Do you want to put about 16 terabytes of data online? If you do, you might want to give Google a call. Mind you, it isn’t going to be cheap — that amount of storage will cost about $800 a month. On Tuesday, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company is taking the covers off its much hyped and long awaited online storage service, and it will be called Google Drive. It is available at drive.google.com. The Drive, which starts with 5 GB of free storage, is available to anyone with a Google account, including Google Apps for business accounts. In March 2012 I had first reported that Google would be launching its Drive with 1 GB of storage space in first week of April 2012. Well, I was off by two weeks and 4 GB per account of storage capacity.
The new service will be accessible from a Web browser along with different client devices including Mac OS X, Windows and Android devices (tablets and phones). The iOS version of the Drive will arrive soon, the company says. The first 5 GB are free, but every additional 25 GB is going to cost you about $2.50 a month or about $30 a year. The 100 GB will cost you $5 a month or about $60 a year. You can buy up to 16 terabytes of storage capacity. The Drive marries elements of Dropbox, iCloud and other popular apps such as Evernote.
At first blush, it might seem the Google Drive imitates Dropbox’s many features. However, the key differentiation point for Google Drive is the tight integration with Google’s productivity apps and other apps that are using Google’s SDK to build the Drive into their own cloud offerings. For instance, Google’s Drive allows you to seamlessly fax documents via HelloFax’s service. Another service, Balsamic, can help you create wireframes and share them with others. There are about 20 launch partners for Google’s Drive, and they are betting that Drive will bring them the much needed collaboration and sharing features that they currently lack.
Google executives, including Sundar Pichai, SVP, Chrome and Apps, went to extreme lengths in a briefing to point out that they are not operating just another online storage service. “This (Drive) is built around the idea of sharing and collaboration,” said Pichai. “We started from the underpinning of Google Docs and idea of collaboration.”
He went onto argue that as we start to spend more time living in the cloud, what matters to people is the ability to access their data in multiple locations on different screens. Pichai believes that “Drive is a bridge between cloud and local” data. He also believes that companies have to adapt to the BYOD (bring your own device) revolution that is sweeping the enterprises. (Stacey wrote an awesome post yesterday about why BYOD is unstoppable.)
Start a document in Google Docs and Google Drive will save a local copy on your desktop. But that document is not editable unless you’re online to open these docs using Google Docs, which I find baffling. Sometime in the near future, the company will allow you to select a document and directly mail it using Google’s Gmail service. Google says last-minute bugs are the reason it hasn’t launched Gmail integration. Strangely, the company is offering integration with Google+. Go figure!
When you upload photos Google will use Google Goggles’ technology to look inside the photos and help you discover relevant photos by the search keyword. The OCR technology that has powered the Google Books effort will turn a PDF or a photo of a document into text for you to manipulate. Google isn’t the first company to offer such a service. However, it is the first one to bundle this and other popular features in its offering. (Oh, how very Microsoft of them!)
Of course, as it is Google, everything it does has to be viewed from the lens of search. “In the post-PC world the file systems don’t matter,” says Pichar. Instead what matters is data, which follows the flow from apps to devices. Pichar says that the key here is to provide context and add contours to all the information stored inside the Drive.
So what does it look like
Google gave me access to the Google Drive yesterday evening, and in whatever little time I had, I would have to say that I didn’t see anything that would cause distress. The web-based version of the Drive looks remarkably similar to the all-too-familiar Google Docs interface.
On the Mac desktop, it was dead simple to install the Drive, much like Dropbox. Once installed the Drive is represented by a folder and synchronizes in the background. The first installation automatically downloads all your Google Docs files to the folder. However, the app really shines when used on the tablets. Maybe it is because I have fewer files, but I found that I was able to access data from Google Drive on iPad a shade quicker than Dropbox, mostly because of better search capabilities.
We run our business on Google Apps for Business and I see Drive a perfect companion. Today we use Dropbox, but the process of sharing happens either on Google Docs, Socialcast or via email. Collaboration is too disjointed and the process is pretty cumbersome. Google Drive however makes it very easy to share and collaborate. I deeply dislike the icons they are using to represent docs and slides. Nevertheless, I have not had enough time to form a strong opinion (either way) about the service. I will write a post after using the service for a week or so.
Oh, it’s on
The pending launch of Google Drive has caused a frenzy of activity in the online storage industry. Dropbox, which currently leads the online storage market, launched a simple file-sharing feature yesterday that would allow them to compete with Google. Later, Microsoft talked about the availability of its SkyDrive personal cloud storage service with about 7 GB of free storage.
By being late to the market, Google has what Peter Thiel calls the “last mover advantage.” And while the new Google Drive is a big threat to Box.net and Dropbox, if you ask me, the big target here is Microsoft. With the Drive, Google can start to nibble at Microsoft’s highly lucrative Sharepoint business.
And while Google Drive’s launch is going to be hard on some of the smaller online storage services, thanks to Google’s massive user base, I wouldn’t count out Microsoft, Box or Dropbox — just yet.