Google Drive Overview

Fresh off the heels of testing Skydrive, I now turn my attention to Google’s newly published service called Google Drive. It was only a matter of time before Google publicly offered a file syncing service to their customers. Now that both giant software companies have revealed their services to the world, customers can finally be able to compare and decide which one they like best. Of course, there’s nothing stopping a user from using all three services of Dropbox, Skydrive and Google Drive, which ultimately proves one thing: the more competition there is, the better it is for the consumers. But is there anything that Google Drive can do that other competitors can’t or vice-versa?

Sign-Up

Google Drive was just released publicly at the time of this writing and yet many users, including myself, was a little surprised to see that we still had to wait for an official confirmation from Google themselves before the service was enabled to us. We had to click on a link to be notified by email of when this would occur. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long and neither should you because my Google Drive is all good to go and ready to sync within a day or so of the request. Every user gets free 5GB of online storage space. This is more than Dropbox’s free 2GB and less than Skydrive’s offering of 7GB free (loyal users get a whopping 25GB).

Google Drive offers users who need more storage space than the included 5GB by offering two storage plans which have a monthly price of $2.49 and $4.99 for 25GB and 100GB, respectively. Purchasing any of these plans will also upgrade your Gmail storage to 25GB for no extra charge. Users who need more than 100GB can consult this web page for more options.

Download

You can download the Google Drive client from here.

Like with all client installs, Google Drive installs pretty much instantaneous and without much fanfare. All you need to provide is your Gmail email account username and password. By default, your Google Drive folder will located at “C:UsersusernameGoogle Drive“. When you head there initially, you might be surprised by the lack of folders or any other sort of greeting files welcoming you to the Google Drive service. What you will see is just two dummy files which you can pretty much delete without much thought.

Welcome MessageInstall Screen 1Install Screen 2Install Screen 3Default Folder

Uploading and Syncing

SyncingIf you’re already familiar with Dropbox and the new Skydrive service, then Google Drive will be a welcome sight because not much is different. Your Google Drive folder is looks and behaves just like a regular folder which you no doubt have become familiar with in Windows operating systems. Everything that you create and place here will be automatically uploaded to your Google Drive account and will be synced across all devices. It’s simple and works fairly well. The one big change that you might notice right away is the lack of a sync status icon on your individual files. With both Dropbox and Skydrive, a bright green check mark is placed next to each file to indicate that it has been successfully uploaded. With Google Drive, there is no such indication. Your only option is to right click on the Google Drive status icon (in the Notification area) and at the very top of the menu, you’ll get to see your sync status. For example, if you have just placed 10 different photos into the folder, here it will show you how far along the sync process it got but the information given is very minimal (4 of 10, for example). I’m hoping this will be addressed sometime in the near future. Installing Google Drive onto a second computer and logging on will have all files dumped onto that new computer. From then on, every file and folder will be synchronized between all computers as well as on the web.

As with Skydrive, the Google Drive client is sorely lacking in any integration with your desktop itself. Besides providing you with just a local folder for syncing, there’s not much more you can do within your Google Drive folder. Right clicking a file presents you with no option to share the files, for example. In this area of integration, Dropbox trumps both new services. With both Skydrive and Google Drive, everything needs to be managed via the browser. Once again, I really hope this gets changed in the near future.

The one feature that Google Drive has that Skydrive is missing, oddly, is a trash bin! Google Drive allows you to recover deleted files in the web interface and in some situations, this can be really helpful. In Skydrive, deleted files are gone for good.

Google Docs Integration

Both advantages Skydrive and Google Drive have over Dropbox is due to their productivity web app integration. Google Docs allow you to create and work with word documents and spreadsheets all within your browser. You can then share those files out appropriately so that other members can contribute to that file as well. Collaboration features is a big thing now and both Microsoft and Google are doing their best to tie all this in within their respective online services. With Google Docs, you can create word documents, spreadsheets, presentations, online forms, and basic drawing files. Whether or not Google Docs is more powerful than Microsoft’s online offering I have no idea and I assume it’s a matter of preference. I’m also assuming that if the majority of your team members are using one service over another, then that should also alter your final decision. But point is, integration is a big thing and I’m glad it is taking center stage here.

In your local Google Drive folder, double-clicking on a Google Docs file will open that file up in your default browser. From here, you can make the changes you want and of course, everything will be nicely synced up for you. In fact, you don’t even have to remember to save your documents because Google Docs automatically does it for you! The other very awesome feature of Google Docs is their revisioning capability. Skydrive also has this feature but Google Docs pretty much takes it to a whole new level. Google Docs actually marks the actual changes in each revision so that you don’t have to hunt for them manually. This alone can save you a whole lot of time, especially when you collaborate a lot on documents with your other co-workers.

Also, please be aware that when you upload Microsoft documents (.docx, for example) to your Google Drive account, they are view only. If you want to edit them, then you must convert them to Google Doc format. When you upload files using the web interface, you can actually tell Google Drive to automatically convert certain file formats into the compatible Google Docs format. It can even use OCR technology to help make your PDF editable in Google Doc if you so wish. If not, then the PDF is view only. After using Google Drive for a bit, there are many things that I like about it over Microsoft’s Office webapps. The ability to add comments and the powerful revision history feature makes it a much more preferred service if collaboration is important to you. Although editing them online requires it to be Google Doc format compatible, it does allow you to export those files back into the official Microsoft Office format.

Google DocumentGoogle PresentationGoogle SpreadsheetGoogle FormGoogle DrawRevisioningUpload Settings

Sharing in Google Drive

Sharing features with Google Drive is very simple once you’ve taken a few moments to learn it. You can choose to make your files private and only available to users who sign-in, mark them as public so that anyone can search and view them, or you can simply create a link and manually give them to your collaborators. This works very similarly to Skydrive. In a way, it works quite well even though its quite simplistic in nature. I’m pretty sure permissions levels will get more granular as the service matures and as user requests start pouring in from the public. There are currently three different ways you can share a file/folder:

Within the three different methods of sharing, you can also configure three different levels of access withn each level which includes view only, can comment, and can edit.

First you can make the files entirely public. Anyone who wishes to view your files will all get view permissions by default. No sign in is required to view files. If you allow public users to edit the file, then sign in is required although since its public, just about anyone with a Gmail account can edit the file.

Secondly you can create a custom link and distribute the link any way you see fit. All users with the link can view the files without having to sign in. If you allow edit permissions, then sign in is required. However, any user with the link can modify the file even though you haven’t personally sent them a link (they could have gotten it from another person who did have it).

Lastly, you can mark your files as private and manually assign individual access. You are allowed to assign different access permission per individual. For example, one person may be allowed to edit the file while another can only view the document and nothing else. This is the most secure of the share levels. Although I haven’t tested this, I assume that even if another individual shares the link to someone outside of the circle, because you (the owner) haven’t specifically specified any permission for him/her, they will be denied all access including being able to view the document.

The share links created by Google Drive is pretty long but no where as crazy as the URL length of Skydrive:

https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B4GMxM3A-3QcTkFrZmZpU2wyUzg

Share SettingsSharing Level

Mobile Support

Currently, Google Drive is supported on Android devices and the iPhone/iPad version will be available very soon.

UPDATE: 06.28.12 – The Google Drive app is now available for iOS devices.

In the End…

Google’s initial public offering of a file syncing service, although quite simplistic, works very well. The biggest benefit in my eyes will be heavy Google Doc users and collaborators. If you’re not one of those people, then there isn’t that big of an incentive to switch over if you’re already a Skydrive or Dropbox user. As a normal user who just needs to be able to sync files across multiple devices, any one of the three major services can do that for you. If you’re already heavily invested in the Google’sphere, then obviously it makes more sense to tie in one more service under your account with them. If not, then Skydrive should offer the most bang for the buck. At just $10 a year, you get 20GB of storage compared to Google’s 25GB for what equals out to be about $30 a year. Dropbox is the worst out of the three in terms of purchasing extra storage space. Of course, there are drawbacks to each service and ultimately only you can judge for yourself which one suits you best.

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