Collaborative Working

Dropbox trades more blows with Box in a fight to the end

In his song The Boxer, Paul Simon imagines a punch-drunk pugilistic who “carries a reminder of every glove that laid him down”. It might be the same for the ‘boxes’ as Box and Dropbox duke it out to land the KO that gives one the dominant position in file sharing and collaboration. The value of that victory will be billions, if not tens of billions, of dollars, and a ubiquitous role in the way businesses and consumers work and play.

Today, at its first ever UK user conference in London, Dropbox COO Dennis Woodside said the company now has over 500 million users, three-quarters of them outside the US and 39 per cent in EMEA. Of those, 150,000 companies now pay for business versions of the product, including over half of the Fortune 500 and a third of the UK’s FTSE 100. Banner customers highlighted cover luminaries like News Corp., Expedia, NASDAQ, Bjorn Borg and Condé Nast.

You can’t attend this sort of event without coming out with core messages embedded like earworms. The mantra here is Dropbox’s sheer volume has value and the firm is betting that its vast scale will win because so many of us will know how to use its product and love it, thus making it a de facto standard over time.

“End-user adoption is the foundation,” Woodside says. “Consumers actually lined up for stores when Windows 95 came out. With Excel people just brought it into the workplace. Seven years ago companies didn’t support iPhone but now they do.”

To that end Dropbox focuses on the user experience and areas such as speed of file synchronisation – five times faster than competition, the company claims. It’s a bottom-up approach that has led to one in 14 people in the planet using the service; the challenge that lies ahead will be to convert more of those to the fee-paying minority.

It’s pretty easy to see the value of Dropbox. News Corp. CIO Dominic Shine says it helps the media giant work with advertisers, collaborate in workflow, publish books, develop an app for The Sun or refresh The Times website.

“We have to think about what makes our business great and that means getting out of the way most of the time but where we can make a difference is when we co-create approaches,” Shine says. “These are the things where we try to steer together and then work closely with the businesses to empower them and dance to a common tune over time so we can get the best ideas from anywhere in the group. Our ambition is to move everything we can from our file servers to Dropbox.”

Even more evangelical is Caroline Hargreaves who has implemented Dropbox at the University of Manchester and jokes that she has become known as “Caroline Dropbox”.

“I’ve never been so popular in my 25-year career,” she enthuses, predicting that more universities will follow suit. “They don’t dare [today] but as soon as they see this they’ll be following.”

Ditto, Expedia and NASDAQ. Message: people love using Dropbox and it is indeed a very slick product.

In London, Dropbox showed off more tricks. Project Infinite will shove files into the cloud and make them appear as desktop files that sync on demand when opened. It also talked up Paper, its beta service for Evernote-style insertions in the sharing process. There’s a new File Services API so customers can import metadata for governance and collaboration purposes.

The stubborn challenge though is that Dropbox’s sparring partner Box can summon equally keen advocates, can list features, roll out a roadmap and display a never-ending roster of integrations with partners. In fact, it did so in London as recently as a fortnight ago.

The differences are relatively minor: Box has already floated, doubled-down on security and built datacentre partnerships while Dropbox has vast reserves of funding, focuses on the values listed above and is bringing more users onto its own servers. But really, Box and Dropbox are Tweedledum and Tweedledee of file collaboration. Both can’t win the bout to be champ. Ultimately, one will prevail and become de facto, the other… well, who knows, but the options aren’t so hot.

In another song, this one by Bob Dylan rather than Ryhmin’ Simon, Tweedledum says to Tweedledee “your presence is obnoxious to me”. But, for now at least, these two are stuck with each other.


Related Reading:

Box CEO zones into safe sharing

Dropbox bets on scale, speed and UXP to sync for success


« InfoShot: Tech companies rebranded


C-suite career advice: Don Grantham, Microsoft »
Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

  • twt
  • twt
  • Mail


Do you think your smartphone is making you a workaholic?