There’s a tiny cottage industry of mocking the prevalence “finally” in tech headlines — rightfully so — but this is one of the cases where it’s merited: Google’s cloud storage product, Google Drive is here after years of hints, teasing, rumors and speculation. It doesn’t do anything that’s never been done before at this point — in fact, it feels like a product that Google should’ve been offering forever ago.
What is it? A hard drive in the sky, shared between all your devices. It’s a lot like Dropbox, if you’re familiar with it. You put a file, basically any kind of file, in your Drive, it shows up everywhere else you have Drive installed— your other computers (PC or Mac), tablets and phone (Android only now, the iOS app is en route) — perfectly synced. Google Docs is built-in, theoretically making it easy to share files and collaborate on them. So if you start a Google Doc, it saves a link to it on your computer, in your Drive folder; changes made on your local machine show up in the cloud instantly, and vice versa. If you’re not familiar with how Dropbox works, typically you have a Dropbox folder, and everything in that folder is synced to the cloud — the major difference is that Dropbox stores actual copies of your files on your local hard drive, but Google doesn’t. Still, perhaps the best thing over Dropbox, besides the tight integration with Google products? Search. Optical character recognition is built into Drive via Docs, so you can actually search through PDFs (even scanned images), which is kind of killer. You get 5GB for free, though you can buy 25GB for $2.50 a month, 100GB for $5 a month, and so on.
While geeks and early adopters have been onto cloud storage and sharing services like Dropbox, drop.io, CloudApp, MobileMe (*snort*) etc., etc., etc. for a while — my life practically depends on Dropbox — the promise of Google Drive is that normal(er) people might finally get a taste of how powerful cloud syncing services can be, the feeling of not worrying where that thing you were looking for is — it’s everywhere you need it to be, all the time. That’s why we can’t stop talking about the cloud. When it works, it’s not so much a cloud in the sky; it’s kind of like gravity, pulling everything together in a way that feels natural.
Of course, like with every cloud service, there are some people with privacy concerns, but to the extent there are privacy concerns, they’re no different than the ones you choose to ignore when you have a Google account and Gmail or a Dropbox account. You could be more secure and carry everything around thumb drives, sure. You could also ride a horse and not technically ever be in a car accident.
If it works the way it’s supposed to — which, the inability to edit documents offline is a serious killjoy, so still holding our breath here — I suspect it’ll be the first new Google product in a long time that everybody loves, in the same way they love Gmail. And Google could use some love right now.