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Dropbox vs. Box.net: Free Editions Reviewed and Compared

dropbox vs. box.net comparison and reviewSo, here’s the thing about Box.net vs. Dropbox. Yes, they are both cloud storage and synchronization solutions. Yes, they both have the word “box” in their names. Yes, they are both excellent for cloud file sharing. Yes, they are very, very good at what they do. But… they are completely different.

In a nutshell, the Dropbox service revolves around the concept of the magic pocket—you put something in your Dropbox folder, and it’s there for you whenever you need it, where ever you need it, be it offline, online, at work, at home or in a coffee shop, on their website etc..  Box.net on the other hand, is more of an online workspace that focuses on web-based collaboration, in the vein of  SharePoint and Google Docs. These differences are even more pronounced in the respective free versions, which we’ll be comparing and contrasting in this groovyReview.

Pricing and Plans

Dropbox and Box.net both have a free version that offers 2GB and 5 GB of cloud storage, respectively. The Dropbox Basic account is pretty much full-featured—you don’t get much extra functionality by upgrading, just more storage. The Box.net Personal plan, on the other hand, is very much a “lite”  version of Box.net Business (see feature breakdown below). The biggest omission from the free Box.net account is the desktop sync feature. More on that later. For this review, I’ll only be talking about what you can get for free. But it’s still worth mentioning the price of upgrading, because someday, you  might want to.

Dropbox Vs. Box.net Feature/Pricing Comparison

Free $9.99 $19.99 Limitations

Dropbox

dropbox free version

2 GB (Basic) 50 GB (Pro) 100 GB (Pro) Basic: 30-day  version history/undelete; Pro: unlimited version history/undelete (“Pack-Rat”)

Box.net

box.net free version

5 GB (Personal) 25 GB (Personal) 50 GB (Personal) Throttled uploads, no document version history, no desktop sync

Dropbox, as I mentioned, keeps it simple. 2 GB is free. 50 GB is $9.99 a month. 100 GB is $19.99 a month. That comes out to about $1 per 5 GB per month. Pro users also get the Pack-Rat feature, which saves all earlier and deleted versions of your files forever, instead of deleting them after 30 days.

There’s also a semi-secret Dropbox for Teams account that starts at $795 a year (~$66.25 a month) with 350 GB to share among five users. You can read more about it in our .

Box.net gives Personal users 5 GB for free. You can go up to 25 GB for $9.99 a month and 50 GB for $19.99 a month.  This comes out to about $2 per 5 GB per month. That’s twice as much as Dropbox.  Note: This only adds storage space to your account. It does not give you access to features only available to Business users.

Now, if you upgrade to Business, you get 500 GB to share among all of your users. It costs $15 per user a month. With a minimum of three users, you’re looking at $45/mo for 500 GB—but you also get the expanded functionality.

Like Dropbox, Box.net has a corporate solution: the Box.net Enterprise plan. This is a custom solution—you have to call for pricing.

For all account types, Dropbox has Box.net beat in pricing when it comes to cloud storage space and number of users. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Dropbox is a better value. It all depends on your needs, as you’ll see.

All this being said, there’s a major arms race in terms of free cloud storage. As soon as Amazon Cloud Drive or iCloud or SugarSync begins offering more free space, others tend to follow suit. The above figures may not be accurate by the time you read this post.

Box.net Feature Breakdown

box personal cloud service feature breakdown

Dropbox Pricing

dropbox pricing

Oh, one last thing: Dropbox has a referral program that rewards you (and whoever signs up with your referral link) with 250 MB of free Dropbox space. Here’s my referral link, if you haven’t signed up for Dropbox already and want 250 MB of extra space right off the bat.  Last time we checked, you can get up to .  Box.net has a referral program that pays you 25% commission, if you’re interested.

Uploading and Syncing

Dropbox is optimized as a cloud syncing service. As such, its strength lies in its desktop client. This sits unobtrusively in your system tray, keeping your local Dropbox folder synced across all your machines and in the cloud. To upload or sync files, just put it in your Dropbox folder.

cloud syncing with dropbox desktop client

You can also upload files from your web browser by logging in at Dropbox.com. Files uploaded via the web can be no larger than 300 MB. Files synced via the desktop client have no file size limit.

dropbox web uploader

The common complaint about Dropbox’s way of doing things is that it restricts your synced files to a single folder. So, if you wanted to sync a couple of folders from My Photos, some songs from My Music and a few random files from your desktop, it’s not going to happen without though. You can, however, selectively sync individual folders within your Dropbox folder (more on ) if you don’t want personal data for instance syncing to your comany PC or MAC at work. Personally, I don’t find this much of a hassle—but then again, I’ve been using Dropbox for years and I already have my system set up to keep everything in my Dropbox folder.

As mentioned above, Box.net does have a desktop sync client available—but you have to be a Business or Enterprise user for it to work. So, Personal users are left with the browser-based single file or bulk uploader. The single file uploader lets you browse for a file on your hard drive.

box.net web uploader

The bulk uploader runs a Java application that lets you drag and drop files into your browser. Uploaded files must be under 25 MB for Box.net Personal users.

box.net file size limits and bulk uploader

Without a desktop sync client, it’s kind of a pain to get files from Box.net to work on locally. You can download Box.net files one-by-one by Clicking the arrow and choosing Download. To download entire folders, you’ll have to upgrade.

downloading multiple box.net files

However, the intention is that you wouldn’t have to download the files to work with them locally, because Box.net allows you to view/edit and collaborate on files directly from your browser.

Working with Files in the Cloud

This is where Box.net shines. Dropbox wasn’t built for editing documents online. You can preview Word documents, PDFs and other common document types in your browser via shareable links. But in terms of getting in there and making changes to files on Dropbox.com, you can’t (at least not natively).

previewing dropbox folders with shared public links

If you want to edit a file in your Dropbox folder, then you’ll have to use a desktop application, such as Microsoft Word, OpenOffice, Notepad, Photoshop, etc. You just edit the local copy and it syncs the changes to the cloud. I like it that way. Only problem: desktop software is expensive. I’d like to be able to edit Dropbox files with Google Docs or Picnick or Zoho, but the way Dropbox is set up, you just can’t do that at this juncture.

Box.net, on the other hand, is all about online editing. Box.net has its own .webdocs format that is like a very limited version of Google Docs, but I wouldn’t bother with it. Instead, you can or any of the other web apps that plug-in to the Box.net API.

editing box.net docs in zoho

There’s also at least one app that lets you edit Box.net files directly from Microsoft Office, sort of like you would . It’s called DocsInOffice.com—it’s in beta and I haven’t tried it yet.

So, in a nutshell: Dropbox requires offline editing with automatic syncing to the cloud whenever you update a file. Box.net allows online editing as well as third-party web app editing. Which one is better for you depends on your weapon of choice. Oh, it’s also worth mentioning that Box.net will lock files when you are editing them online to prevent conflicts. Dropbox will save two versions of the document if a conflict crops up.

Collaborating and Sharing

Because Dropbox is about offline editing, the extent of the collaboration is pretty much embodied in shared folders. For example, MrGroove and I both have Dropbox. Our shared Dropbox folder is kept in sync on both of our computers—so if I upload or edit a doc on my hard drive, it shows up on his computer automatically.

dropbox shared folders

Dropbox also allows you to share individual files or entire folders with the public via shareable links (no Dropbox account required to view/download files). Just grab a shareable link for any file in your Dropbox folder. It looks like this:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/5zw6g8z9hcdnlc8/googlemusicterms.docx

With a little tweaking, you can also allow if you want to allow people to send you files vs. just pull files from you.

Box.net’s online editing model is more conducive to collaboration than Dropbox. Each file has its own backchannel and meta data, including tasks, tags and comments. So, for example, you can edit the file itself with Zoho Office and then explain what you did in the comments section on Box.net. You’ll also get email notifications for this info.

box.net commenting and collaboration

Or, you can assign another Box.net user a task. You can even assign a client a task. If they aren’t a Box.net user, they’ll be shown a quick three field sign-up page before they are given access.

box.net tasks and client interface

Are you starting to see how Box.net and Dropbox are fundamentally different? Box.net means to replace your project management system, document editing software and practically anything else you’d use to take a project from start to finish. Dropbox, on the other hand, is more geared towards letting you use whatever system and software you normally use—Dropbox just handles the file synchronization.

Mobility and Extensibility

The last important area to cover is mobility. Both Box.net and Dropbox are aggressively expanding their smartphone/tablet functionality. Dropbox has a very nice mobile app for iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry, and it keeps getting better with each update.

dropbox iphone app

Recently, they just added offline viewing of Dropbox files (add them as favorites and you can view files natively without Internet access). You can view PDFs, docs and photos natively and upload photos from your camera roll or take a new picture.

dropbox mobile ios app

With the iOS version, you can even save certain documents—e.g. movies—from Safari right to your Dropbox.

dropbox preview in iphone

Personally, I really love the Dropbox mobile app. It’s saved my bacon more than once when a client emailed me asking if I could re-send a document while I was away from the office.  The Dropbox mobile app easily lets you find the file you’re looking for, create a shareable link and attach it to an email. I also used Dropbox to share photo albums with my mom—I could snap a picture of her grandson and then have it on her iPad within seconds via a shared folder.

dropbox uploader iphone

Uploading from the iPhone to Dropbox is so easy that I often use it to wirelessly sync photos and screenshots rather than plugging my phone in via USB.

As with the desktop browser version, there are no native editing features, however.  You can overcome this with the vast selection of mobile apps that plug into the Dropbox API, such as Quickoffice, Documents to Go and PlainText but I personally wish it was built into the dropbox app.

dropbox apps for mobile API

Box.net has a mobile app for Android, iPad and iPhone, as well as mobile optimized site for other smartphones.

box.net iphone app

It pretty much lets you do all of the same things that Dropbox does—browse files and folders, view and share files, save files for offline access, upload photos from the camera roll, comment on files, etc.

box.net ios app

It also has an Updates tab that gives you a news feed on your document in a news feed format, so you can see who has edited a file, commented on a file, completed a task, etc.

box.net updates newsfeed for mobile

As far as editing files in the Box.net mobile app, you can’t really do that natively. But thanks to the Box.net API, you can edit Box.net files via a third-party mobile app, such as Documents To Go. In fact, Box.net has three pages of mobile apps that plug-in to Box.net. box.net mobile apps API

Overall, the Dropbox and Box.net apps are just about evenly matched, for now. There are some slight differences in UI, but nothing that qualifies as a game-changer.

Conclusion – Which is better: Dropbox or Box.net?

Declaring an absolute winner between Dropbox and Box.net doesn’t make any sense. Unlike Dropbox Vs. Sugarsync, there is quite a bit of overlap in functionality between these two services, but at the end of the day, they are designed for different purposes. The question that is really worth asking is: “What do I want my cloud-based storage service to do?If you’re looking for a very low profile, hands-off file syncing utility, definitely, definitely go with Dropbox. I would say that 99% of personal users will be more satisfied with Dropbox, and possibly a goodly chunk of business users. Dropbox works like magic. I use it everyday and I hardly ever think about it. That’s how good software should be. If you’ve been feeling jealous and/or excited after reading the hype surrounding Apple’s new iCloud service, I strongly recommend you give Dropbox a try—especially if you are a Windows or Linux user. I think you’ll find it refreshingly simple.

But if you are looking for a cloud-based collaborative workspace, go with Box.net. It has tons of collaborative features that Dropbox simply doesn’t have, the most important being an easy way to edit documents online. The commenting and tasks are notable, too. But the problem with the Box.net Personal account is that you don’t get desktop sync. That really befuddles me. It makes the free version of Box.net completely useless as a backup utility and cumbersome for anything other than spreadsheets and text documents. You could, perhaps, use Box.net as an online office suite—but Google Docs is way, way better in almost every way—at least for personal users… today. Box.net is most friendly to a business / enterprise crowd.  Big, big companies like AARP, Six Flags, MTV, Dell, Harvard Business Publishing, DirecTV and Panasonic use Box.net and love it. So, if you are a project manager or technology coordinator at a mid- to large-sized company, you might want to get in touch with the Box.net sales team and see how it can work for you. My guess is that it can be vastly more affordable and intuitive than any arduous corporate VPN or virtual workspace type of setup.

But at the end of the day, I don’t think most of our groovyReaders fall under that header. Most of us just want to have all of our files available to us everywhere. And Dropbox does that the best out of any cloud-based storage, file locker or syncing utility I’ve reviewed and used personally.

And of course, there’s no harm in getting them both and trying them each out for a 30 days. They are free after all. And if you’re unhappy with both, check out .

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22 Responses to Dropbox vs. Box.net: Free Editions Reviewed and Compared

  1. Alex June 21, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    Great review Jack. I actually read the entire review and wow… nice job.

    Ya know what tho, I think overall, box.net might be worth a try but honestly, I think this is one of those cases where first to market wins. I’m so burned out on “Try this” and “Try that”. I use dropbox and google docs. They work and I’m happy. Nothing feels missing (oh and I deleted my facebook account).

    I’m sure box.net will work for some but for me. I’m happy so why screw around with it.

  2. srebbul June 21, 2011 at 9:35 pm #

    Great review, I have tried both, and found Dropbox very useful for collaborations.

    One comment though: Dropbox free account comes with 2 GB, not 5GB (also in your screenshot above (the green badge/label on the box image))

    • Alex June 22, 2011 at 7:13 am #

      Yup. I have about 50gigs since I pay for the $10 plan but yeah, looks like Jack needs to update the article.

      • groovinJackman June 22, 2011 at 7:23 am #

        Thanks for pointing that out guys–I am not sure how that one got through! Wishful thinking, I guess.

  3. Ravendra June 21, 2011 at 9:40 pm #

    This is really a great job you had done here.

  4. Ziggy June 22, 2011 at 12:19 am #

    I’ve heard of these services before but I really couldn’t get my head around them. Internet searches hadn’t provided much either. So I was happy to find your article, which I’ll use for further reference. Thanks! I’m now just about ready to add Dropbox to my arsenal of internet tools. Keep up the good work…

    • Alex June 22, 2011 at 7:16 am #

      That’s a great idea Ziggy – Honestly, I use Dropbox for EVERYTHING these days. It basically just keeps your dropbox folder (mine sits in my mydocuments folder) in sync across all your devices so if you put a file in it, you can get to that file on all your devices. I sync mine across my home PC, work PC and iPad and iPhone. I store pictures on it, recipes, finance stuff etc….

      I discovered it about 8 months ago when I started reading this blog. Just do a search for dropbox here and there are about 100 articles about different uses for it.

      Cheers!

  5. JuanGuapo June 22, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    The only thing missing from the review was the latest security issues in Dropbox’ security.

    What Dropbox calls an “Authentication bug”
    http://blog.dropbox.com/?p=821

    Others call… “Dropbox Left User Accounts Unlocked for 4 Hours Sunday”
    http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/06/dropbox/

    Not the first time Dropbox dropped the ball either….

    “Dropbox Lied to Users About Data Security, Complaint to FTC Alleges”
    http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/05/dropbox-ftc/

  6. j.k June 22, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    This is really a great job you had done here.

  7. tinagleisner July 15, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    I think all the Box.net sales people should read, and reread this article … until they totally understand it. I found DropBox intuitive but need multi-tier sharing which they don’t have. I may use Box.Net where I can’t work around this limitation but the deceptive pricing ($15/mo … but really $45/min per mo) and lousy sales people (2 out of 2 calls, can’t sell anything) is bothersome.

    Thanks for helping me see that Box.Net is more of a collaboration tool, with group editing and opportunity for project/work flow management too (then cheaper than CentralDeskTop at $99/mo)

  8. ben November 13, 2011 at 2:51 am #

    A handy tip for signing up to DropBox… If you want some extra storage from the start
    use my referral link to sign up

    http://goo.gl/StEow

    Both Dropbox users ( you and I) get an extra 250MB on top of the free 2GB.

    Once Joined you can then refer others and receive an extra 250MB per referral up to a max of 8Gig… Free.

  9. V December 7, 2011 at 5:09 am #

    I love drop box.. but need something more.. I need Box.net’s collaboration but with dropbox usability… any thing out here that does that for small group of collaborators.

  10. Mitch December 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

    The combination of no desktop client for the free version and the file upload limit makes box.net of very limited value for me – this article very clearly articulates that it’s designed to do something different from dropbox, which I guess I hadn’t thought about…

    But for me, a 50 GB storage container in the cloud (I got in on the free 50 GB for life if you download the iOS version) is of extremely limited value when 25 MB is the biggest thing you can put into it. I had all kinds of dillusions about storing things like ghost backups, win 7 isos, or even large photo libraries…but the truth is, box.net just won’t work that way.

    One of the single BEST features of dropbox is the public folder: the ability to toss a file in there, send out a link, and let others either view or download it (with a little add-on to the URL it will download). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used this, both as posting photos to newsgroups etc and just for personal use. I honestly can’t imagine going back to a time BEFORE dropbox!

  11. Chris J January 21, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    Just wanted to verify with you. Dropbox for Teams have up to 1 Terabyte instead of the 350GB to share now. They beefed it up. Just wanted you all to know

  12. Lewis February 15, 2012 at 3:55 pm #

    we tried box.com and it is terrible, their support system is very very slow, they are not experienced. box.com ‘s tier-1 support is like a receptionist does not know anything, tier-2 redirects you to their FAQs, and it takes a week to reach tier -3 and they are not helpful at all. Do not waste your time and money even trying box.com
    we had wasted a lot of hours and our file structure messed up.
    we switched to dropbox.com , their system is very easy to use, especially for our clients. we share a lot of files with our clients and our customers love dropbox.

  13. Jose March 15, 2012 at 2:47 am #

    Good review. Lacks the encryption pitch.
    Boxnet has the files on the -totally- clear.

  14. Dave April 9, 2012 at 5:21 am #

    Amazingly thorough review! Impressive. Thanks.

  15. Clix April 13, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

    we currently use dropbox and have no issues with what its done for us thus far. However, that being said, when we grew from 1 person to 7, sharing folders and files became a mess with dropbox (not using teams).
    its simple to use, however, its just that. simple.
    I’ve had great luck and great success with sales people and support and box.com so far.
    the difference in features is enormous when looking at collaboration. if you are a single user, user dropbox. its that easy. when you need more functionality, control, features, use box.

  16. Mike April 18, 2012 at 4:28 am #

    Absolutely love Dropbox. Tried box.net very briefly; Mitch, did you notice that it is not made clear there is no desktop client for personal users until you’ve navigated like a zillion screens and created an account?

    Seems like box.net is using the “Barry Minkow ZZZ Best Carpet Cleaning” bait and switch marketing approach. You find out you can’t have all the carpet in your house steam cleaned for the $9.95 that was in the ad until all your furniture is moved and the technician is standing there with his machine set up handing you a pen and a clipboard to authorize the additional charges. Not too slick. It turned me right off. I agree, the marketing dept. at box.net needs to read and discuss this article every time they meet!

    What can I say about Dropbox other than, yeah it’s magic. I need my small general contracting business totally portable and found this to be my hot setup:

    Desktop client with company folder inside Dropbox folder.

    Version 1.2.4 of the Android app. It’s SUPER basic; that favorites thing for offline viewing I found to be kind of a joke which leads me to…

    Dropsync for Android (current version) I use the manual sync; last time I checked, the automatic sync or watched folders was a big drain on the battery

    That’s it! Great article, love the website. Thank you!

  17. minty95 May 9, 2012 at 7:53 am #

    BOX give android users a 50gb account, so while I have 5gb with Dropbox,

    so I have 10 times more with BOX, I’m now using Box more than Dropbox, though I miss the desktop syncing, so I might sign up for the buisness version, I’ll get 1000GB and the desktop syncing, all for $15 per month

  18. John September 29, 2012 at 11:12 am #

    I had gotten a 50gig account free with box.com as part of a promotion last year with the iPhone. Recently, they’ve given sync access to non-corporate customers. However, the sync performance is extremely slow. I’d advise people to go with dropbox or sky drive.

    If I was a corporate user of box.com with this poor sync performance, I’d already have migrated my company to another solution.

  19. Brandyn June 27, 2013 at 9:30 pm #

    You could always just create a WebDav network location in My Computer, which is http://www.box.net/dav/. to access your files like you would with a local folder.

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