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Box trying to unify cloud storage for business apps

New OneCloud service allows files created in one mobile or cloud app to be opened in another.

Box's OneCloud app for iOS well let users access the same file from different apps.

Dropbox-for-the-enterprise company Box is launching a new program today that aims to unify data storage for online and mobile business apps.

The company's OneCloud app launcher (iOS only so far) is a centralized spot for users to get into business apps, but more important, it's also a window into data and files created in those apps. And it lets users users open files created in one app in another.

For example, if a user grabs a signature in EchoSign, he or she would be able to see that contract in OneCloud, and then open it in another app that can use documents, like PaperPort Notes or Quickoffice.

It's the kind of general data accessibility that users take for granted on personal computers, where (until recently at least), applications used computers' file systems to store data. As we all know, files stored through Windows, OS X, or Linux can then be moved where the user wants, opened in other apps, backed up, emailed around, and so forth.

This kind of flexibility doesn't exist with most mobile and Web apps, which handle their own data storage. Box CEO Aaron Levie thinks there's an opportunity in changing that. OneCloud is a step in the right direction, but it's not the complete solution yet.

For one thing, none of the supported apps yet offer native support to each others' files or to files available from OneCloud. You can't go into QuickOffice and grab a file that's been created in another app. Levie wants developers to build that, but that's a bigger project (for Box and for developers) than the current solution, which was to create just the launcher app. I fear users may forget about it if they don't use it all the time, though.

However, the idea of the universal, cloud-based, mobile-friendly file system is big, and very important. On the consumer side it is already taking hold. Witness iCloud and the commercials Apple is running to push the concept.

Will Box be the company to build the universal cloud file system? Levie hopes so. The competitive set is pretty serious, though: Google could well do this. In fact, Google Apps (the business version of Google Docs) offers a lot of this capability for companies in the Google sphere.

Two other companies have key pieces to build the business cloud but lack key pieces to win in the enterprise, at least according to Levie: Apple and Amazon (with AWS). Both have the necessary core infrastructure and the visibility among developers, but neither have the experience working with enterprise data that Box has, he says.

Levie sees Microsoft as the natural competitor. It has the infrastructure (Windows Azure), it has the developer relationships, and most importantly it has an enterprise-savvy technology sales team. Microsoft has not been the obvious leader in building lean mobile enterprise apps nor the infrastructure for them, but the company does have the pieces in place to become the business cloud storage vendor and integrator, at least on paper.

Box's OneCloud is a good attack on unifying mobile and cloud enterprise data.