Box integration with Office 365 arrives -- but only on desktops

Box users can't open and edit files directly in Office on mobile devices, and they won't be able to unless Apple and Microsoft make significant changes.

Box customers have a new way to access Office 365 files -- but for now, they'll only be able to do it on desktops.

Box will now integrate with Microsoft Office 365, allowing documents to  be opened directly within Word, Excel and PowerPoint  from a Box account. Files can be saved back to Box from within those applications, and links can be shared securely to Box files, with options for setting expirations or limiting downloads from the links.

For Box, the integration is an important one both technically and culturally, said Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research in Toronto.

"Box began as a company with a mission of being a SharePoint alternative," Lepofsky said. "As a company they have matured, realizing that rather than competing with Microsoft they need to embrace them."

With Microsoft making its cloud ambitions known, Box has a major opportunity to provide these integrated experiences, Lepofsky said.

Box anticipates more integration with Outlook and other Office products in the coming months. The current Box integration with Office 365, however, is only available in the desktop version of Office 365 and not on Office for iPad yet. 

Rather than competing with Microsoft, [Box needs] to embrace them.

Alan Lepofsky, vice president at Constellation Research

Microsoft may be hesitant to do that, since it directly competes with Box in a number of areas, including its OneDrive for Business and SharePoint tools. Integration between Box and Office for iPad will take openness from both Apple and Microsoft, Lepofsky said.

"We know that iOS 8 is going to provide developers file container access that was previously unavailable, thus making it possible for Box to provide new levels of integration," he said.

Microsoft wants OneDrive for Business to be the enterprise hub for storage and not a third party, said Wes Miller, research director at Directions on Microsoft, a consulting firm in Kirkland, Wash.

"Do I see them opening up the non-Windows clients for access to storage vendors? Not willingly," Miller said.

The integration with Office 365 can be viewed as a defensive move by Box, but it makes sense because of the commoditization of storage and productivity coming together as the enterprise file sync and share market grows, Miller said.

"Storage is becoming a feature," he said. "It's not really a thing on its own." 

Further integration for Office 365

Box's chief rival, Dropbox, is expected to adopt a collaboration-based approach to working with Office files. Earlier this year it introduced Project Harmony, where end users collaborate on the same file within a native Office application and sync back to wherever it is saved. The feature is expected to be released by the end of the year. The company plans to extend to applications besides Office in the future.

The beta version of the Box and Office 365 integration is available now for existing customers running Windows 7 or higher and can be downloaded here.

Box also updated Box Notes, its product that directly competes with Office. Box Notes, which rolled out iOS and Android apps earlier this summer, will add tables, checklists and version history. The company said nearly 50% of all Box Notes use takes place on mobile devices.

Box disclosed a number of products and initiatives expected in the next year, including a new way to automate business processes on top of the Box platform, Box WorkFlow. Through Box WorkFlow, the company said admins can build these data workflows with examples like contract approval processes, invoice processing, digital asset management and standard operating procedures.

Also coming soon is Box for Industries, with Box combining its capabilities with third-party, industry-specific applications and system integrator partners to provide platforms tailored to specific industries. They include healthcare, retail, media and entertainment to start, and more will be added at a later date.

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