After months of rumor and speculation, the latest tech unicorn has arrived. Tuesday morning Twitter informed me that Google Drive was active.
So I went to the splash page to see what Google Drive can do.
Some Quick Specs for Google Drive
- 5GB free online storage (plus 10GB of Gmail storage and 1GB of Picasa storage, also free)
- Web access and a desktop app (PC and Mac) for drag and drop syncing
- Android mobile app with an IOS version on the way
- Upgrades available
- 25GB Drive and Picasa storage and a Gmail bump to 25GB for $2.49/month
- 100GB Drive and Picasa storage and a Gmail bump to 25GB for $4.99/month
- Additional plans up to 16TB (yes, Terabytes. Wow.)
So that’s not bad. More free storage than Dropbox. Less than Microsoft Skydrive. WAYYYY less than Box was offering. Still, 5GB for free is a decent offering for a cloud storage service. The question is what Google Drive offers to differentiate itself from the competing options out there.
Why Use Google Drive?
Google lays out the features of their shiny new toy.
Google Docs Integration
Easy access to existing Google Docs and easy creation and sharing of new files. Google claims collaborative editing will show updates on the fly to all users viewing the shared document.
Gmail and Google+ connectivity
Files on the drive can be attached to Gmail messages with a link rather than the entire thing (which seems to make the increased storage a little less necessary, but whatever). Google Drive media files are accessible from Google+ to simplify sharing.
Drive seems to have incorporated some of the functionality of Evernote, with OCR of text scans and image recognition providing search access to files that typically require tags for searching.
Google claims over 30 file types can be viewed from inside the browser, including Illustrator and Photoshop, even if the parent application is not installed on the computer. This of course presupposes that the Shockwave Flash plugin in Chrome hasn’t crashed (again).
Create and open files for “a variety of apps” from within Google Drive.
Granular sharing control for all files in Drive
Commenting tools from inside the documents in Drive
Tracking of all file changes from every save going back 30 days by default, but configurable to track all changes.
Google Drive: The Experience
Taking in all this information, I was eager to give it a spin. I clicked on the big Go To Google Drive button and was promptly informed that my Google Drive was not ready. Frustrating, but considering how long I had to wait for my Google Voice to activate, not entirely surprising. Finally toward the end of the day a message arrived telling me that we were ready to go and get started.
Google Drive: Starting out
I was happy to see the “Download Google Drive for Mac” button there, and it quickly gave me a Dropbox-style folder that I can drag and drop into. It syncs files from my computer to the web and every other computer with my desktop client on it. That works just fine, and everything does just sync itself when a change is made to the Google Drive folder or on the web client.
The web interface is also pretty straightforward. The files and folders can be dragged around just like in Windows Explorer with the folder navigation tree on the left side. While I am not really heavily invested in the Google Docs environment for my typical workflow, I can see the appeal. Multiple file downloads from the web are no problem as you can select as many as you like and download in a single action.
Google Drive: Digging a Little Deeper
I began poking around some of the other parts of the Google ecosystem to test how well Drive is integrated. Going into Google+ and trying to post an image gives you the option of choosing Drive as your source for the files. I was expecting a similar experience when I tried to attach a file in Gmail with a Drive URL link as promised, but that process seems unchanged. I’m sure there must be some workaround to do this, but it was certainly not as obvious as the Google+ UI. Again, I’ve spent less than a day using this, but if you have to look for a commonly used feature, there is a potential opportunity for improvement.
I then tried to test out that power search tool. Could it really read the text in my photos and identify images? Well, yes and no. I used these images for the trial.
I tried searches for the words “sticky,” “chewy,” “chocolate,” “fantasy,” and “Snickers” with no success. I then tried the other photo, and to my surprise, “Fries,” “Poutine,” and “York” all found that photo. So black text on a white background works best for the OCR. After some more trials, “Fudge” and “ice cream” did pull up the Swensen’s photo. It isn’t completely clear whether the “ice cream” search found the words on the menu or identified the image. Clearly this is not foolproof, but there is definitely something here to be leveraged as the capabilities are better understood.
Is Google Drive Right for You?
This will take a little experimentation to find out how this fits into your tech world, but here are a few things to consider.
- This is clearly Google trying to find more ways to keep you living inside their online ecosystem. With Drive, that Chrome OS laptop makes a little more sense. I think big Google Docs and Google+ users will find this makes their lives a bit easier.
- For Cloud backup and file transfer, this is just as good as the services mentioned if not better. The storage capacity is going to be an individual decision. I am still not completely sold on the Cloud taking over… bandwidth caps, online security, hacking vulnerability, and Google’s Terms of Service give me a little pause when deciding what goes up there.
- Privacy concerns are a bit of a sticky issue for me. The fact that Google freely admits that programs scour the content of your Gmail messages to tailor your ad experience is a little unsettling. Even though they claim no human ever reads your email, the fact that something is crawling around through my data has a chilling effect on what I will choose to post, especially given these new search capabilities.
There are still areas of this I have yet to explore, but the initial foray has got me convinced that it will probably increase my usage of Google Docs and Photo storage. I don’t see this really replacing any other service I use. Rather, it’s a nice little tool that I will keep exploring before I render final judgment.