By Harry McCracken | Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 6:00 am
Online storage and sharing service Box.net has added a feature that’s sure to become one of its most popular, and which sets it apart from the competition: built-in file viewing that lets you see the contents of files right in your browser. Based on technology that Box acquired last year when it bought a company called Increo, the file viewer is nicely integrated with the rest of Box, sporting the same dead simple, streamlined user interface.
The viewer (which uses Flash but doesn’t otherwise require a plug-in) can handle Microsoft Office files; documents from Adobe’s PDF, Photoshop, and Illustrator; JPG and PNG images; Flash video; MP3 audio, and more. You can zoom in and out, view multiple-page documents in their entirety and thumbnail versions of items like PowerPoint slides, and can switch into a full-screen mode that even lets you conduct a presentation. In my hands-on time with it, both performance and fidelity were excellent.
The one that was less than pleasing was the way portrait-oriented files like Word documents were shown in a landscape-shaped window with scrollbars. I’d rather have a portrait-shaped view of them–but you can jump into full-screen mode to see them in a view that doesn’t require scrolling around.
Box offers a free individual account with a gigabyte of storage for free; paid accounts with more space start at $9.95 a month. On some level, it competes with a multitude of services that let you store files in the cloud, including everything from SugarSync to Google’s recently-upgraded storage service. But Box really sees Microsoft’s SharePoint collaborative platform as its archrival, and targets small-to-medium-sized businesses that want to easily share documents without having to install anything. The new file viewer makes it much, much more attractive as a SharePoint substitute. Bottom line: It’s now possible to see what you’re doing in Box before you download any files–and if you’re just peeking at a file rather than editing it, you may not need to bother with the download at all.