Dropbox and the windowed ecosystem

A few days ago Mailbox, the unique and incredibly successful iOS email app, announced it had been acquired by Dropbox. The response from the tech community was an ostensibly unanimous declaration of approval. Generally, acquisitions of hopeful new startups are often seen as a conclusion to the underdog story, yet today’s news is viewed more as a continuation for that of Dropbox.

Ingrid Lunden for TechCrunch analyzed what this move means for the cloud storage company:

It’s a sign of how Dropbox wants to be more than just a cloud storage company. This is the other motif behind all of Dropbox’s acquisitions. Storage is the thing that people pay for now, but down the line there are two reasons why Dropbox would want to have more.

Reason one, she says, is to diversify revenue streams. Yet it’s her second point that is most interesting:

Alongside that, it may want to have more services to keep consumers on Dropbox’s platform rather than going elsewhere — just like Google, Apple, Microsoft and others do.

Maybe Dropbox is not only looking to expand its “platform,” but to develop an entire ecosystem.

I, like many others, use Dropbox as more than just a cloud storage system for a few on-the-go documents. Dropbox has fundamentally replaced my hard drive. Every piece of data I manage – whether it be a text document, PDF, or photo – is uploaded to Dropbox. I am thus able to open, edit, and save on any device I use. Abstractly, Dropbox functions for myself as a less literally-taken version of Splashtop, the Remote Desktop application. From every device I am able to access the core of data without the disparity of locally stored information.

Perhaps the next step for Dropbox is to create what I’d call a “Windowed Ecosystem.” In such as system, every personal file a user accesses is autonomously stored in Dropbox’s cloud under their own personal account. If integral in a device’s OS, there would be no need for a Dropbox app, it would simply be the file system of the device. The difference is, however, that any device the user accesses under their personal account will make the same data available to them. Thus, every device, every screen, a user accesses is like differently sized panes of glass; windows facing the same view. Software as we know it would be treated as hardware; as it is merely the interface attached the hardware. The true software would become the single point of access Dropbox gives the user for their data.

Yet if you look closely at the moves the largest tech companies have made, this Windowed Ecosystem is very much the goal for the entire industry. iCloud and SkyDrive are in-house attempts at implementing Dropbox’s already-established service. Google, however, is also building out this same system, just backwards. Being that all their services are based on the web, Google has created the scenery each window looks out to. It’s now up to them to develop the panes of glass; hardware which integrates with the data. Though Android isn’t made for this type of system, Chrome OS is.

Though we’ve grumbled that Chromebooks are machines purposed to only run a browser, it’s clear that this is fundamentally the architecture of a Windowed Ecosystem. If your computer’s desktop were to remain your desktop, your hard drive’s filesystem became Google Drive, and your media became Google Play, etc., then Chrome would simply return to function as your browser. If this were realized, Chrome OS could truly become the omnipresent OS of the future, execution of the Windowed Ecosystem, and Chrome OS as we currently know it would simply be an awkward missing link in this evolution for Google.

And like I said, Android isn’t made for this type of architecture. But let’s not forget that this happened. When you look at the big picture, Google’s many facets may now be loose strings in a cohesive knot that just needs to be tied together.

But the simple truth is that Dropbox really has the advantage. Dropbox can become the cross-platform Windowed Ecosystem. Apple, Google, and Microsoft should see CEO Drew Houston’s invitations for collaboration as business temptations of the devil. The platform Dropbox is creating would butt-out any native cloud implementation any of these companies wishes to pursue, and Dropbox has more-so the vision and understanding of how these systems work. Therefore, we, the users, should see collaboration as an opportunity for this system to be strongest; unhindered by any business-induced missteps of any of these companies are prone to make.

So what does all this have to do with Mailbox? Technically, nothing. But what the acquisition does prove is forward motion in the company. That, with email management now under its belt, Dropbox is working towards becoming more than just an app on my iPad and a folder on my computer. As Lunden said, the company is showing signs of evolving into something greater than just a cloud storage company. Tighter integration with web-based services within Dropbox will increasingly add bricks to the structure of a next-generation ecosystem.

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