Box acquires Crocodoc to make document previews richer

While Box seems to be among the leaders in the race to become the Dropbox of the enterprise, it wants to be easy for individuals to use, as to get their companies to sign up as paying customers. In order to make that happen, Box is acquiring Crocodoc, which lets developers convert PDFs, Word (s msft) documents and other files into HTML5 for clear display in web browsers. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“We have to build a consumer-grade experience,” Aaron Levie, Box’s co-founder and CEO, said at a Thursday meeting at its San Francisco office. The deal will be Box’s second acquisition; it acquired Increo in 2009, a company representative said.

Crocodoc already takes care of this type of document conversion for files on several sites, including the recruiting function on LinkedIn (s lnkd) and document sharing on Yammer. Once a document is there, users can see the details of fancy typefaces and add comments on desktops and mobile devices, without Flash or plugins required. Other document functions, like editing, are not yet available.

“We want to bite off different pieces of that puzzle,” said Ryan Damico, Crocodoc’s co-founder and CEO. “In the end game, we want to cover all of them.”

Yammer document previewing via Crocodoc technology

Yammer document previewing via Crocodoc technology

Box will swap out its existing previewing mechanisms with the Crocodoc technology in the next few months. Also coming are new versions of previewing, such a carousel with pages passing by, a sliding option, a scrolling option and perhaps a page-flipping option, Damico said. Box will also enable developers to keep using the Crocodoc API to upload documents, spin them around into HTML5 and then do things with HTML5-enabled content to embed in their own websites.

“This is what Instagram is to Facebook,” Levie said. “Photos are important to them; documents are deeply important to us, and they’re deeply important to business use cases.”

While it’s been four years since the previous Box acquisition, Box does want to keep building out its product lineup. “We intend on being very acquisitive,” Levie told me. Box has raised $312 million to date, including contributions from Andreessen Horowitz, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and NEA. Crocodoc has raised more than $1 million, with investors at SV Angel and 500 Startups.

As Box makes itself into more of a platform than simply a venue for document storage and sharing — last month I wrote about its health care applications and compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — it also needs to make sure documents show up clearly. It does seem like a no-brainer, which is why it seems like this acquisition should have come earlier.