We are flooded with cloud services. From the desktop, to mobile, all the way to enterprise, the cloud has become an integral part of everyday computing. While it may seem as though cloud services are a dime a dozen, each one is unique in its features, functionality and presentation. Box.net, one of the many inexpensive "consumer" cloud services, happens to stand out above the rest. Catering to both the average user and enterprise cloud customers, Box.net has managed to marry usability and a full feature set.
As with many other cloud services, Box.net gets the pricing right. The entry account gives you 5GB of free online storage. That's actually more than other popular cloud services that offer only 2GB. After you create your Box.net account and log in to the Web interface, Box.net makes a very positive first impression. Its Web UI is clean and elegant, and it has little to no learning curve. In order for a cloud service to be popular it has to be powerful, yet simple; and Box.net is just that.
Sharing your files is straightforward, as with other cloud services. You can share individual files and/or entire folders, including encryption if needed. Box.net also has dedicated apps for mobile devices including the iPhone, iPad, Android and a mobile Web interface.
Unique Box.net Features
Features that set Box.net apart from other cloud services are its notification scheme, comment/collaboration options and propensity for enterprise customers. Notifications are somewhat overlooked by other cloud services, but they can be especially helpful. Box.net can send an email when:
- a file or folder is commented on or discussed
- a file is downloaded to your machine
- a file is uploaded to the cloud
The abilities to alter the frequency of these emails and to opt out are offered as well.
When dealing with several users (enterprise account only), collaboration on office documents or other files is made simple. Discussion of a particular file happens online right within the Box.net interface. Changes made to a document are updated in real-time and can be seen by all users. Collaboration becomes even more powerful with the ability to integrate Google Apps with your cloud documents.
Along with other powerful cloud services such as Salesforce.com and mobile applications like Documents To Go, Box.net shines when integrated with Google Docs. The power of MS Office-like applications in a Web browser makes Google Docs the de facto tool for working with clients or colleagues remotely. When linked to your Gmail account, files can be shared using your native Gmail account and events or meetings can be scheduled through Google Calendar right inside Box.net. Easy to set up and use, these Web apps put Box.net ahead of the pack.
Room for Improvement in Box.net Free Plan
While all these features make Box.net a cloud service you should consider utilizing, it's not perfect. For those wanting only basic cloud storage with minimal space, the free 5GB plan is ideal. Unfortunately, those free customers lose the ability to sync desktop folders to the cloud. The 5GB plan allows uploading/downloading only from the Box.net website. Other free services, such as Dropbox, will install a "folder" onto your computer in a location of your choosing and keep anything placed within that folder in sync to the cloud. This allows you to constantly keep the files in your Dropbox folder synced without manually uploading them. With Box.net, this feature is available only to enterprise customers (with plans starting at $45 per month).
In addition to desktop syncing, there are some other key features reserved for enterprise customers only. Password-protecting a shared file or folder is not available for the free account -- an important feature when dealing with cloud products. There is also a 2GB file limit for any type of Box.net account, personal or enterprise. Large video files are out of the question with this limit. Even Apple's MobileMe service, a rather underwhelming cloud platform, puts no limit on the size of file to be shared.
Box.net Final Verdict
Despite these few shortcomings, Box.net is a solid cloud offering for individuals and businesses alike. Individuals just looking to share or occasionally back up small files will find the free account ideal and easy to use. Enterprise customers can choose several options for their account, including the option for unlimited Web storage. That price isn't advertised on the site but is most likely reasonable when compared to other larger companies' cloud offerings. Box.net even allows you to customize your account page to match your logo and company branding.
Cloud services may seem like a dime a dozen, but taking a closer look reveals how they stack up against each other, and Box.net can surely hold its own in the cloud arena.