Does Google Drive Better than its Competitors?

Contributing Editor

Rumors of a Google cloud-based file storage service have been circulating since 2006 but Google Drive was finally released on April 24, 2012. That’s an unusually long gestation period for a company that normally releases first then tweaks (or abandons) later.

Google Drive is a direct competitor to established players such as Dropbox, SugarSync, Box, Cubby, Microsoft SkyDrive and Apple iCloud. But is it better?

Google Drive Features

Google Drive

It’s important to realize that Google Drive is a replacement for Google Docs (GDocs). Once you sign-up with your Google account, the docs.google.com URL will redirect to drive.google.com. The web interface is fundamentally the same and you can add, create, edit and delete files and folders as before.

Replacing GDocs is a clever idea. The projects are compatible and your cloud-based documents can be browsed from your desktop — an attractive feature for those migrating from Microsoft Office. It’s also apparent Google has learned lessons from doomed projects such as Wave; it’s easier to piggy-back on the success of an existing project than build a new user base from scratch. GDoc’s 40 million users have little reason not to adopt Google Drive.

To make the most of Google Drive, you need to install the desktop application on your PCs, tablets and smart phones. Native applications are currently available for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS but you can be certain that other platforms including Linux and Blackberry will appear shortly.

The desktop application creates a folder on your device. Its files and sub-folders are automatically synchronized to the web and your other devices. Google offer a generous 5GB of free space with competitive plans including 100GB for $60 per year.

Google Drive

How Does it Compare?

Following sign-up, you’ll need to wait for around 24 hours before your existing Docs account is converted. I suspect Google will convert all accounts at some point in the future.

The desktop application is simple to install — assuming it doesn’t throw fatal errors. Many Windows users have reported similar experiences to me although installing Microsoft’s Visual C++ 2008 SP1 Redistributable rectified my issues. Once installed, there’s a little configuration to set the Google Drive folder and the application will run in the background so you can forget about it. On my system, it required a little over 30MB memory to execute — not horrendous, but Dropbox uses less than half that.

If you’ve used similar services you’ll understand how Google Drive works. The main difference is that you’ll find Google Docs files in your synchronized folder. Resources such as PDFs are downloaded as-is so you can open them directly.

Native Google documents are simply URL links which open the file in a browser. While that’s practical, it means you can’t open files offline and you don’t have a real backup in the event of connectivity or service problems. I’m not convinced it’s a major drawback but an option for automatic conversion to desktop formats such as TXT, RTF, DOC, ODT, XLS and PDF would be a bonus.

Finally, there’s the issue of trust. From an ownership perspective, the terms and conditions are clear:

You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.

Privacy is another matter…

When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This license continues even if you stop using our Services.

Could Google take a sneaky peek at your files to provide context-sensitive advertising? Put it this way, I suggest caution if you’re planning to upload documents containing personal information. But the same can be said for every online service since the dawn of the web.

Google Docs Summary

In essence, there’s little to distinguish Google Drive from its competitors. Google has copied the best features from Dropbox and, while that’s no bad thing, it doesn’t offer a compelling reason to switch. Yet.

More competition is great for users, though. Google may drive down storage prices and you can install different services concurrently to obtain many gigabytes of free backup space.

Pros:

  • The service works.
  • Generous 5GB of free space and inexpensive storage plans.
  • Automatic Google Docs synchronization.
  • Google will evolve the product rapidly.

Cons:

  • Currently limited to Windows, Mac, iOS and Android platforms.
  • Some rough edges; application installation problems and less-efficient memory use.
  • Google document synchronization is a little kludgey.
  • Fewer features, no API and less capable than competing products.
  • Potential trust issues.

Have you installed Google Drive? Do you prefer it to competing services? Should Dropbox be concerned? Do you trust Google keep their eyes off your data?

Free book: Jump Start HTML5 Basics

Grab a free copy of one our latest ebooks! Packed with hints and tips on HTML5's most powerful new features.

  • Ted Tullos

    Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte just recently performed a broad comparison of cloud-based storage solutions, including Google Drive, from a privacy perspective. If you are concerned about cloud storage providers being able to read your files (or give your files to others) then it is important to understand the cryptography (or lack thereof) being used.

    In short, it is absolutely possible to have a cloud storage system in which the storage provider cannot read your documents through the use of modern crypto schemes. The tradeoff is one of convenience — such providers cannot provide web access or similar services and the customer must ensure that they never lose their decryption key. But it can be, and is, done. By some services; not Google Drive.

    The fairly comprehensive podcasts in question are:
    Security Now! 349 (http://twit.tv/show/security-now/349) … a broad overview of solutions
    Security Now! 350 (http://twit.tv/show/security-now/349) … a follow-up which includes Google Drive

    The issue of privacy is not a big one for many people. However, it is important to be aware of the capabilities of your provider and understand the tradeoffs between the different approaches. In particular, it is important to know which providers promise privacy but don’t actually deliver.

  • Dave Violette

    A major con for me with Drive (or SkyDrive and others) is being forced to put my files to be synced in a separate folder. I use Mozy paid storage and can keep my own directory structure and can select at the file and folder level which files to sync or not sync. Since I use Mozy for offsite backup this is very important to me.

  • Ry

    Craig, it is time to upgrade from Windows XP.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Don’t worry – I was running it in a clean XP Virtual Machine – not my main Windows 7 desktop.

  • mikemick

    Funny, I think you should add “available for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android platforms” to the Pros list.

  • Jim

    “Native applications are currently available for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS…”

    Not quite. Here’s information straight from Google:

    Minimum Apple device requirements
    There isn’t currently a Google Docs app for iPhone or iPad. However, you can access your Docs on iPhone and iPad on your mobile browser.
    You can edit Google documents and spreadsheets on your mobile browser if you’re using iPhone or iPad with iOS 3.0 and up. To check your version, go to Settings, select General, then click About. Your version number is listed under “Version.”

  • http://www.websanity.co.uk Gez

    Did you not read ‘publicly display’ in the t and c s? You’d be mad to accept such a condition!

  • http://www.guerreroseo.com Bernard

    I installed GGdrive last week on my imac and my ibook. I am already a paid user of DropBox.
    I wanted to test it because for 50 GB, GG drive seems cheaper.
    I uploaded the same file on my dropBox and my gg drive.
    ready on Dropbox : 28s
    ready on Gg drive : more than 1 mn 30s
    so, i will not switch for now. And less than I believe when I read this article about privacy and the right that GG take to read your files… I will stay with Dbox for a long time, I guess.
    Bernard

  • http://feryardiant.web.id Fery Ardiant

    “Currently limited to Windows, Mac, iOS and Android platforms.”

    I don’t why Google doesn’t gave support for linux users,
    huft…

    • USPaperchaser

      Because Linux sucks with it’s pathetic 2% market share.

      • Bruce

        Linux sucks? Why?

      • TehYoyo

        Yeah…there’s no basis for that. 2% is a lot of market share if you think about it.

        Opera only has 2%…does that mean that the product sucks? No. Both products cater to a techy crowd and aren’t “pathetic” or “suck”.

  • Roger

    You could add “revision history” and “collaborative work” to the pros list, I think.
    I don’t know if those others offer such a service, does anyone know?

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Dropbox certainly does.

      • http://swivel.in/ Joseph

        IIRC, Dropbox does not have collaborative editing…

  • Frank Woodman Jr

    The real issue with all of these off site storage and back up sites for me is security. Most either don’t offer encryption or only encrypt AFTER a file is sent to the service. Google doesn’t offer encryption at all and I’m sure never will as they want the ability to scan your files and offer advertising that is content related. That’s a killer problem for me and although I could just encrypt files myself before I sent them that’s way to much trouble since there are those services that do encrypt files and do it BEFORE you even send them. That provides security and prevents loss of information and I refuse to be without those protections. So Google Drive and most of the others aren’t going to get my business as long as my data is open for others to steal or mine for information.

    • Steve

      This is a great point. I don’t know though how many people even think about this as a security issue, but really that is all we need – more targeting marketing towards each of us.

  • http://itspolis.com Adam

    Hi,

    is it possible to use “script” to read docs from GDrive and show them on my website for download or for read on a viewer

  • http://helpyousponsor.com Chad

    With dropbox, if someone shares a folder with you, the size of that shared folder takes away from your dropbox space. For example, if someone shares a folder of pictures with you (this happened to me) and then fills it full of pics it could use up your entire account.

    Does anyone one know if the same is true with Google Drive? I have not been able to find the answer to this.

  • http://webhostingthebest.com/ whtb

    Google can do better, Maybe Go Unlimited for an affordable price to beat all the competition.

    • kristina

      Your idea are totally rocking. But what about someone play mischief with it.

  • Pawel

    What about Ubuntu One? Of course it’s just for Linux (at least I think so) but it beats both Google Drive and Dropbox in that you can have ANY folder on your computer synced with the cloud! I don’t want to have a separate folder for synced files, I want all my important projects in their dedicated folders to be synced seamlessly in the background, without having to put my files in a special “cloud-dedicated” folder. And you get 5BG for free, just as with Google. And there’s an Android app, too. So switch to Linux, people! :)

    • gar_onn

      It’s not just for linux, it has a program for windows as well, and the site of course. I use it to sync my Ubuntu and windows (and it works just great).