Cloud storage is big business. Everyone wants to handle your online storage needs. If you go searching for a storage host, you’ll see venerable names like DropBox, Box, SkyDrive, Amazon – and some names you may not be familiar with like SpiderOak and SugarSync. There are a lot of potentials out there, but which one is for you?
Before you make your final selection – I’d like to throw Google Drive into the mix; and I’d like to tell you why.
There are three parts to cloud storage; how much can you store, how much does it cost and what are the features/limitations included.
Obviously, everyone loves FREE. It’s the new thing in the cloud and internet – never pay for ANYTHING. Free games, free apps, free storage – FREE FREE FREE. For some people, the free model works; they aren’t die hard gamers, they don’t mind paying in-app fees or maybe they only need to store 2GB or less in the cloud. For a lot of people, FREE just doesn’t cut it. But cloud storage can get EXPENSIVE. Rarely do you see a ONE TIME FEE anymore. Like everything else in the world, you’re going to pay every month for the service if you need the features
One thing you can count on though is “quota” – that is, a limit to how MUCH you can store in your little personal online file storage. For most services, you’ll see 2-5GB free then the pricing STARTS at $5 a month for incremental storage space. Some people get in on the “mega jackpot” of 50GB free for buying a phone or device – or getting a promotion deal; but then find out that their storage has vast limitations (like nothing over 100MB in size can be uploaded). You want to unlock the features? You will pay.
One solution for people is to use more than one service – DropBox + Box, using each one to their potential. Some people cough up and pay the monthly fees. I’ve even seen people use MULTIPLE DropBox accounts of 2GB each to take care of their needs.
Forget about document collaboration for groups – work in a team of 5 on a document in Dropbox at the same time to see the epitome of pain and suffering.
Somewhere in there – Google snuck a little something out called Google Docs. Its humble beginnings were simply an online “document editor” where you could upload your Word or Excel files and have them converted online into Docs format so you could edit them anywhere. As it matured, more file types were added for storage – and managing the files was purely web-based (and honestly, not very good).
In Google’s baby-step tradition, Docs suddenly allowed you to upload ANY file you wanted – not just a document it could transform and edit – but you were still locked down to a web interface, no local syncing – just … miserable.
The golden chalice – the dreams of dreamers – was that somehow, Google Docs would allow you to sync up like DropBox. That you could MOUNT your Google Docs account like a file system and copy files to and from it. You know… BE USEFUL for those that wanted these sort of features.
Rumors came that Google Drive was coming – the real deal – the Google death march against DropBox and its ilk. Slowly Google Docs became Google Drive – but it was almost a dead-of-the-night transition. People had given up getting what they wanted – and even in the early days, Google Drive wasn’t what people wanted – which was a “Google Dropbox”.
Then one day – it happened. Google dropped a Windows client on us – one that would essentially copy DropBox – allowing you to keep a folder on your PC “synced” with your Google Drive account online. It was still a bit clumsy and the online web component kinda sucked. Plus, sharing was a complete drag next to DropBox’s “public” folder and insta-link sharing (now deceased btw).
Google continued to update and refine the service and little by little – it became the incredibly useful tool that it is. But like the tree that fell in the forest (that nobody was around to hear), Google Drive goes largely unloved. After all, people waited and waited. Tired of waiting, they crawled into bed with DropBox or Box – and left Google Drive on the side of the road.
And nobody wants to change cloud service providers once you have one established, right?
Maybe Google Drive is worth the change.
In reality, Google Drive is a three part service; online or cloud storage, document editing and sharing/collaboration.
Google Drive – The Storage Medium
For free, Google Drive will give you 5GB of storage (that is outside the 2GB they give you for photo storage and 10GB they give you for GMail – at the time of writing). That already trumps most popular services like Dropbox. There are no size restriction on file types or sizes.
Google Drive has a client you install on your computer just like DropBox. Log into your Google Account and you’re pretty much done. What’s in your online cloud is downloaded and whatever you put in your local folder gets synced – all without any interaction from you.
Since you can create folders in your Google Drive, you can actually selectively choose WHICH folders to sync.
One thing that seems to confuse people is the difference between a “file” and a “Google Document”.
When you upload files to Google Drive, if the file can be converted to a native Google Drive format (Word documents, PDF, spreadsheets) you are give the option to convert them. Only Google Drive formatted documents can be edited online. So if you upload a Word document – but don’t elect to convert it – you can view it online, download it, sync it – but you cannot edit it online. You will also not be able to take advantage of online collaboration (more later).
During the syncing process, Google Drive only syncs up “real”, non-Google formatted files. For the Google documents, it provides you with a shortcut in your Google Drive folder to launch the Google Drive web app and open the document for editing online. More on that in a minute.
So what you have for storage is a good amount of FREE storage, the conveniences of a DropBox type app with syncing as well as a very good web interface to access those files.
Note on pricing: For just $2.49 a month, you can increase that to 25GB(!) – that’s a better deal than I’ve seen with ANY other online cloud host (at the time of writing).
Google Drive – The Document Editor
Drive allows you to create, edit and convert documents online. These “Google documents” are custom formatted versions of word processing (Word), spreadsheets (Excel), presentations (Powerpoint), drawings and even internet live forms to create surveys and polls you can share with your friends, family and customers.
Google documents can be edited online and converted via “SAVE AS” to popular formats such as Word, OpenOffice, etc. — even PDF (free conversion to PDF? Sounds like a deal!)
Full presentations can be created AND PLAYED online – letting you break your ties from Powerpoint – and making your presentation viewable anywhere.
As above mentioned, you can create forms with tons of questions with variable answers such as check boxes, multiple choice, scales, grids and more. Easy, free surveys for fun or for business use. You share a link, then check on the results whenever you like. You used to have to use an online service like SurveyMonkey.com to get this. Now it is part of Google Drive.
In the early days, the document editors for Google Docs (now Drive) were not as robust as one might have hoped for. But if you’ve been away for awhile, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how far along these editors have come – particularly with spreadsheets and presentations.
What if you want these documents OFFLINE? You can do that. Google Drive has an OFFLINE option that requires a few steps to enable your documents to be editable while NOT connected to the internet. VERY useful if you want to do some work on a plane or bus ride.
By the way. these online documents can also be SHARED with people and the public in view and edit modes (more on this below).
Only you can decide if Google Drive can break your dependance on Microsoft Office or Open Office type packages – but for many people, Google Drive just might do the trick.
Google Drive – Sharing and Collaboration
One of the things you think about with “online” is sharing – and in the world of documents, you think about collaboration.
Let’s start with sharing. Sharing can be done completely controlled – and you can share at both the FILE and FOLDER level (that’s huge). Share with one person, many people. Give VIEW ONLY access to one person, EDIT access to another. We were without this for a long time – but Google finally came around. Control access pretty much exactly how you like. You can also share non-Google documents as well – such as photos or videos; even ZIP or RAR files.
What about collaboration? Is it strong enough for business class use? Maybe. At least small business users will find this completely adequate for their needs.
Remember, you can only collaborate on Google documents – not a Word or Excel file you uploaded (unless you let Google convert it). Once you’re inside a document being shared, everyone sees what everyone is doing. Literally – and in real time. It’s almost hypnotic to see ghosts writing on your document. You will be alerted if anyone “shows up” while you’re editing.
The best part is that this allows a sort of “web broadcast” of what you’re doing – which works well with drawings. You can brainstorm together in real time – very useful (and dare I say a little fun).
No collaboration features would be complete without revision history and restoration. Every Google document has full revision history and restoration features. You don’t have to worry about sharing documents only to find them ruined the next time you load them up.
Google Drive took a LONG TIME to mature. Those that hopped on the train along the way probably saw (and worked with) a very unfinished product during those times. Many fear a return to Google Drive – unknowing the amazing progress that has been made.
Those trying to use DropBox for collaboration or Box.net (free 50GB) to store large home videos are likely frustrated by those services and are looking for a better solution.
Some people just want a bunch of low cost free space; some want to break their reliance on office suites and move this to the cloud.
For almost everyone, Google Drive has something to offer. For small teams and modest businesses, you may be surprised at just how good Google Drive can be for storage and collaboration. For casual users (especially those already tied into the Google ecosystem) Google Drive is a benediction; the product you forgot about that finally hit the big time.
Got questions? Circle me up on Google+ and ask away!