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Microsoft, Dropbox integrate for mobile Office flexibility

Office applications will soon connect to Dropbox for mobile productivity, but IT may be skeptical of integration with a consumer platform.

The new Microsoft-Dropbox union may give users flexibility between applications, but security-conscious IT may not warm to the idea.

Dropbox and Microsoft  introduced a wide-ranging partnership this week to impact Office and Dropbox mobile and Web applications. Users can access Dropbox accounts from Office applications, edit Office files directly from Dropbox and sync the changes across devices and share new or edited files from Office applications using Dropbox's sharing functionality.

In the Dropbox integration, users can connect Office and Dropbox apps on Apple iOS iPhones and iPads and Google Android Phones for document access. Users can also invite others to collaborate on a document by sharing links to Word, Excel and PowerPoint files on Dropbox.

Adding Dropbox a smart move, preempting strong Dropbox and Google App integration
Alan LepofskyAnalyst with Constellation Research

The integration is the realization of Project Harmony, a Dropbox initiative that allows users to collaborate on the same file within a native Office application and sync back to wherever it was saved.

Dropbox's mobile app for Windows Phone and Windows tablets are due in ‘the coming months’, Microsoft said.

This partnership is the latest in a series of moves by Microsoft around enterprise file sync and share, collaboration and cloud storage on the heels of Box's integration with Office 365 and Microsoft's push for unlimited, free OneDrive storage with Office 365 accounts.

Dropbox's integration with Office goes a step further than its partnership with Box, because that only involves desktop applications, not mobile.

The Dropbox/Microsoft combination may be more of a shot across the bow at Google than to Box, said Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research in Toronto.

Microsoft’s goal is to keep its current Office users and add new customers to Office 365, so it already has the advantage of Box and OneDrive users with integration and access to Office, Lepofsky said.

"Adding Dropbox users to the list is a smart move, preempting strong Dropbox and Google App integration," Lepofsky said.

Google recently revamped its productivity applications to include native editing of Microsoft Office documents. This is a step Amazon has not yet taken with its new Zocalo platform, but has been discussed internally.

Dropbox security a problem for IT

The integration may not be enough for security conscious organizations to consider Dropbox as a true enterprise file sync and share option. Parata Systems, a pharmacy automation technology company in Durham, N.C., instructs its employees to avoid using Dropbox and doesn't expect this new integration to change that.

That's because there's still a risk for losing intellectual property when using a platform designed primarily for consumers, said Jon Howe, Parata's systems architect.

"Microsoft is doing this to give people options," Howe said. "There are organizations that might want to have this level of integration…giving that flexibility to people when they might need it I'm sure is going to be well-received."

The Dropbox capabilities will be added in the next Office mobile apps updates coming in a few weeks, Microsoft said. Web integrations between Dropbox and Office Online will be available in the first half of 2015.

All Office users with a Dropbox account will have access to the new integrations. Dropbox for Business customers will need an Office 365 subscription for the integrations.

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Does integration with Office make Dropbox more of an option for your organization?
I sure hope so. Given widespread reliance on Office, I think this will legitimize Dropbox and make it a more easily integrated part of enterprise file management. 
Our organization doesn't have a large Office emphasis, so it';s neither a plus nor a minus, but as long as Dropbox remembers what got it where it is (a super easy folder metaphor that does what it does simply and directly) I think they will do fine :). I don't see Office integration building or diminishing from that.
It’s a little to late for us, as the company is too heavily invested (in time, money, and adoption) with Box.
We're already deeply entrenched with Dropbox for proposals and presentations; this only makes it easier to implement across the enterprise. If only Dropbox were (quite a bit) better with larger files we'd be using it to store our massive video files, too. Perhaps that'll come in time....
I don't see a big change here. There is very little use of Dropbox here. It looks promising if given the time to look at it more closely.
The question is will Office 365 admins be able to turn this off for users? Because otherwise… Hello wide-open security hole! The Dropbox for Windows Phone will be nice—I Certainly missed having that during my stints as a Windows Phone users. But the next question is when will Microsoft completely open up the storage? You can bet that the folks at ShareFile and AirWatch Secure Content Locker would love to get in on this.