Dropbox Is About to Make Office Work Much Smoother

Dropbox Full Text Search screenshot

Source: Dropboxatwork.com

Cloud storage provider Dropbox is making a surprising move that will end up making its service more useful for businesses and teams that use Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Office.

On its Dropbox for Business blog, the company announced several features related to Microsoft Office, including full-text search of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and other documents saved in DropBox, and the ability for multiple users to simultaneously edit Office documents in Dropbox. Added along with those features are new security and permissions settings, and the post notes that all of the changes are aimed at “making collaboration in Dropbox even better.”

Wired’s Marcus Wohlsen notes that while Microsoft Office isn’t an innovative new service, it’s ubiquitous, and integrating with Office can help Dropbox distinguish itself from its competitors: “While Office itself stopped being synonymous with ‘cutting edge’ sometime before the turn of the century, Dropbox’s attention to Microsoft’s flagship productivity software speaks to a deeper truth: People still use Office. Lots of people. And that reality, in turn, speaks to Dropbox’s strategy for distinguishing itself in the (over)crowded field of cloud-based file storage, syncing, and sharing. While some competitors are banking on providing the most gigabytes for the least dollars, Dropbox is devoting itself to services that make those files more useful.”

The new tools will make Dropbox more useful for just about any business that uses Office files within Dropbox, as Business customers have traditionally been the heaviest users of collaboration tools on Dropbox. (However, a moderator on Dropbox’s blog replied to users asking whether the features would be rolled out to all users, not just Dropbox for Business users, with a message reading, “We’re starting with Dropbox for Business for now, but stay tuned!”

The full-text search will enable users to type a word contained within a file and find the document that way, instead of opening folders and files to look for the specific one that they need. Additionally, a feature Dropbox calls Project Harmony enables team members to see who else is in a Microsoft Office file and collaborate with them in real time. And improved document previews make viewing Office files on the web, even on mobile devices, faster and easier, since users can access high-quality previews instead of waiting for a file to download.

The move comes as the competition among cloud storage providers heats up, and Dropbox is looking for a way to differentiate itself — other than by offering the lowest prices on the market. Google Drive offers business customers one terabyte of storage for $9.99 per month, while Dropox for Business charges $15 per month per user for a minimum of five users to split a terabyte among them. Wired notes that the company has said it raise the limit to “whatever users need” if they exceed their storage limit, and every additional user gets an extra 200 gigabytes to start.

Dropbox has built up its user base — it announced that Dropbox for Business has been adopted by 80,000 companies — by focusing on the usability and utility of its services. Almost everyone uses Microsoft Office in the workplace, and while Google wants customers to shift away from Office to Google Drive, Dropbox isn’t trying to effect that kind of ecosystem change. Instead, it’s looking to become a part of businesses’ Office-based ecosystem and provide an easy extension of their current workflow, demonstrating that it’s ready and willing to implement the features that large numbers of businesses and employees will find useful without having to change the entire way that they work.

That seems like a smart business model. Dropbox also announced two new ways for developers to build apps on top of Dropbox, announcing a Shared Folder API and a Document Preview API that enable developers to create third-party apps that foster collaboration. That spirit of enabling collaboration, while letting customers retain the programs and workflows with which they’re familiar, stands to set Dropbox apart as a capable, easy-to-use cloud storage service. That’s a differentiation that Dropbox would do well to make, as an increasing number of providers look to rival or replace Microsoft Office, rather than working with the software that’s practically everywhere — and isn’t likely to leave anytime soon.

However, it’s worth noting that customers who want to use Microsoft Office have several options from Microsoft itself — like Office365 and OneDrive — which combine to offer access to Office applications and files anywhere. The key for Dropbox will be to differentiate itself  from cloud service competitors on one side and Microsoft on the other with reliable and useful collaboration tools. And perhaps most importantly, Dropbox is positioning itself to work with users already have and already do — which may prove key to gaining more customers as businesses weigh which cloud storage platform will work best for them.

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