It wasn't the most secretive launch, but no matter, Google Drive has officially launched Tuesday
with 5GB of free storage space for all users and paid options going up to a whopping 16TB. The
cloud storage service is a replacement for Google Docs — if you've ever used the popular
document-syncing service you'll be right at home with Google Drive. Just like Docs, the majority
of the service is based in the web browser: you'll primarily be managing your account and
viewing your files from the web app. There are, however, native apps available for PC, Mac, and
Android, and an iOS app is currently in the works. We've just spent some time with the new
service across all of these platforms, so read on for some of our first impressions.
It's very important to note that this is an evolution of Google Docs. This will become very
apparent when you first open up the web app. Once you agree to upgrade your account to Drive,
you'll notice that not much has changed. The URL is now drive.google.com instead of
docs.google.com, and in a few other places "Docs" has been replaced by "Drive," but the
interface appears to be identical. What's new then? Well, of course you can upload any file to
Drive, not just work documents, though only the latter will take advantage of the live editing
features made famous by Docs. Unfortunately, while the interface is familiar, it also carries
along the same issues we've had with Docs for years. Sharing features are still overly
complicated: you can invite individual users to view and collaborate on folders and files, and
through some advanced settings you can make a publicly-viewable link. We really wish that
Google overhauled all of this a bit — in Dropbox, for example, it's very easy to right-click and
get a public link instantly.
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Other than the web app, there's a native client for both PCs and Macs that'll be very familiar if
you've ever used Dropbox. The program makes a new folder on your computer called "Google
Drive," and everything in that folder is synced with the cloud. You can just drag and drop folders
and files into the Drive, and it'll upload everything automatically. There's a small manager app
that has a few options, including the ability to only sync select folders within your Drive. Just
like in the web app, there is no simple way to make public links from your desktop — you'll
have to go into the web interface and wrangle with the sharing tool. That isn't the only time when
you'll be kicked out to the web browser: the same will happen if you attempt to open any Google
Docs file. These live-editable files are essentially just web shortcuts when they're on your
desktop — there's no way to open these files with Word, TextEdit, or any other program on your
On the mobile side, so far only an app for Android phones and tablets is available, though
Google says that it's working on an iOS version. The Android app, just like on the web,
completely replaces Google Docs. The app is has been redesigned, but the functionality is
essentially the same. You'll see that there's a list of files and folders, all of which you can add
collaborators to and make available offline. Sharing, once again, is a bit of a letdown. It looks
like Google intends to add the ability to make files publicly-viewable, but when you try to switch
permissions you're told that "changing this option is not yet supported." Another disappointing
aspect of the Android app is that, other than Google Docs files like spreadsheets, presentations,
and documents, you'll have to first download a file before viewing it with the appropriate app on
your phone. For example, to play a song or view a picture you'll have to wait for it to download
and then it'll automatically open in Gallery or Music — there's no way to preview these files
within the Google Drive app.
Google Drive review: Adding cloud storage to
Google's new cloud storage service is a strong competitor,
but not yet a winner.
By Preston Gralla
April 25, 2012 11:55 AM ET
Computerworld - The long-awaited Google Drive is a simple, useful, straightforward cloud
storage and syncing service that offers a full 5GB of online storage for free, with no surprises
along the way. Utilitarian rather than flashy, it makes storing files to the cloud and syncing them
among multiple devices as simple as saving a file to a local hard drive.
If that's all you've been expecting from Google Drive you'll be pleased. But if you were hoping
for a Google Drive/Google Docs combination that would make it easy to edit files in the cloud
that you created on a PC or Mac, you'll be disappointed. It may be that Google will get that
straight at some point in the future, but for now it's a non-starter.
Easy to install and use
Google Drive currently installs as an app for Windows, OS X and Android. (Note: As of today's
date, there are reports that Google Drive has not yet been made available for all users.) A version
for iOS isn't yet available, but Google says it will be out soon, although the company hasn't yet
given a release date.
Google Drive installs as its own drive in Windows and OS X, and is available via Windows
Explorer or Finder.
After you install Google Drive on your PC or Mac, it shows up as another drive in Windows
Explorer or the Mac's Finder app. Like rival service Dropbox, you can use it just like a physical
drive -- so you can copy or move files to it, and create new files and subfolders inside it. The
files and subfolders are uploaded to your Google Drive on the Web and are accessible there.
They're also synced to any other devices onto which you've installed Google Drive. So if you
edit the files on any device on which you have a Google Drive installed, they're synced to the
cloud and all your other Google Cloud-enabled devices.
Google Drive isn't integrated into just Windows Explorer or Finder -- because it looks like a
drive, you can save to it and open files from it from any application (or at least every one I tried).
So from Microsoft Office, for example, you can save files directly to Google Drive and open
them from Google Drive. When you do that, you're saving or opening them on your computer
itself, not directly from the Web. Any changes you make are saved to your hard drive, and then
automatically synced to Google Drive on the Web and other devices on which you've installed
I found installation and initial use of Google Drive to be exceedingly simple. Working with it on
a computer is no different than working with any other drive -- and you don't need to do anything
to keep your files in sync, because Google Drive does that for you automatically.
It was simple working with it on an Android smartphone as well. Files are synced to the Android
device, and you can easily browse them by tapping My Drive when you run the app. You can
also create documents using the Android app.
Merging with Google Docs
Google Drive isn't really a standalone service, though. It's actually Google's secret weapon to get
you to live inside the Google ecosystem -- especially that of Google Docs.
When you install Google Drive, it actually merges with Google Docs and all of your Google
Docs files are synced to all the devices on which you've installed Google Drive. From then on,
when you visit Google Docs on the Web, you'll see all of your documents in Google Docs as
well as any folders and files you've added via Google Drive.
Google Docs now has a new item on the left-hand side of the screen: My Drive. Click the
triangle next to the label to see all of your subfolders and browse through them. You can also
create new subfolders by clicking the Create button.
This may be disconcerting at first if you're a Google Docs user, because you'll be seeing not just
the files you've been keeping in Google Docs, but all of the files you've put into Google Drive
from your various devices. Google Docs users may encounter other problems as well, because
the Google Drive/Google Docs combo displays files differently than did the old Google Docs.
Instead of displaying your most recently used documents at the top of the list, it organizes files
alphabetically. To see files you recently worked with, you need to click the link labeled Recent
on the left-hand side of the screen.
Google Drive merges with Google Docs on the Web.
I didn't find it at all confusing, but that may be because I haven't been a heavy Google Docs user,
and had fewer than two dozen files there. If you're a heavy Google Docs user, you may not be
happy with the transition.
When it comes to editing Google Drive files with Google Docs, the news is all bad; serious work
still needs to be done. The biggest problem has to do with editing. If you create a file using
Microsoft Office, you won't be able to edit the file using Google Docs on Google Drive. First,
you'll have to open the file in Google Docs, then export it to the Google Docs format by selecting
File --> Export to Google document; you can then edit that copy of the original document.
Even more confusing is that the copy that you're editing won't be saved to the folder from which
you opened it (for example, \Google Drive\Budget), but instead to the main Google Drive folder
at \Google Drive (and I couldn't find a way to change the folder it would save to). More
confusing still is that on the Web, the file name remains the same in both the original folder and
the Google Drive folder (Budget.doc, for example), but when the new copy is synced back to
your devices, a .gdoc extension is appended onto it. So Budget.doc becomes Budget.doc.gdoc,
and it's in the \Google Drive folder rather than the \Google Drive\Budget folder where the
original document lives.
Confused by all this? You should be. It's a kludge of monumental proportions, and shows that
the Google Drive/Google Docs combination still isn't even close to prime time when it comes to
editing Office files.
Advanced searching and beyond
Google has done more than just create a cloud-based repository of files. Google Drive also
includes Google's search features. But not only on text -- you can also search through PDFs (I
tried it on various PDF files and had no problems). And thanks to some interesting capabilities
brought in from the Google Goggles tool, you can search on images as well.
For example, I uploaded some travel photos onto my Google Drive and then went to my Google
Drive account on the Web and searched for the term "Venice." Google was able to identify one
of the photos as being of Venice, even though Venice was not in the file name or written
anywhere in the image. It didn't find two other photos of the city, so clearly it's not perfect. Still,
the process felt a little like magic.
There is a hitch, however: That kind of searching capability is only available on the Web. When
you search through your Google Drive on your PC or your Mac, you only use the native search
on those devices, so Google Goggles doesn't come into play. On an Android device, of course,
you use Google's search, so the image search works there.
Google Drive has something else going for it in addition to Google's search engine that its
competitors don't: An ecosystem of third-party developers hungry to tap into its capabilities. At
the launch of Google Drive, a number of developers simultaneously released products that work
in concert with it; for example, collaborative video editing on Google Drive from WeVideo, or
sending faxes directly from Google Drive and receiving them as PDFs using HelloFax. You can
expect plenty of more add-ins eventually.
In fact, it may well be that these add-ins will hold the key to whether Google Drive will beat out
competitors such as Dropbox, SugarSync and Box, because those companies are unlikely to be
able to have the same massive ecosystem developing for their cloud-based storage apps.
Google Drive versus the competition
Google Drive enters a crowded marketplace with many competitors, notably Dropbox,
SugarSync, Box and Microsoft's SkyDrive. Generally it stacks up well, especially on price,
although SkyDrive offers less expensive storage, and SugarSync offers at least one important
feature that Google Drive lacks (see details below).
Google Drive gives you 5GB of free storage; if you want more, you can get 25GB for $2.49 per
month, 100GB for $4.99 per month and 1TB for $49.99 per month. When you move to a paid
account, your Gmail storage also gets bumped up from 10GB to 25GB.
Dropbox offers 2GB for free; after that, it's $9.99 per month for 50GB of storage and $19.99 per
month for 100GB. SugarSync offers 5GB for free; if you want more, it's $4.99 per month for
30GB, $9.99 per month for 60GB, and $14.99 per month for 100GB. Box also offers 5GB of free
storage; you pay $9.99 per month for 25GB and $19.99 per month for 50GB.
SkyDrive used to offer 25GB of storage for free, and anyone who began the service with that
quota still gets to keep it. Newer users get 7GB of free storage and a variety of pricing features,
such as 100GB for $50 per year. It's the only one of the group that offers less expensive storage
than Google Drive.
Cloud storage services
Box Dropbox SkyDrive SugarSync
Free 7GB (25GB for
5GB 2GB 5GB 5GB
storage earlier users)
30GB for $4.99/mo. or
25GB for 20GB for
50GB for $49.99/yr, 60GB for
$2.49/mo., $10/yr, 50GB
Paid 25GB for $9.99/mo., $9.99/mo., $9.99/mo. or
100GB for for $25/yr,
storage 50GB for $19.99/mo. 100GB for $99.99/yr, 100GB for
$4.99/mo., 1TB 100GB for
$19.99/mo. $49.99/mo. or
for $49.99/mo. $50/yr
Desktop Business/Enterprise Windows, OS Windows, OS
Windows, OS X Windows, OS X
apps plans only X X
Mobile Android, iOS, Android, iOS, Android (iOS iOS, Windows Android, iOS,
apps Blackberry Blackberry coming) Phone Blackberry, Symbian
25MB 2GB 10GB 2GB None
There are strong similarities among the top cloud storage services -- and some differences.
Dropbox, like Google Drive, installs as a drive on your computer, Mac or mobile device; it stores
all the files you put there in the cloud and syncs them among your devices. Dropbox has a strong
user base and a large number of supporting apps, which is an advantage. However, given
Google's clout with third-party developers and Dropbox's higher prices, it could be in for long-
Box also installs as a drive on your computer and offers strong sharing features. However, the
service is mainly directly toward businesses, and this shows: Users of the free service can only
upload files up to 25MB in size and there are no desktop syncing features available unless you
upgrade to a business account, which starts at $15 per month.
SkyDrive was recently upgraded with clients for Windows and the Mac, so that stored files are
available directly from your computer rather than just from a Web interface. There is now also
an iOS client (although not yet one for Android). However, SkyDrive doesn't yet automatically
synchronize files from the cloud onto devices, a serious shortcoming. Microsoft has announced
that it will eventually merge SkyDrive with Live Mesh, Microsoft's syncing software, and so will
likely automatically perform syncing. Right now, though, it's not as good as Google Drive.
SugarSync works slightly different from Google Drive, and is much easier to use for syncing
multiple devices. It doesn't install as a separate drive like Google Drive, Dropbox and SkyDrive.
Instead, when you install it, you indicate which folders you want copied to the cloud and synced
to other devices. So you choose from your existing folders on a folder-by-folder basis; no need to
create new folders. And you can also have some folders sync to some of your devices but not
others. For pure syncing, it's superior to Google Drive.
The bottom line
It's this simple: If you want cloud-based storage and syncing, install the free Google Drive even
if you're already using a competitor. Easy to use and with 5GB of free storage, there's no reason
not to try it. (Although my colleague Lucas Mearian disagrees -- see "What to consider before
signing up for Google Drive.") Given that there will likely be a rich ecosystem of add-ins at
some point, the service will only get better over time -- potentially dramatically so.
If you're only interested in cloud-based storage and syncing among multiple devices, it's a
keeper, although not as good as SugarSync for syncing on a folder-by-folder basis. But Google
Drive still needs work, particularly when it comes to editing files created in Microsoft Office on
a PC or a Mac.
So when you use Google Drive today, expect an evolutionary change to the way you work with
files, not a revolutionary one.
Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for Computerworld.com and the author of more than 35
books, including How the Internet Works (Que, 2006).