Box.net gets a killer app: previews for everything

File storage service Box.net has a new trick up it's sleeve: it can now show you a quick preview of any file without having to open it up in its native software application.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read

Three months after inking a deal to acquire Increo Solutions, storage provider Box.net is finally implementing the technology into its own service.

The company on Thursday will begin rolling out a new Adobe Flash-based file preview system that goes a long way to help keep users inside their browser. It allows users to view and interact with stored files even if they don't have the necessary software applications installed.

To a certain degree, this had already been offered for things like image files, rich text documents and MP3s. Box's new system adds compatibility for things like Photoshop PSD files, MS Office files, FLV videos, and programming code. It also wraps these things up in a viewer that stays the same from file to file, and that can be embedded just as simply as the company's existing file-sharing widgets.

The tech that lets users do this was originally offered as a standalone product by Increo called Embedit.in (see our review), which still exists and can be used outside of the Box ecosystem. The big difference in this case is that Box users can create one of these embeddable preview boxes with files they've already uploaded to their account. It also puts the file sharing permissions and collaboration options in the same settings menus as other files that are stored within a user's Box account.

Box's new file viewer can chew through most popular Microsoft Office formats, all without the end user having that software installed. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

In a call earlier this week, Jen Grant, Box's VP of marketing, told CNET that 90 percent of content types work within this release, and those that are included cover 99 percent of the files that are stored by Box users. This does not include CAD files, which will not display in the viewer. Users, can however view them within Box.net, although that requires the use of one of the company's OpenBox apps from Autodesk.

Grant says Box will be expanding the number of compatible file types as time goes on. The goal, she says, is to get it to the point where it works with "everything." The company will also soon be releasing APIs that will let developers create apps that can take advantage of the viewer.

Previewing files without having to rely on launching specific software apps has risen in popularity over the past few years. On the Web, that's been trumpeted by Google, which recently overhauled its Web viewer to display PDFs and other popular written text formats without having to open up system software. This has spread out to Google's search results, as well as in places like Gmail and Google Docs. On the desktop side, Apple has made strides with its Quick Look technology, which can be found in the Finder in Leopard and Snow Leopard. This lets users preview most file types just by tapping the space bar.

The main benefit of getting this kind of speedy preview functionality into the Web browser is that it lets users view and access their files no matter what computer they're on. It also lets them stay within that system, which is almost always a boon for productivity.

Box says the new file preview system will be rolling out to all its users over the next few weeks.