Box.Net, the cloud storage provider turned cloud content management platform for businesses, yesterday announced a new feature for their mobile apps which will let users store documents offline. In a blog post today, Aaron Levie, CEO of Box.net, wrote about the new feature.
Today’s workplace has exploded beyond the office walls and into coffee shops, airplanes and our homes. At Box, we’re building a powerful mobile platform to meet the demands of this increasingly mobile workforce, making it easy for you to access, share and collaborate on your content, wherever you are. But what happens when “wherever” has a spotty data connection, or no Wi-Fi access? We believe that just because your connectivity sucks, that’s no reason your productivity has to suffer.
We’re excited to announce some powerful new updates to both our iPhone and iPad apps, soon to be available for free in the App Store.
Well, this app is already out in the Apple App store and I played around with it a bit. It basically does the following
  • It gives an option to the users to select files they want to store offline
  • It caches some recently used files for the users just in case if they need it without internet connectivity
Even though this could come handy, I am a bit worried about the security of cached data and Box.Net hasn’t talked anything about it in the blog post. Another associated feature I would love to have is a way for me to delete the cache from their web app, just in case I lose my iPad/iPhone and whoever finds it takes it online (some remote wiping option).
Well, the point about this post is entirely different. According to SiliconRepublic.com, the reason for this feature is a study Box.net conducted with D7 Consulting where they found that there is a clear need for offline support in a world where connectivity is still not as ubiquitous as the cloud providers would like.
Aaron Levie, co-founder and CEO of Box.net, says the company is doing research with D7 Consulting in order to ascertain how the app is being used by small industries.
It found that one of the biggest feature requests from D7 Consulting was to be able to access files offline.
Connectivity was seen to be an issue particularly if users were travelling on an airplane or if they were using Wi-Fi only device.
This is particularly interesting because few other cloud providers had offered offline access for their web applications and found out that it was not used by their users as they originally expected. For example, Google released Google Gears, a plugin for the browsers to take web applications offline. Later on, they stopped development on the plugin and it is not supported on Chrome browser right now. Even though they promise to include offline functionality through HTML5 later, the very fact that they stopped supporting Gears before they could get HTML5 functionality working speaks about the kind of traction they must be seeing on the Offline usage. I also had a chance to talk to Raju Vegesna of Zoho (disclaimer: Zoho is a sponsor of this blog but this is my independent opinion) more than a year back on this topic. He mentioned to me that even though their users want to have the offline feature enabled by Gears technology, Zoho is not seeing significant usage by their users. I heard similar opinions from few other vendors who were either using Gears technology to offer offline functionality to their SaaS apps or exploring such an option.
Yesterday’s announcement by Box.net brings this topic into focus again. Do people really want to have offline access to their data stored in cloud services? Even if they have access like in the case of Box.net, what is the use of such an access without the availability of apps that can open such files/data? As we go further along with SaaS and other cloud based services in a world where ubiquitous connectivity is still a pipe dream, this issue is going to come up again and again. I am really keen to know how users and vendors feel about giving offline access to their cloud services. After all, offline access goes against the very spirit of cloud computing. How do you feel? Do you think SaaS and other cloud providers should offer offline access to your data?
Disclaimer: Box.net is a client of Diversity Analysis.
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Krishnan Subramanian

Krish dons several avatars including entrepreneur in exile, analyst cum researcher, technology evangelist, blogger, ex-physicist, social/political commentator, etc.. My main focus is research and analysis on various high impact topics in the fields of Open Source, Cloud Computing and the interface between them. I also evangelize Open Source and Cloud Computing in various media outlets, blogs and other public forums. I offer strategic advise to both Cloud Computing and Open Source providers and, also, help other companies take advantage of Open Source and Cloud Computing. In my opinion, Open Source commoditized software and Cloud Computing commoditized computing resources. A combination of these two developments offers a strong competitive advantage to companies of all sizes and shapes. Due to various factors, including fear, the adoption of both Open Source and Cloud Computing are relatively slow in the business sector. So, I take it upon myself to clear any confusion in this regard and educate, enrich and advise users/customers to take advantage of the benefits offered by these technologies. I am also a managing partner in two consulting companies based in India. I blog about Open Source topics at http://open.krishworld.com and Cloud Computing related topics at http://www.cloudave.com.

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