Box is increasingly being adopted for file sharing and collaboration across government agencies nationwide. While Box is not yet a full-blown records management solution, it is one of the best ways to create, share, and secure working files. And now that they’ve announced Box Drive beta, it’s gotten even better.
Box Drive joins a suite of desktop tooling to make the use of Box even more transparent, and allow it to fit in your regular workflow. Prior to Box Drive, there was Box Sync and Box Edit. Box Edit is a streamlined way to launch typical Office documents from the browser, edit them, and save them back directly to Box (a sort of hybrid scenario allowing you to leverage Box in the browser with local desktop functionality). Box Sync is a way to pull down all (or selected) Box files automatically to your local computer, and if edited, they are automatically updated in the cloud.
One could speculate that Box Drive is going to replace Box Sync, because Box Drive solves some key problems Sync doesn’t, like, “How can I get my Box documents to show up on my computer like all other files without killing my local storage? And interact with them in the same way as local files?” Box Drive has a magic trick up its sleeve—It does not actually download the files until you use them.
When you open your Box drive folder, you will see all your files. But instead of taking up space on your local hard drive, Box uses what is called file streaming to bring them down only when you need them.
In addition to all that Box Sync does, Box Drive addresses three key problems:
- Syncing. In many large organizations, Box users are unable to sync all files because it takes up too much space, which means doing awkward file size vs. frequency of use math to decide what you will selectively sync.
- File isolation. Most people’s local file storage is a mess. Even the most organized people have a hard time keeping files organized when they come and go so quickly. But in Box, it’s important to be organized, and not let a desktop file disaster spread. By implementing Box Drive as its own virtual drive, isolation of files is easier to manage so that users are less likely to put files in the wrong place.
- Local functionality. It will enable the use of more advanced web-based Box functionality on your local machine—especially as Box introduces more file metadata and securing tools.
Of course, the team at CloudPWR installed Box Drive Beta the moment it was available. As the sole source vendor of Box licenses in the state of Washington, it is our job to understand all new functionality, and vet it for our clients. The beta is working great. Here is how my install went.
It’s a quick download from the Box Drive site.
After Box Drive install, and all files being visible:
There are still 176 GB available—with a difference of only about 500 MB that is mostly accounted for by the actual size of the Box Drive application. Amazing! All my files were there. While launching them did reveal a noticeable delay, it was only by about one second—not enough of a latency to feel that minor panic of failed file launch. This was across all my Macs. Granted, one is brand new, but my primary machine is five years old.Now, if I look at the Box Drive space usage, I see it’s taking 0 bytes, but I see all the available storage pulled directly from our Box account.
And of course, there is the great context menu to easily share links or view a file in the browser.
One aspect of the tool we have not yet fully tested is when files are being edited in two separate locations by two separate users. This takes some more in-depth testing. The assumption is that it will be handled similarly to Box Sync or web browser Box Edit.
As with anything new, there are some things to be aware of. The first is that it’s not always clear when files have been moved from the local drive to Box Drive. You have to be vigilant and watch for the sync icon to appear to make sure the file goes over. As a best practice for now, you should have the folder open when you transfer files so that you can see the icon appear, rather than dragging files into a folder.
For many organizations, this is not and should not be a problem. Box content is usually created and lives and dies in Box already, so transfer from the local drive to Box should be minimal.
The other challenge organizations will have is that Box Drive streaming is not available if you are not connected to the Web. Unlike Sync, where you get error messages with no connectivity, Box Drive takes a “do no harm” approach—which might be annoying, but is very smart. If the files have a local cache (copy saved locally for a short amount of time), you can access them, which is great. But if you have not visited the folder where the file exists, there is no cache. This can be scary, because it can show up as an empty folder. But your files are not gone. There simply is no index of them locally, which means there is no way to try to open them and run into a potential issue (for instance, if you already had the file open when you lost your Internet connection). If it’s open, you have a local cache, and it will be updated as soon as your connection is restored. I suspect they will create some features down the line like grayed out files to make it clearer.
The app also does not save state of folders. For most folders, local on both Mac and Windows, the view and way files are sorted in a folder is maintained, so that when you go back, it has the same look and feel. With Box Drive, it’s reset every time you open it again. (So if I left the folder in Cover Flow view, it will go back to List when I reopen it. Not really an issue.)
I wish there were more settings. I want settings for local cache size, and possible rules on types of files to bring down. Like files modified in the last xxx days. Or with specific tags, or comments. This is where Box Sync might be distinguished from Box Drive. (You should note that they should not be installed at the same time, for a variety of technical and organizational reasons.)
The performance blows me away. Prior to the introduction of Box Drive, Box Sync did have some clear issues and limitations, and did not come close to Dropbox’s local sync tool. While Dropbox has alluded to similar functionality, called Dropbox Infinite, but it has not launched yet, and the pressure is on, because Box Drive is fantastic.
If you are curious about other details of Box Drive, contact us and we will be able to demo and recommend when and where it should be used.