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Perhaps at some point, third-party cloud storage will be invited back in

If you want to use Office documents on mobile devices, you go with the cloud platform that comes with the mobile app you’ve chosen. This likely means businesses will face having documents stored in two or more cloud storage services based on employee app preferences. Whatever is stored in Box, Dropbox, ShareFile, and so on will be essentially orphaned, requiring real hoops for users to jump through to access — and especially to save back to.

Phillip Redman, a former Gartner analyst now working for Citrix, believes this situation is temporary. He’s seen such power grabs before, where market leaders try to force everyone to use only their ecosystem. But they can’t keep it up for long, he says, because blocking access to third-party storage is a “market inhibitor.” Redman quickly stopped using Office for iPad because it doesn’t work with his company’s cloud storage; he’s back to using Citrix’s own document editor as well as iWork, which can import and export files to cloud storage services, albeit inelegantly.

As for Google Docs, Redman notes, “Google Drive is not the most popular enterprise storage system. Google may not care because it’s not enterprise-focused.” As a result, Google Drives’ disdain for mobile users will solve its enterprise storage-compatibility problem by causing enterprises to avoid Google Docs if they have mobile users. The fact that Google Drive for mobile is a terrible editor makes it easier to come to that decision. Redman suspects the office productivity question will come down to Apple and Microsoft for most business users, supplemented by specialty tools for those who have higher security needs.

That’s why Citrix bought Office2HD, a well-regarded iOS document editor, and made it part of its ShareFile service — as Citrix’s captive-ecosystem alternative to Microsoft’s and Apple’s captive document editors, giving Citrix users a way to keep using the enterprise-manageable ShareFile for Office documents. “It was not a business we expected to be in,” Redman notes.

Over time, Redman expects Microsoft at least, and perhaps Apple, to open up to third-party services, if for no other reason than it can’t do everything well. “I think the new [Microsoft] CEO [Satya Nadella] accelerated the need to be open and the need to integrate,” he says. That would serve everyone well, as tools like Office could then work across any popular storage service, including those managed by enterprise.

In the meantime, Redman expects users will do what he did: Pick a productivity app that works best for their needs and storage preferences, thought it makes it hard for Box and Dropbox, which have no captive document editors as Citrix now has. He expects Citrix and others to expand out of simple cloud storage into more intelligent document handling and collaboration, from chalkboarding to mutual markup.

No one at Dropbox was available to discuss this issue, but I did speak with Chris Yeh, a senior vice president at Box, about the possible existential challenge posed by Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Like Citrix’s Redman, Yeh sees cloud storage moving more and more into specific workflows, such as PDF annotation and digital signing on the lower end and handling insurance or financial documents on the higher end, rather than be universally accessible like a hard drive or network file share. Such usage is more strategic for enterprises, and even if users stop seeing names like Box, IT will want providers like Box to handle that embedded storage and document management, he says.

Box is also looking to partner with medium-sized businesses’ preferred SaaS platforms, such as Salesforce.com and Google Docs, despite Google dropping Box support from Quickoffice. And it would partner with other providers like Mobisoft to offer document editing if need be. Yeh suspects Google will eventually reverse that decision, and he says it’s contrary to how Google usually collaborates.

Yeh also believes Microsoft will open up support for Box and others at some point. “I think the company’s tendency is to open things up,” which he says Microsoft has confirmed in conversations as recently as yesterday. In fact, “to build dominant platforms today, you have to open up.”

If Yeh’s and Redman’s optimism that Microsoft and perhaps the others will reverse course doesn’t pan out — Yeh says “it’s a good time for customers to make their desires known” — Apple, Google, and Microsoft will succceed in forcing out Box, Dropbox, ShareFile, and so on from their roles as universal cloud storage and into back-end infrastructure. That’s a very different game, dominated by the likes of EMC Documentum and SAN providers.

But it’s clearly where Box, Dropbox, Citrix, and the others are going to go whether or not they find their way back into office productivity apps.

Source: Associated Press

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