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Box takes on Evernote with consumer-friendly collaboration

The cloud storage company bucks its Google Docs-like content creation tool and introduces a simpler way to create files and work on them with others.

Box Notes

Enterprise cloud-storage company Box is seeing the need to please consumers if it wants companies to keep using its software, so Box has designed what it hopes is a more user-friendly way for teams to collaborate on files.

The new tool unveiled Monday is dubbed Box Notes and is similar to Evernote. It displays changes to a text file in a straightforward manner and has a stripped-down tool bar that only appears when you highlight the text you want to change. This is a departure from Box's previous content creation tool, which was much more like Google Docs in function and design.

Box Notes reflects enterprise software's shift away from complicated software, and consumers are driving the change.

The way people work has changed significantly since the days of the mainframe computer system when control over the system came from those at the top and when the processing of information was slower, said Box vice president of engineering Sam Schillace. Now, teams need to collaborate on ideas much more quickly. And consumers are sharing new tools with their colleagues at work whether their company's technology execs likes it or not.

"You have to satisfy the end users -- make them happy -- as well as making the CIOs happy," Schillace said.

Box has built a successful enterprise cloud-storage business on a user-friendly ethos. With 20 million users, Box serves 180,000 businesses, including 97 percent of Fortune's top 500 companies. But companies like the consumer-focused Evernote are gaining more traction in the workplace, so Box is trying to stay on top of what consumers like.

Box Notes incorporates Note Heads, icons that show who is changing what in real time. Box

Schillace, who originally built Google Docs, thinks there's plenty of room for competition -- and innovation -- when it comes creating content in the cloud. Evernote is popular -- it had 45 million users at the end of last year -- but with a slow adoption from large companies, users have had to use it at work on the sly.

"Evernote is a pretty narrow space. They're solving a problem pretty well. That problem is personal collection of data. It's not really a collaboration tool. It's not really a business tool," Schillace argues, adding that Box brings its expertise in enterprise, like security and compliance, to the table.

Schillace also took inspiration from the iPad app Paper, which doesn't have many features but allows for a quick record of ideas.

"You draw your presentation. It doesn't have the fancy stuff that PowerPoint does, but it's 10 times faster. It's just plain. I think there's a lot to be said for stripping away features," he said.

He drives the point home that enterprise software can no longer be complicated; consumers expect more agility from their tools. He said Box Notes provides this because it's focused on helping people capture their ideas -- not on the tools they are using.

While giving a demonstration of Box Notes, Schillace illustrated the bulkiness of Microsoft Word through its tool bars. As he opened up and added each tool bar to the document, the actual document space grew smaller and smaller.

"You get to the end and there's one line that you can type into the bottom of Word. It just gets in the way," he said.

Even his own creation isn't an safe from his crusade against traditional enterprise software.

"Google Docs, it's a great product, which I am very proud of, but it's evolved into (Microsoft) Office in the sky. All this functionality -- that's overshooting," he said.

This doesn't mean Box is getting rid of its Google Docs integration completely, but Box Notes is meant for teams that want to share ideas at a very swift pace. Currently, the real-time changes are tracked by icons, called Note Heads, with users' images so it's clear who is changing what, and users can float their mouse over annotations to see comments instantly.

The new tool will launch for beta testing soon, but won't be available for the public for another four to six months. It's very bare-bones at the moment, but over time Box plans to add a mobile component that will have push notifications when changes are made. It will also borrow heavily from Evernote's features by allowing users to drop in images and videos, see a version history, and work offline when not syncing with the cloud.

Below is the promo video for Box Notes.