Google Drive vs Box: Share Your World With Security

obrBy Joseph Gildred — Last Updated: 14 May'18 2016-10-25T11:58:50+00:00

At first blush, it might seem a trifle unfair — getting pitted against a leviathan like Google, in a Google Drive vs Box showdown.

But Box is no common fish in the sea. Founded in 2005, this excellent niche player had a 7-year head start on Google Drive to build its brand. Today, Box claims 41 million registered users and 59,000 paying clients.

Moreover, its customer base includes 92% of all Fortune 500 companies. Box succeeded by recognizing its role as a business solution first, and a consumer-oriented solution second.

Google Drive, meanwhile, focuses its considerable resources on capturing the hearts and minds of end users.

The result? 240 million active users. Not too shabby.  While Google may win in an overall head-to-head competition, it does so with the glaring caveat that if you’re looking for a cloud storage solution to build a business on, Box is the better bet.

Over the course of this article, I’ll outline the general considerations I make when evaluating cloud storage solutions for my use.

Then, I’ll use that context as a basis for four head-to-head rounds — betwixt Google Drive vs Box. In the end, you’ll see why I, as an individual consumer, am sticking with Google Drive for the time being.


Table of Contents:


Time to Stop Worrying and Start Sharing

I belong to several online digital nomadic communities, with whom I share and steal various lifehack travel tips.

Not long ago, during a discussion about losing one’s passport while traveling, I offered the sage advice of scanning a digital copy using a smartphone camera and uploading it to the cloud.

I probably should have anticipated the backlash that quickly followed.

Since its inception in the public consciousness, security and privacy have been sticking points in any discussion about adopting a cloud storage solution.

And why not? I mean, calling something the “cloud” doesn’t exactly evoke feelings of impenetrabililty. High-profile hacks, like the 2014 iCloud breach, which involved several celebrity accounts, also don’t help.

And then there was that little incident where Edward Snowden told the world that Facebook, Dropbox, and Google were working with the United States National Security Agency.

Yes, there has been a public recommitment to user privacy led by the ousted tech giants. And yes, the United States Congress passed a bill ending the NSA’s bulk surveillance program.

But when considering a cloud storage solution, understanding precisely how a potential provider handles security and privacy should be near the top of your list of considerations.

Plenty of Square Footage, But Can Your Files Fit Through the Door?

Confession time: I’m pretty bad at deleting emails. I have 23,157 of them sitting in my Gmail inbox, as of this writing. The ostensible issue is that Gmail’s 15GB of space gets shared with Google Drive and Google Photos. 

And yet, all of those emails add up to just 2.25 GB.

The 200-plus Docs and Sheets I’ve stored, meanwhile, don’t even crack a single gigabyte. At this rate, I can comfortably refrain from deleting emails for the foreseeable future.

If on the other hand, I was to launch a business venture, or choose to become a YouTube sensation and needed a place to store raw and edited videos, I’d want to look beyond the basic free offerings that cloud storage providers offer.

Is the next tier cost effective?

How much more data do I get?

How many tiers exist beyond that?

Space isn’t the only thing that should be on your mind when evaluating storage capabilities since most cloud storage providers put a cap on the size of uploadable files.

Some limits are generously large, others, not so much. And then there are various “rules” that differ from provider-to-provider.

It pays dividends to spend some time not just gauging the overall size of your data collection, but also the size of individual files which make up that collection.

The Cloud Collaboration Craze

When Docs was born nearly ten years ago, following Google’s acquisition of Writely, I wasn’t buying (sure, it was free, so technically there wasn’t anything to buy).

I was a creature of habit, and had been writing in MS Word from the safety of my clunky old desktop, since before I could spell “disruptive technology.”

But all of that changed overnight.

Mostly, I have my cyberspace colleagues to thank for this change, who routinely use Google Docs’ social productivity capabilities to share and collaborate on articles. 

Seamless collaboration became for me the great value proposition of cloud technology, more so than even the mobility that comes with automatic device syncing.

In fact, the ability to:

Link to documents

Manage permissions

Annotate

Suggest or perform edits

Chat within a document

Made life in the online economy so blissfully enticing, that I decided to start writing about it.

A Veritable Treasure Trove of Applications

Many of the best cloud storage providers (not just Google Drive) now integrate their storage platform with productivity apps like Docs, Sheets, and Slides.

Microsoft, no doubt sensing the futility of resistance, likewise began offering a free online version of their popular Office suite, which integrates into its cloud storage service, OneDrive

Good news for consumers, neither Google nor Microsoft cut off their competition from using these applications. And so many cloud storage services, like the titular Box, offer integrated access to one or both productivity suites.

Even better, many more apps, most from original 3rd-party developers, are likewise commonly available for integration with just a few clicks.

Photo editors

Workflow utilities

Sign-and-fax programs

Are just the tip of the app iceberg. When evaluating cloud storage providers, it’s important to review the suites available for the application. Because not all apps are created equal.

Your Clunky Old Desktop Still Has a Few Tricks Up its Sleeve

While I’ve grown accustomed to doing much of my work directly through a browser, a primary operating system (like Mac OS or Windows) has many native functions that are invaluable to work productivity.

Most of these have to do with file management. To take advantage of these capabilities, the best cloud providers offer a downloadable desktop sync tool.

These sync tools look and work just like any regular folder on a hard drive, which means no additional learning curve.

Using this folder, you can:

Move files in and out of cloud drives

Compress folders

Beam files to Bluetooth devices

And even direct a separate online backup solution, like Carbonite or IDrive, to automatically backup your cloud drive for added data protection.

Is That 10GB of Cloud Storage in Your Pocket?

So much of the cloud’s beauty lies in its ability to access documents anywhere.

10 GB Evernote Premium

If I lose my passport on a beach in Belize, it’d be pretty handy to pull up a copy via my smartphone to flash at the local embassy, right? (I knew you were on my side).

While any cloud provider I’d personally consider for use, will have a mobile application, some are better than others, and come with features such as:

File sharing

Syncing

Offline document access

  Encryption

Also, not all mobile operating systems are supported, even by cloud storage solutions with relatively deep pockets.

For example, Google Drive does not support Windows Phone or Blackberry (Box, true to its enterprise roots, supports both). Better yet, as with their web interfaces, most leading cloud storage providers offer a range of additional 3rd-party mobile apps.

The Google Drive vs Box Showdown

 

Now that we have some context to work with, when it comes to evaluating our two competitors, it’s time for them to lay down four rounds of head-to-head competition covering:

Storage Capabilities and Pricing

Browser-Integrated Applications

Desktop and Mobile Applications

Security and Permissions  

See you on the other side!

Round 1 Storage Capabilities and Pricing

Google Drive Rundown:

Part of Google’s great success comes down to how much power it gives to users for free. That tradition continues with Google Drive, which comes packed with 15GB of free storage space.

As mentioned earlier, this generous allotment isn’t just for Google Drive, but is shared between Gmail and Google Photos, too. Fortunately, Google offers a range of paid tiers designed to accommodate all types of users.

Just $1.99 a month gets you 100GB of space, and prices/storage proceed upwards from there.

Business owners should also consider Google Apps for Work, which offers a per-user subscription rate of $5 or $10 per month. Users on the $5 plan receive 30GB per month, while those on the $10 plan receive unlimited storage space, or 1TB if there are fewer than five users.

Google Apps for Work not only offers users Google Drive’s capabilities but also:

Custom domains

Email archiving

Integrated calendars

Video and voice chat

Among other features. However, it’s not for me, but serious business users may want to take notice. Regarding storage, virtually any file can get stored on Google Drive, but there are limits regarding size:

Files converted to Google’s format get capped at 50MB for uploading

Data saved to Google Slides get capped at 100MB for uploading

All other file type uploads get capped at 5TB

I can’t even conceive of a file that large, so it’s “probably” not going to be a problem for most people. 

Google Drive’s internal viewer allows you to preview numerous different file types, including standard document, photo, and video extensions.  

Common File Types Viewable in Google Drive:

General files:

Archive files (.ZIP, .RAR, tar, gzip)

Audio formats (MP3, MPEG, WAV, .ogg)

Image files (.JPEG, .PNG, .GIF, .BMP)

Markup/Code (.CSS, .HTML, .PHP, .C, .CPP, .H, .HPP, .JS)

Text files (.TXT)

Video files (WebM, .MPEG4, .3GPP, .MOV, .AVI, .MPEGPS, .WMV, .FLV, .ogg)

Adobe files:

Autodesk AutoCad (.DXF)

Illustrator (.AI)

Photoshop (.PSD)

Portable Document Format (.PDF)

PostScript (.EPS, .PS)

Scalable Vector Graphics (.SVG)

Tagged Image File Format (.TIFF) – best with RGB .TIFF images

TrueType (.TTF)

Microsoft files:

Excel (.XLS and .XLSX)

PowerPoint (.PPT and .PPTX)

Word (.DOC and .DOCX)

XML Paper Specification (.XPS)

 

Box Rundown:

Box offers 10GB of free cloud storage. If you’re looking for more, Box sports a paid personal plan that costs $5 per month and comes with 100GB of storage.

Unfortunately, that’s all they have for private plans. For an ordinary consumer, to go from free to $5 a month in the current climate of cloud storage competition, seems like a big leap, particularly in light of Google Drive’s price ranges. 

For business users, however, Box offers more variety and cost flexibility, with three business-oriented storage solutions.

Regarding file size caps for uploading, with Box, it all depends on which plan you’re using. The free plan I test drove is capped at 250MB. That’s fine for most documents, but some users just aren’t going to be able to work with that.

Fortunately, their paid personal plan ups the limit significantly, to 5GB.

Regarding file-type viewing, Box’s “Content Preview” capability is very robust. In fact, it covers over 120 different file types.

File Types Viewable in Box’s Content Preview:

Text-Based Documents:

as’, ‘as3’, ‘asm’, ‘bat’, ‘c’, ‘cc’, ‘cmake’, ‘cpp’, ‘cs’, ‘css’, ‘csv’, ‘cxx’, ‘diff’, ‘doc’, ‘docx’, ‘erb’, ‘gdoc’, ‘groovy’, ‘gsheet’, ‘h’, ‘haml’, ‘hh’, ‘htm’, ‘html’, ‘java’, ‘js’, ‘less’, ‘m’, ‘make’, ‘ml’, ‘mm’, ‘msg’, ‘ods’, ‘odt’, ‘pdf’, ‘php’, ‘pl’, ‘properties’, ‘py’, ‘rb’, ‘rtf’, ‘sass’, ‘scala’, ‘scm’, ‘script’, ‘sh’, ‘sml’, ‘sql’, ‘txt’, ‘vi’, ‘vim’, ‘wpd’, ‘xls’, ‘xlsm’, ‘xlsx’, ‘xml’, ‘xsd’, ‘xsl’, ‘yaml’

Presentations:

odp’, ‘ppt’, ‘pptx’

Images:

ai’*, ‘bmp’, ‘gif’, ‘eps’, ‘jpeg’, ‘jpg’, ‘png’, ‘ps’, ‘psd’, ‘svg’, ‘tif’, ‘tiff’, ‘dcm’, ‘dicm’, ‘dicom’, ‘svs’, ‘tga’

Audio Files:

aac’, ‘aifc’, ‘aiff’, ‘amr’, ‘au’, ‘flac’, ‘m4a’, ‘mp3’, ‘ogg’, ‘ra’, ‘wav’, ‘wma’

Video Files:

3g2′, ‘3gp’, ‘avi’, ‘m2v’, ‘m2ts’, ‘m4v’, ‘mkv’, ‘mov’, ‘mp4’, ‘mpeg’, ‘mpg’, ‘ogg’, ‘mts’, ‘qt’, ‘wmv’

Flash/Mobile Video Files:

flv’, ‘f4v’, ‘swf’

3D (Graphics and Modeling) Files:

obj’, ‘stl’

 

I was disappointed to discover that video previewing is only available on Business-level Box accounts, which means an average user can’t invite others to view videos stored on their cloud drive.

Combined with their 250MB upload limit on the personal plan, along with its lack of video previews, users looking for a free cloud storage solution to store (and share) movies will probably want to look elsewhere.

But as expected, business users are well taken care of.


Round 2 Browser-Integrated Applications

Google Drive Rundown:

Google Drive comes equipped with some built-in applications that, as a budget-conscious freelancer, I use routinely. These include Google’s flagship office suite of Docs, Sheets, and Slides.

But wait, there’s more! With “Connect more apps,” you can instantly connect useful 3rd-party apps to Google Drive. Afterward, you’ll be able to start them up just like Docs, and I found the ability to integrate and use these apps true to Google’s everyman spirit.

Since developers love working with Google, there’s a lot to choose from, including project management tools, fax utilities, and sophisticated photo editors.

Box Rundown:

One of the great things about choosing Box, is that doing so, doesn’t mean cutting the cord with Google Docs or Sheets. It’s all part of the package.

Note, this doesn’t mean you’ll have access to pre-existing Google Docs, those, of course, are stored on Google Drive and will need to be migrated. 

Box also comes pre-packaged with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, giving users access to a robust suite of commonly used tools.

Like Google Drive, Box offers additional 3rd-party add-on apps. However, I found their selection wanting, which is no surprise, given Google’s much stronger consumer and developer base, and Box’s leanings towards enterprise support.

For example, I wasn’t able to find a photo editor that could be used directly from a browser. However, Box does come equipped with a sweet notes application, called Box Note. This online editor is ideally suited for quick personal notes and online collaborations.


Round 3 Desktop and Mobile Applications

Google Drive Rundown:

Google Drive offers a desktop sync utility that can work on PC or Mac. And it makes moving files to and from the cloud pretty easy, since as previously noted, sync ostensibly works like a desktop folder.

Also as mentioned, this setup is ideal for connecting to a cloud backup provider and gives access to the native operating system’s capabilities.

Mobile sync applications are also available for Android and iOS. Using these applications, users can access any file stored on Google Drive, and engage in the same fundamental actions that are available from a browser.

Options even include the ability to make files available offline on the phone with the touch of a button, which is handy for travelers.

Plus, you can upload files, create Docs, Sheets, or Slides, and even use a phone’s camera to scan documents, and send them straight to the cloud.

But, Windows Phone or Blackberry users are out of luck, since Google Drive doesn’t have native applications for those operating systems.

So you’ll have to use a 3rd-party sync option, such as Touch Client ($4.99) or Playcloud ($1.99), respectively.

Box Rundown:

Like Google Drive, Box offers a downloadable sync utility that can access cloud-stored files via a PC or Mac’s native file management system. You can easily drag and drop items into this folder, which will automatically get uploaded to the cloud.

You can also easily run native operating system functions, such as file compression, sending files via fax and email, or transmitting them to Bluetooth connected devices.

Additional Box-added capabilities, such as the ability to right-click a file and email an access link to a friend or colleague, are also available.

In line with its enterprise demographic, Box Sync is also available for Windows Phone and Blackberry, in addition to Android and iOS.  With Box’s native mobile apps, users can access, view, and edit files stored in their cloud accounts.

You can also share files directly from a phone, invite colleagues to edit them, and engage in back-and-forth commentary.

Search capabilities also make it easy to find files you want quickly, and batch processes can move, copy, and delete files en masse.

Too bad, however, that Box Sync doesn’t have the ability to automatically send photos and videos to the cloud– unless you’re using Blackberry 10.

iOS users also have access to an additional free app called “Box Capture,” which, like Google Drive, allows users to scan and upload documents using the iPhone’s camera.

Unfortunately, Box doesn’t provide an automatic mobile syncing option that stores files locally for offline viewing. You have to manually save files on a phone’s internal memory or SD card.

There are some 3rd-party apps for mobile users of all types, including photo and video uploading apps for Android users.

However, I dislike the inconvenience of having to manage my cloud service from multiple, non-integrated apps. The cloud is supposed to be about bringing things together, right? 


Round 4 Security and Permissions

Google Drive Rundown:

By their account, Google takes data security very seriously, which includes heavy restrictions on who is allowed into their data centers, in addition to robust security features such as biometric scanners and, believe it or not — laser beams.

Inside a Google data center

Google has also made use of its vast resources to develop an in-house technology stack, including servers and routers, with zero reliance on 3rd-party vendors and managed services.

As a user with some background in managed services, I find such holistic oversight pleasantly at odds with how many large tech businesses get to run today (i.e., on the cheap).

But rather than go it completely alone, Google also famously makes use of its vaunted “Vulnerability Rewards Program,” which taps the brainpower of security mind savants around the world — by offering financial incentives when they find and report issues.

Regarding in-app user management, both folders and documents get shared individually, which can be done via an email address or link.

When setting folder permissions, you have the option to set view or editing permissions, whereas, with files, you can set view, comment, and editing permissions.

I have to say, I love the fact that folder and file permissions can be managed independently of one another. Not all cloud storage providers work this way.

I would have liked to see the ability to set an expiration date for shared links, however, as it is, shared links are good indefinitely — until they get deleted.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to engage in a top-down audit of which folders and files you’ve shared.

This fact, in my mind, presents a limited security concern, as a link can potentially get shared without your knowledge.

Box Rundown:

Since Box is all about the enterprise clientele, to appeal to that demographic, they require robust security features.

Box routinely audits their operations and platform and voluntarily adheres to rigorous certification standards, like:

SSAE 16 Type II

Safe Harbor

Privacy Shield

Unfortunately, not all the high-end security features Box has rolled out are available for personal use. 

Only Box’s business subscribers have access to auditing and admin tools, that allow them to track which folders get shared with whom, control mobile access, and institute two-factor identification on shared folders.

Box’s business accounts can also make use of seven different permission settings to control user behavior.

Personal accounts, however, only offer two — viewer and editor. 

Basic security settings for all Box users include the ability to set both password protection and expiration dates for generated document links.

Additionally, shared links only allow recipients to view and download the document. File editing and management permissions, including file creation and deletion, are set at the folder level.

Personally, I wish these permissions worked on individual files since I see myself granting unintended access and control over items I’d prefer to keep under my sole purview. 


In Summary…

Google might have taken two of four rounds, and tied in another, but there’s still a lot to like about Box — even if you’re not a business user.

If you are, well then, the choice is clear: Box wins.  As a mere plebeian, however, for the time being, my recommendation lies squarely with Google Drive.

That’s because once you affirm that security is up to snuff, cloud storage for me is ultimately what all technology is about — things that make life easier, extend leisure time, and grant me more opportunities to lose my passport in strange and exotic locations. 

Where the cloud is concerned, this includes:

Sharing

Collaboration

Flexibility

And when it comes to Box, it’s the flexibility where I feel they come up short, especially in light of Google’s incredible portfolio of 3rd-party apps.

Do you have any comments or thoughts about the article to share with me? Feel free to express them in the comments section below, and thanks for sticking around till the end!

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