File syncing, or making the most up-to-date version of your files available to you anytime, anywhere, somewhat effortlessly, has singlehandedly changed basic workflows for people who have multiple computers and mobile devices. Say you have files on your office computer than you want to edit from home. A file-syncing service puts those files in your hands without requiring you to lug home a clunky laptop or worry about emailing files to yourself, which is sloppy and error-prone. And with half a dozen very good file-syncing services available, finding the one that meets your needs can eat up precious time.
Box, formerly Box.net and now sometimes referred to as Box.com, deserves serious consideration by anyone looking for a file-syncing service.? Although its fee-based version for businesses offers a more enticing proposition than its free Personal edition. (This review considers the latter.) Box has a few unique features that you won't find in other file-syncing services, as well as a decent 5GB of free storage space to start. A paid account will buy you more space and several additional security and collaboration features, but at a much higher price than what'll pay for most other services (more pricing details below).
Because Box has some online document creation and editing capabilities, it's more closely comparable with Google Drive (formerly Google Docs, and now with localized syncing included) and SkyDrive than Dropbox or SugarSync. Head-to-head, Box just can't beat Google or SkyDrive. Historically, it didn't have to, though. Box was a great solution to tough problem before Google Drive existed and before SkyDrive reached its current and mature iteration. Box can actually integrate with Google Drive, but why would you need it to when Google can take now care of all your file-syncing and online document creation and editing problems on its own?
Neither Dropbox nor SugarSync offers online document creation and editing, but for their stated purpose (file-syncing), they both work smoothly and across a multitude of devices. Box sits somewhere between those two options and Google Drive, not quite reaching the bar set by Google, but exceeding the capabilities of Dropbox and SugarSync. ?
A Box account starts with creating a login and downloading some light apps to the devices that you want to synchronize. You can download and install the desktop apps, Box Sync for Windows or Mac, to sync local files on your computer, and on mobile devices, it's compatible with Android, BlackBerry, iOS, and Windows Phone.
The installed Box worked fairly seamlessly on the Mac where I installed it, showing up as Box Documents which contained a folder called Default Sync Folder (in the directory /users/name/Box Documents). This set up mirrors Dropbox in some sense. Both find a default location and put a folder there for you. End of story. SugarSync, on the other hand, lets you choose which folders you want to sync (in addition to giving you one dedicated SugarSync folder). Anyone who is familiar with the ins and outs of file syncing will likely prefer SugarSync's method, but the simpler solution works, too.
When Box is syncing your files, you'll see a little orange syncing image on the left side of the file or folder icon (see the slideshow). When a file or folder has fully synced, the tiny icon for it will have a blue circle with white checkmark.
Anything put into the synced folder becomes accessible via Box's Web app, and also synchronized across other devices on which you install Box. If you don't have one of your connected devices with you, your files are still accessible via the Box website. From there, you can download files, upload new versions (if you're working on a shared or public computer, for example), create new Web files either with Box's document editor or Google's, share files, add tags, and more.
Box's ability to create files right from the website would be a huge deal if it weren't already available in Google Drive and SkyDrive. Google Drive and SkyDrive both have more file formats, plus thorough exporting capabilities, so you can export a spreadsheet, for example, from Google Drive or SkyDrive to .xlsx, .txt, .csv, .pdf, and so forth. Box doesn't.
Box in Use
When I first started syncing files on the Mac where I had installed the syncing app, I dumped them into the Box Document area, which shows up in the Finder window under Favorites, alongside Applications, Downloads, Music, and Pictures. It's not a folder you can move.? I balked when the files jumped into the Default Sync Folder (a folder that's automatically created within the Box Document space) all on their own. I guess Box wants you to keep your files tidy in a folder, but I'm the kind of user who wants to know exactly where my data is stored, which is part of the appeal of SugarSync. SugarSync gives you the keys to the car, whereas Dropbox and Box play chauffer (well, their default settings do anyway).