Box joins crew of companies trying to disrupt Microsoft Office

box-notes-videoAyear ago, file storage and collaboration service Box hired Sam Schillace, the creator of cloud-based document creation tool Writely, which later became Google Docs, the cornerstone of Google Apps. At first, Apps was considered a joke, way behind on features and suitable only for individuals and small businesses. Eventually, it made enough inroads into enough enterprises that Microsoft targeted Apps in its sales process and created its own cloud-based competitors, Office Web Apps and Office 365. It’s a classic tale of disruption.

Box announced that it’s starting down the same road as Google, adding document creation to its cloud-based file storage and collaboration service. The new Box Notes feature is just entering private beta, and it’s Web-only at this phase — a major drawback given Box’s stated intention to become the collaboration tool of choice for the cloud-plus-mobile world — but it’s a clear statement of intention.

In terms of features, Box Notes will launch leagues behind Microsoft Word. It’s really more of a note-taking app — akin to OneNote — than a full word processor, although it does have basic formatting features.

Rather, the most important aspects are real-time concurrent editing, annotations, and a strong social element — for instance, small visual avatars tell you exactly who’s working on which parts of a file at a given time.

Schillace said that Box is trying to think of document creation the way Apple thought about smartphones when it began designing the iPhone — by thinking hard about what to leave out. “Everybody was trying to squeeze the desktop into a mobile device, like PalmOS or Danger… It was funky and weird, and didn’t quite work right. Apple started making choices about what to put in and what to leave out, and it worked much better for that form factor.”