit, and 15GB of storage per user.