Box.com Jumps Into the Collaborative Writing Space with Box Notes

Box is one of those enterprise-focused startups that’s never made tons of sense from a consumer perspective. They’ve offered generous amounts of free storage just for signing in with their mobile apps, but that’s never been enough to get most of us to move away from Dropbox — especially since, originally, their desktop sync app wasn’t included for free. That hans’t stopped them from being the document sync tool of choice for many businesses, where the clunky UI didn’t matter as much as did the security and syncing features.

Then, there’s the apps, that great equalizer that stands to make or break any platform. Most of our consumer mobile apps are integrated with Dropbox, not Box, but on the web, Box has a solid library of apps that let it do much more than just sync files. It’s had a basic office-type app for some time now, along with a Mac and PC app that syncs Office document changes in real-time. But now, it’s going even further, with a brand new app aimed to compete in the collabortive writing space that’s taking off this year.

With Microsoft’s former Office VP Steven Sinofsky now on the Box team, it seems they’re more than ready to take on Microsoft — as well as Google and other online collaboration tools. And this time, they’ve got an app that looks nice enough, it’ll likely attract more than just enterprise customers.

Collaboration, and Ditching Office

Box has always been about collaboration, but collaborating on Office files edited in local apps and synced through the cloud seems rather yesterday. Google Docs (and its reincarnation in Google Drive) already leaped past that years ago, with virtual documents that are cloud-first. Box already had a basic app for editing Office-type documents online, but it faced the same problem that Google Docs, Zoho Docs, and everyone else has always faced: the office web apps are essentially the same old thing — Office, with all its toolbars and file portability issues, only with less features. That’s a rather tough sale when everyone in the office already has Word installed on their PCs.

In the mean time, simplified writing apps on the iPad got many of us used to writing in Markdown or with basic rich formatting, and we figured out that we really didn’t need all of Word most of the time — or ever, even. This year, that same idea has come to the web, with Draft and Editorially bringing brilliant collaborative Markdown writing to the web, and Quip reinventing rich text collaborative writing with web and mobile focused apps. And now, Box is jumping into the fray with an app that looks like the best of Editorially’s commenting and collaboration combined with Quip-styled rich-text editing.

Box Notes in action (press image via Box.com)

Box Notes in action (press image via Box.com)

In a move that’s again more like it’s nimbler upstart competition, Box Notes was unveiled in beta today, and you’ll have to signup for an invite at box.com/notes to get access. For that effort, you’ll get an app that’ll make you want to try Box if you never have really gotten yourself to use it yet. Box Notes is, essentially, a simplified online word processor that’s aimed at collaboration. But where Box Notes and the other collaborative writing apps of this year are different is that simplicity is their strength, not their weakness.

After all, it’s not designed to make polished documents, but rather as a place to hash out ideas together — or on your own, if you want. It only includes the most basic formatting options because it’s not designed for print documents — it’s designed for ideas. Those ideas can include basic rich formatting, images, and videos, and can be collaborated on with others in realtime or with simple comments on any text you want. That’s the tools we need in today’s work. It’s almost Evernote’s proposition, with the added lure of rich collaboration. Box can keep all of your legacy documents, but also enable you to collaborate in a new way going forward.

Will the old Box be relegated to history?

Will the old Box be relegated to history?

That’s what makes the most sense, really, when you think about it. Traditional documents are far too bulky, and we’ve already seen that collaboration around them is always hacky at best. So instead of waiting for us to quit syncing files — and thus bypass Box, Dropbox, and every other traditional file sync service — the Box team is making their own apps that make the most sense in the post-file world.

For now, go signup for the Box Notes beta or try out Quip, Editorially, and Draft. They’re all a shot at replacing Office, not by matching its features, but by reinventing how we work. It’s sure an exciting time for productivity apps — and a terrible time to be Microsoft Office.

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