Box logoDocument-sharing startup Box.net is getting a major upgrade today. It has always been a site where you can share all kinds of files and documents — but if a co-worker or colleague wanted to actually use those files, they’d have to download them and open them with the right software. Starting today, however, users can view those files online in Box.net, with the company’s new document viewer.

Now, if they don’t want to bother with downloading a file, users can just open it in their web browser. From the demos I’ve seen, the viewer opens files almost instantaneously, beating the time it would take to download and open a file in, say, Microsoft Word, and without any of the garbling or weird formatting that can result when you open a file with software other than the application it was created with — when you open a Word document in Google Docs, for example. There’s also limited interactivity, such as the ability enlarge and click through PowerPoint slides during a live presentation.

“We’ll see really, really high fidelity on 98 percent of the content,” said chief executive Aaron Levie.

Overall, that means more of Box.net’s activity can take place within the browser — unless you want to actually edit the documents, you don’t need download anything or futz with any additional software. The viewer was built with technology from Increo Solutions, a startup that Box acquired last year, and uses Adobe’s Flash technology.

Going forward, Box plans to add the ability to embed documents on other sites, to present analytics data about how people are viewing the documents, and even to provide some collaboration features within the documents, so you can not only read those documents in your browser, but also edit them with your teammates.

The Palo Alto, Calif. startup’s new features come a week after Google showed signs that it might become more competitive in this market, by adding the ability to upload and share files in Google Docs. But Box.net Vice President of Marketing Jen Grant (who was previously head of marketing for Google Apps) noted that Google hasn’t announced any serious content management features — no real workflow around managing documents or administrative support for tracking the files.

“Google Apps is a great Microsoft Exchange replacement, with its email and calendar combo,” Grant said. “We, on the other hand, are a cloud content management system, and a great replacement for Microsoft Sharepoint. Together, we think we can be a viable solution to replace the Microsoft stack.”

Box File View - Word document

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