There’s not much future in online office-suite apps, like the ones Microsoft and Apple offer, if you believe Box.net chief executive Aaron Levie.
Rather than getting all their office apps from one vendor, he said, the best strategy in the enterprise space — and now the consumer space — is to find a service that wraps together the best apps from multiple companies that all do one thing very well.
Box.net (which specializes in enterprise cloud storage) is moving in that direction by adding the ability to access and use files from other companies like customer relationship management software provider Salesforce.com and Google Docs, an online document editor. That’s also a strategy that companies like Microsoft and Apple seem to be avoiding, Levie said.
“With iCloud, Apple’s … seeing the cloud as a way to connect their devices together and their software,” Levie said. “We think it’s moving in the direction of openness, by combining the tools together and making it work seamlessly.”
iCloud is Apple’s next iteration of MobileMe, which will include access to online mail, contacts, and calendar applications. When a user makes a new contact or calendar entry on his or her iOS device, the entry is automatically put in the cloud and then pushed to all other iOS devices. If you ever change that information, it is automatically updated on all devices. Apple chief executive Steve Jobs also talked about three other new iCloud apps — Documents, Photo Stream, and iTunes in the Cloud — when he unveiled the service in June.
Levie said that Microsoft was attempting to do the same thing with Office 365, the company’s online version of its flagship Office software. It’s a cloud-based version of Office and gives customers access to document editing, email, customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software under a single blanket.
Box.net’s strategy is to do one thing — cloud storage — and be very good at it. And if Levie’s prediction of where the market’s heading plays out, the company could see a big payoff. The startup seems to have investors convinced that it’s on the right road — it just managed to raise a $48 million round of funding that it will use to double its engineering and sales staffs. On the other hand, it’s difficult to discount Microsoft and Apple’s strategies — with market caps of $209 billion and $300 billion respectively, they certainly have a lot of weight behind them.
But Box.net does currently has 6 million users. Some 60,000 businesses employ its cloud-storage software, including 73 percent of Fortune 500 companies. That figure is up from around 66 percent in February. The company is also no stranger to mobile — as of January, its iPhone application recorded more than 250,000 downloads and its Android application had been downloaded more than 70,000 times.
“We can only build so much and of our limited time we want to be the best place to store and manage your data,” Levie said. “The competition thinks very differently.”