Microsoft Partners with Dropbox on Office Integration

Microsoft on Tuesday announced a strategic partnership with Dropbox that will bring better integration between its Office product and the Dropbox cloud storage service.

The integration will enable more fluid file access, editing and file sharing for end users, according to Microsoft's announcement. The two companies expect the new functionality to become available in "the next few weeks" on Office apps for Android and iOS devices, and sometime "in the first half of 2015" on Office Online Web apps. Dropbox, for its part, will be providing its cloud storage service for Windows Phone and Windows tablets "in the coming months."

All Microsoft Office users with a Dropbox account will have access to the new integrated features except for business users of Office. They will also need an Office 365 subscription to access them.

Integrated Experience
The integration can be experienced from Office apps or from Dropbox. Users add their Dropbox account to Excel, PowerPoint or Word. Once that's done, they can see their Dropbox folders and files through those Office apps.

Similarly, Dropbox users will be able to edit and share Office files directly through Dropbox. Any changes made to the Office files will get synchronized and automatically saved to Dropbox. Sharing Office files from Dropbox can be done via an e-mail attachment or by a link, according to a Microsoft blog post.

Dropbox noted the value of this partnership with Microsoft, as many Dropbox users store their Office documents using the Dropbox service. The company claims that its storage service is used to house "over 35 billion Office documents, spreadsheets and presentations." In addition, more than 80,000 organizations are using its Dropbox for Business service.

[Click on image for larger view.] Editing an Office file from a Dropbox mobile app. (Source: Microsoft)

Microsoft and Dropbox aren't just partners; they also are competitors in enterprise file synchronization and sharing business. Microsoft's own competitive offering is its OneDrive and OneDrive for Business storage services. Oddly, not long before this partnership deal with Dropbox was announced, Microsoft let it be known that it is rolling out unlimited OneDrive storage space to all of its Office 365 subscribers at no additional cost. It's a move that would seem to put pressure on the more pure storage service companies, such as Dropbox and Box.

In Dropbox's case, though, users may already be committed to the Dropbox platform, according to Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research.

"There are already millions of users on each of those other services [such as Dropbox or Box]," Lepofsky explained via e-mail. "Migration is never easy either technically or culturally. Now, Microsoft gets the best of both worlds: people using Office without forcing migrations."

Lepofsky noted that Dropbox is already behind its competitor, Box, which already has integration with Office 365. He sees these deals as furthering Microsoft's competition with Google in the broader productivity suite and storage markets.

"This deal does pose a challenge for Google and their Google for Work offering, as it leads to more people using Microsoft Office," he said. "In the bigger picture, what I like is that it's good to see Microsoft opening up their ecosystem to partners who previously would have been considered competitors."

Office 365 Open APIs
In October, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told analyst and consulting firm Gartner Inc. that the "most important developer API is the Office 365 extension." That's a follow-on elucidation from Microsoft's SharePoint Conference announcement in March. Back then, Microsoft had explained that it had built RESTful open APIs for third-party developers to leverage when building their apps. The idea is that developers don't have to build against specific Microsoft platforms, such as Exchange, SharePoint and Lync.

That latter point was recently emphasized by Brian Jones, group program manager of the Office Developer Platform team. In a Microsoft-produced podcast, Jones explained that Microsoft found that most independent software vendors were not traditional Office developers and they would just abandon a project if they couldn't figure out Microsoft's particular APIs. Now, developers can just write to the Microsoft Office service platform, instead of having to figure out the code for specific Microsoft products.

The Dropbox and Box integrations appear to be examples where those new API capabilities were leveraged, making things easier for their end users. On the flip side, the integration also greatly benefits Microsoft by making Office and Office 365 services more "sticky" for end users.

Microsoft partner SHI International sees Microsoft's increased integration of Office as a benefit to its customers. SHI provides deployment planning and datacenter optimization services to organizations.

"From a partner perspective, SHI likes when customers are given the freedom to utilize multiple solutions in delivering three things their end-users need: mobility, storage and the ability to collaborate," stated Ed McNamara, SHI's director of marketing, via e-mail. "The more options that are available to customers, the more SHI's value in helping to manage the procurement and deployment of these options is realized."

Even though Microsoft and Dropbox are competitors, they have some common ground for a partnership.

"Since Microsoft just offered unlimited storage to O365 users, I am sure they are more than happy to let other companies, like Dropbox, offload some of the massive amounts of data they'll need to support," McNamara said.

Market Consolidation
Gartner's July "Magic Quadrant for Enterprise File Synchronization and Sharing" report described potential consolidation coming in this market, with collaboration and content management providers absorbing the pure file sync and sharing service providers by 2017. The report predicted that less than 10 percent of those standalone service vendors would still be in business by that time.

Gartner's July report described the "leaders" in the file sync and sharing business as being Accellion, Box, Citrix and EMC. The "challengers," according to Gartner, were Dropbox, Google, IBM and Microsoft.


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