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Dropbox Harmony - offence or defence?

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy April 9, 2014
Is Dropbox Harmony an offensive move   to consolidate its enterprise position or a defensive move against Box?

Dropbox is coming out with a slew of announcements this week. In summary:

Dropbox unveils Carousel for organizing your photos and videos
Dropbox Hits 275M Users And Launches New Business Product To All
Condoleezza Rice Joins Dropbox's Board of Directors
Dropbox Announces ‘Project Harmony’ To Bring Collaborative Features To Microsoft Office

Our interest is skewed towards Project Harmony, a clear attempt to consolidate its growing position in the enterprise as counterpoint to Box's attention grabbing pre-IPO announcement.

Details are a tad thin on Harmony and we have to wait until Friday for the company to say more other than it is claiming a way to collaborate inside Microsoft Office documents.

Regardless, the pundits are already out in force attempting to parse what this means. This from Venture Beat:

For example, when two people are collaborating on, say, a PowerPoint slide deck, they can both download the file, see in real time when the other person has made a change, and see the change. Little “chat heads” even appear in the corner, so one can keep track of the collaboration activity.

It speculates this represents a beach head against Google drive while hedging its bets elsewhere:

 [It] might be taking on Google Drive’s collaborative features — and it’s something it really should have done a few years ago, if we’re being honest.

With that said, Google Drive might not actually be Dropbox’s target here — it’s not creating its own document format as Google Drive did.

Dropbox is probably recognizing that Microsoft Office isn’t exactly going away, or at least not in the corporate world, and working on top of it is a safer bet.


Any thought that Dropbox views Google Drive as a serious competitor is fanciful. Google continues to make the right noises in the direction of enterprise and, as Derek DuPreez observes, is making progress in at least getting a seat at the negotiating table. We see plenty of utility for Google Apps in small business but the market reality is that in the corporate world, Google Docs plays a very long way behind second fiddle to GMail which itself has not taken that much share from Outlook/Exchange.

We use Google Docs and, quite frankly, it is only just about good enough. In many instances, a full blown word processor of the kind offered by Microsoft or even Apple's Pages, would serve far better. On presentations, PowerPoint still wins hands down and Excel is the corporate spreadsheet standard.

Acting as an alternative to Microsoft's OneDrive definitely makes sense for those organizations where Dropbox has laready made significant inroads. Far better for a user organization to let its people stick with what they know from the consumer world than try getting them to switch. Provided of course that all the right compliance checks and balances are in place.

However, downloading and then collaborating? That sounds like a kludge to me and I'd want to see how that works out in practice. Being able to see on screen what someone is editing in Google Docs is far more intuitive and doesn't require me to download or upload anything I'm simply sharing.

What about Box?

Box opens the box on its inner numbers as an IPO is finally confirmedAaron Levie OK so it was the…Mar 25

As part of this analysis, I asked Phil Wainewright for his opinion as it relates to the competitive landscape. In email, he responded:

This is vaporware currently - though more likely calculated to fit in with the timing of Microsoft announcements than merely to draw attention away from Box's IPO.

Box integration with Sharepoint is very important to them (I was with Ross Mason of MuleSoft on Tuesday - Box whitelabel their API tool specifically to connect to Sharepoint). So what with OneDrive pricing and now this Dropbox thing Box is looking under pressure there but remember there is a massive addressable market for all players to carve up.

What about mobile?

But...if we are to believe the world and his dog are going mobile then how does this fit in?

Over the last weekend I tuned into a discussion on this topic aired by the Gilmor Gang. Skim through the video to find the discussion on this topic with  John Borthwick, Dan Farber, Robert Scoble, John Taschek, Kevin Marks, and Steve Gillmor. While much of the debate was around the utility (or otherwise) of Evernote and Quip in a mobile world and how current solutions were never engineered for mobile, Farber correctly pointed out that in the real world, Microsoft Office rules while others also correctly pointed out that document creation and editing remains a largely solitary task. It then leaves open the question why, how and where document collaboration makes sense such that this is a big deal.

In our world, we see an increasing number of people coming to diginomica via mobile devices - around 25% - but we equally know that a very small percentage of those same people use their mobile device as a way of creating, editing and sharing documents.

It may well be that with the pendulum having swung away from tablet to smartphone, that a renewed interest in document collaboration swings the pendulum back the other way. Of one thing we are certain, the mobile world is both in its infancy and subject to extreme volatility as fashion changes with the seasons. Nevertheless, mobile considerations are important and should not be ignored.


  1. This is work in progress that has not been fully defined.
  2. We don't know enough yet to be certain how this plays out  - there will be more to come once we see what Friday holds.
  3. Buyers who are looking for simple collaboration on documents rather than inside business processes might want to examine their user landscape to discover who uses Dropbox - or Box - already.
  4. The mobile element has yet to make a significant impact on solutions that are still wedded to the desktop.
  5. Overall cost will play a part in what is becoming a complex decision for enterprise buyers.



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