Dropbox full? Try Penn+Box

This box is full.

You may have heard that Penn and Box launched a cloud storage service for all Penn staff, faculty and students. You may be wondering if it’s worth jumping in and using that big open 20GB space. I’ve been hearing mixed reviews, but overall I think it’s worth it. Here’s why.

Basically, it’s a GIANT Dropbox. You get 20GB of (free!) space, all the usual apps (smartphone, tablet, desktop, browser), syncing, folder sharing, and the peace of mind that comes with realizing you’ll never lose that critical flash drive again.

You also get a bona-fide security setup, additional social features like comment threads, and with a little fine tuning, a very nice user experience.

Sharing is fast and robust. I shared a folder with another one of my email addresses to test how well it worked. When I uploaded a file as kathleenatkins it showed up in kate.atkins’s online Box and desktop Box almost instantaneously. Comments on files synced up immediately as well.



Yes, comments. That’s something Dropbox does not have. One of the brilliant things about Dropbox is that it’s a no-brainer. It doesn’t have much in the way of features, so it doesn’t really have to ask you too many questions. There aren’t many things to set up or choose, so you don’t have to fuss with settings or choices.

This is where Penn+Box and Dropbox differ, and it’s going to determine whether you like the service or not.

Devils in the details: SECURITY

Penn+Box’s use of PennKey login and additional security is a great upgrade from free cloud services. It’s so solid, Penn+Box has been officially approved for FERPA data use (ex, coursework with names and grades) but some people find the implementation irritating.

When you log in to http://upenn.box.com, it will pop you out to Penn Weblogin, and back to Penn+Box. But this is par for the course for all PennKey-enabled applications, so really, most of us are used to that extra hop.

Another complaint I hear is the additional login for the smartphone and tablet apps. You need a four-digit pin in addition to PennKey authentication. I found this annoying at first, but the more I use it the less it bugs me. (David has some tips for you on the iOS and Android apps, here: https://appsontap.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/using-pennbox-on-your-ios-device/.)

But if you keep in mind that Dropbox has had some security issues in the past, and keep in mind that it’s a huge free chunk of space, you may find it even less annoying.

For the fine print on what types of information to feel confident about storing (coursework), vs not so confident about storing (social security numbers, credit card numbers), see:


More details: SETTINGS

Another common complaint: What’s with all the questions during setup, all these darn settings? The answer is: If you have features, you have settings. No features, no settings. So set them, and do it sooner rather than later.

Sharing and notifications are the first settings to tweak. Penn+Box assumes that you want notifications for EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS, which translates into a ton of email if you don’t uncheck some options:


It also assumes that you do not want to sync your folders. This is the one bothers me the most. When I put something in the cloud, I want it synced everywhere. That’s the point, right? But Penn+Box requires that each new folder you create must be set to sync individually.


One last gripe

The desktop application setup.

Like most cloud services, a system tray icon rides with this install, but don’t expect it to act like the Dropbox icon. Dropbox launches your computer’s Dropbox folder area directly. Inexplicably, and this is probably because I’m so Dropbox-centric, the Box icon opens a control panel. I want it to open my desktop folder, but it makes me work for it.


From this screen, you can sync, monitor your (ample) space, change settings, open your desktop files (buried in Settings), get help or “Go to Box” which launches the browser version of the app. I realize I could simply rely on my desktop icon, or add a Box shortcut to my already long quicklaunch toolbar, but that just seems like a lot of Box icons all over the place.

Other features

While I don’t like some aspects of the setup, I do like the user experience inside the apps a bit more than Dropbox. When I upload an image from my phone, the app gives me the opportunity to rename it right on the spot. Instead of uploading IMAGE0347.jpg from my phone, I can upload ameaningfulfilename.jpg instead.

In the web interface I’ve also noticed a few nice touches like rollover photo previews and one-click file name editing. The folks at Box have managed to add these functional extras while keeping the interface clean and understandable.

Penn+Box includes a few things I haven’t tried yet: task assignment, integration with Google Apps, a text editor, but I’m looking forward to giving everything a go. I, for one, am delighted to have this much space in the cloud, plus a few extra bells and whistles.

If you need more info, here’s the FAQ:


If you just want to get going, go here:

I’m interested to hear how it’s going out there in the wild: gripes, happy surprises, concerns, how you’re trying to use it, and how it’s going as you do. Please comment away below!

Recently from Apps On Tap…


  1. “integration with Google Apps” – Google Apps integration was actually disabled on Penn + Box shortly before the formal launch. A list of enabled apps can be found here http://www.upenn.edu/computing/box/help/.
    Additionally, Penn email address holders can currently get an extra 15gb of Dropbox space just for signing up via their “Space Race” promotion, bringing the total Dropbox space to 17gb (for a minimum of 2 years).

    With regards to the security issue, Dropbox may not be FERPA complient, however it’s two-factor authentication implementation is arguable more secure than a PennKey login and static pin. (Dropbox employs a static password and a 6 digit rolling(changes every 30 seconds) pin )

    I used Penn + Box during it’s test period and I personally found that while some apps were useful, they have mostly been removed from compatibility in the final release. I don’t really miss the commenting ability because if I’m seeking comments on a file, I’ll be distributing the dropbox link via email or Facebook. The one app that I used (outside of mobile apps) and found useful was the office integration. However I found that it has not been as seamless as microsoft’s skydrive(which offered 25gb of free space to new users until recently), especially with the soon to be released Office 2013.

    In short, I can see how the FERPA compliance enables faculty to use a cloud syncing service to streamline their workflows, but box offers a less compelling case to students when compared to its competitors.

    • Kate Atkins says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I also think that FERPA compliance makes this service an attractive option for faculty, which will then more or less force students to at least have an account. What happens after that… who knows? I’m curious to see which Penn communities this really takes off with, and where it falls flat. Clearly there’s quite a bit of competition out there!

  2. David Toccafondi says:

    Agreed. 20GB for free is a total no-brainer. I’m still experimenting with it, but it’s especially useful for sharing video files or other too-large-to-email items (up to 5GB per file) or transferring them to another computer if you don’t have an external hard drive with you.

    The main annoyance I encountered was figuring out how to share files with another Penn user. Turns out if you want to share something with their Penn+Box account, you don’t use their email address. Instead, you share it with their “pennkey@upenn.edu” I assure you, I’ve just saved you a lot of frustration. You’re welcome.

    Most importantly, your post includes a photo of a kitty cat in a box. Awesome.

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