Dropbox Gets Down To Business, Adds More Sharing Features And Search For Enterprises

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Dropbox, now at 300 million users globally, says that there are 4 million businesses today using its cloud-based platform to store, distribute and share documents. But of those, only around 80,000 have opted so far to use Dropbox for Business, the company’s premium enterprise tier launched earlier this year. Today, the startup is making a move to sweeten the deal, unveiling a host of new features to enhance Dropbox for Business. They include a lot of new (and more secure) ways to share documents, and an interesting move that points to Dropbox’s bigger platform ambitions: the introduction of full-text search.

It’s also adding two new APIs for developers to have more flexible ways to show documents to users. There are currently over 300,000 apps that integrate the Dropbox cloud platform, according to Ilya Fushman, the company’s head of product.

The moves come as Dropbox, now valued at around $10 billion, is tipped as an IPO candidate. It’s not clear whether Dropbox is currently profitable, but boosting paying subscribers — Business it Dropbox’s highest service tier and costs $15 per user per month at a minimum of five users — will undoubtedly help the company firm up its bottom line as it gears up for an IPO and seeks to avoid the fate of Box, whose own public offering has been delayed.

Another interesting scaling move: the company is now focusing on opening and ramping up a new international headquarters in London. Fushman, who I met in London earlier this week along with Dropbox’s EMEA head Johann Butting, tells me that international accounts for 70% of Dropbox’s business, and Europe (despite some controversy) is the biggest part of that and around one-third of customers. The UK is the company’s number-two market after the U.S.

Here’s a rundown of the new features:

Security and control

Dropbox has been in the news of late with question marks over, in light of all of the NSA revelations, whether it is as secure as other cloud-storage platforms. Edward Snowden, in fact, described it as “hostile to privacy” earlier this month. But while Dropbox (along with other tech giants) continues to fight Washington over more transparency, it’s making moves for more security on another level, now available for early access to Dropbox for Business users.

It’s introducing view-only permissions for shared folders, so that those creating files can set them in such a way that only approved people are able to edit them; and it’s extending that further with password-protection and links that can expire after a specified period of time. “For example, if you’re sharing information with a contractor, you can set those links to expire when the project is over and be assured your contractor won’t have access to those files,” Fushman notes.

Full Text Search

Search and Harmony

The full-text search, Fushman tells me, was build completely in-house (and by a team outside of the many acqui-hires the company has made over the last several months). Rolling out over the next few months, the idea here is that the search will be significantly deeper than what’s currently there, which only allows users to search by file name. Fushman would not say what the longer-term plans are with search but when you consider the other services that Dropbox has been building, acquiring and integrating — Carousel for images, Mailbox for email — I suspect that we will see a big capability boost in search to eventually include other services on the Dropbox platform as well.

The other interesting area in terms of document improvements is in a widening of Dropbox’s Project Harmony. This was debuted earlier this year and was Dropbox’s big move to start rendering and editing Microsoft Office documents better on Dropbox. Now the company says it will be extending this to Android as well.

APIs

Lastly, Dropbox is making some API improvements. Aimed at developers, they will basically let apps that integrate Dropbox-based documents more flexibility in what can be linked to — either in the form of a Shared Folder or a Document Preview. One of most interesting aspects of the new APIs is that, when a user does choose to download a shared document, it remains linked to the original file, so that if and when the master file gets modified, the downloaded version is updated, too.

It’s moves like these that will make Dropbox a more functional platform for business users — taking it beyond simple, dumb storage and into the realm of products that keep users engaged and less likely to churn to other providers.

There is still a long way to go, though. Although cloud services have most definitely disrupted how a lot of companies run their businesses, they are still far from ubiquitous, with many companies either working with legacy infrastrucutre for on-premises solutions, or simply not wanting to take the risk of pushing everything into the nebulae.

For now, Fushman says that Dropbox is not yet offering an integrated on-premises/cloud solution, either for storage or to work with its indexing functionality. That’s but one area that the company might tackle to find more relevance with the business users it so clearly would like to court.