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Google Drive: Cloud storage as only Google can do it

A screen grab Google Drive

A screen grab of Google Drive

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Updated: May 26, 2012 8:18AM

On Tuesday, Google took the wraps off of Google Drive, the newest coud storage service to suit up and compete to store your pictures, music and documents. Are they late to the game? Dropbox, Apple, Microsoft and others already have their own mature cloud storage services. Dropbox has been out for enough years to become the de facto standard.

But only Google could have done cloud storage this way. It’s so deeply embedded into the overall Google experience that it’s easy to imagine that Google Drive was part of the original Google Docs game plan.

Go to for the full skinny and to poke Google into activating Drive on your existing Google account. Once it finally arrives(Google is doing a staggered rollout), presto: You get five gigabytes of free online storage. Google will expand your storage to 25 gigs for $2.49 a month or all the way to a full terabyte for $50. You can mount your cloud directory on your Windows or Mac desktop or access your files via client apps for Android (right now) and iOS (real soon).

Drive is a bit more like the cloud service provided by Box than by Dropbox. It’s not just storage; it’s a Web app for making cloud-stored files useful to other Google products. Google Docs is baked right in and there are also file viewers for dozens of document types. Sharing docs is meant to be dead-simple, whether you want to send a friend a link to a private video of your dog or allow the nine members of your project team to collaborate and comment on a report. Like Dropbox, Drive supports versioning and can “rewind” a file back to how it was before you did that horrible thing to it.

And this is Google, so you knew that search was going to be another big feature. Google Drive will even recognize the content of photos and scanned text. You should be able to surface all of your pet photos just by searching Drive for “dog.”

(I’ll be scrutinizing the Google Drive terms of service carefully. I can imagine a meeting last year in which a senior Google search manager, wearing thick, hooded black robes, bitterly asking his underlings “But think of how much more precisely we could target ads to these hapless meatbags if we could trick them into letting us index their personal files . . .”)

Google’s late to the cloud storage rodeo. But Drive seems consistent with the company’s larger strategies: search everything. And try to get people to do fewer things with desktop apps and more things in a web browser, where Google can analyze their behavior.

All of the other cloud storage services take different approaches. Dropbox became the king through simple ecumenism; developers are free to write apps that interact directly with the Dropbox service in any way that seems useful. Microsoft apparently built SkyDrive as an accessory to Office; its tools for editing Word documents via a browser app makes Google Docs look like a C- undergrad student effort. Apple settled themselves into the lotus position and built iCloud, a holistic approach to cloud storage in which data is everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. iCloud isn’t the pot in which your file is planted. . . . It’s the nitrogen that allows living things to thrive in a hundred different ways.

And then there’s, which has found fans in the enterprise market as a cloud-based development platform, and Amazon’s music locker.

Google’s hope is that Drive will drive people deeper into the Google Apps ecosystem. As basic storage it’s fine, but as the core file system of Google Web apps, it’s something special. It’s a gamble.

Maybe people don’t want cloud storage to be special. Maybe they just want that cloud-based flash drive that’s always available and always works.

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