Is Google Drive the Answer to Your Problems?

Is Google Drive the Answer to Your Problems?
The sun is shining on cloud computing these days. The latest major player to enter the cloud storage and synching service is Google, with its Google Drive. Google's service joins a growing field of providers that includes Microsoft SkyDrive, Dropbox, Amazon Cloud, Apple iCloud and other popular services like Sugarsync.
There Are Many Reasons to Use Cloud Services:

  • Storing important documents in the cloud is a good way of making sure you always have a reliable backup even if your computer is stolen or destroyed in an earthquake.
  • Using an online email service like Gmail not only makes it easy to get your email anywhere you have access to an online computer but you get the peace of mind that all your email is backed up.
  • Putting your photos in the cloud on services like Picasa or Flickr not only provides a backup but gives others access to your photos.
  • Using the cloud for office-type docs allows for better collaboration and synchronization.

With all these reasons to use the cloud, is it time for you to start using it and is the new Google service the one to use? If not, than which service is the best to use for which type of document or file? Here are some things to consider when deciding how to use new cloud services like Google Drive.

Cloud Services Are Very Easy to Set Up and UseThe new Google Drive and other services like Dropbox or Microsoft SkyDrive work through an app on your computer or mobile device. On your computer, the cloud drive looks like a normal drive that you can use just like a folder; dragging and dropping files in and out. You can also elect to synchronize selected folders on different devices so changes you make on one device will appear on another device. Google Drive has also been merged with Google Docs so if you're a Google Docs user, you can access files on Google Drive right from Google Docs. If you're a Microsoft Office user manipulating files with Google Docs and Google Drive may be a bit cumbersome due to the need to change formats and pay attention to file naming.
The "Extras" May Give Google Drive an Edge Despite the fact that early reviewers have complained about some usability issues with Google Drive, buying into the Google ecosystem may have some advantages. First there's the powerful Google search engine that can already do some remarkable things like image-based searches. Third party add-ons may also offer some attractive enhancements. At launch a company named HelloFax makes it possible for you to send and receive faxes from Google Drive while a company named WeVideo offers cloud-based collaborative video editing. If the audience grows and there is a way for developers to make money, you could see a big advantage for Google Drive.
Who Owns Your Data?As soon as Google Drive was announced a lot of attention was directed at Google's TOS (terms of service). Here's one of the paragraphs that created some alarm:

"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 way that reads it sounds like Google has the right to do anything it wants with anything you put on Google Drive however; the sentence that follows this describes the intent and may help calm some adopters:

"The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones."

Who Offers the Most Storage for Free?

Dropbox 2GB (Can go to 18GB with referrals)
Amazon Cloud 5GB
Google Drive 5GB
Microsoft SkyDrive 7GB (Downsized from 25GB after April 2012)
Apple iCloud 5GB

All of the cloud providers offer a generous amount of storage for free and sell incremental storage for a reasonable fee; running anywhere from $.50 - $2 per GB per year. Google Drive will even provide you with 1TB for $600 a year although for $600 you can probably buy yourself a few 2TB hard drives and make some backups to keep offsite.

Is a Cloud Drive Practical?
An average home network can download 2 MB per second and upload at a slower rate of around 500 KB per second so a 500 KB photo would take about a second to upload and a fraction of that to download. Songs will average about 4 times longer depending on the compression level. Videos are a different story since a 1 GB video file would run you almost 10 minutes to download and a lot longer to upload. On a file-by-file basis, moving files on and off the cloud is not that bad. On the other hand, if you wanted to move all of your 5GBs on or off the cloud you're talking an hour or more.
The Bottom Line on Clouds

  iOS Android Windows Phone
Dropbox Yes Yes No
Amazon Cloud No Yes --
Google Drive No Yes No
Microsoft SkyDrive Yes No Yes
Apple iCloud Yes No No

If you're looking to have a reliable backup for some important documents, some photos, music and other smaller individual files, or want to make sure documents are synchronized among machines and users than buying into one of the providers' solutions makes a lot of sense. Google and Microsoft might be the best choice for multiple types of files. For example with Google you can get 5GB of "Drive" storage plus 1GB of Picasa storage, plus a lot of Gmail storage and even some more storage on Google's new music service. Buying into Apple's ecosystem with iCloud also makes a lot of sense if you're an Apple user with a large iTunes collection and you don't care about using iCloud on another mobile OS like Android. Amazon offers a good value in cloud services especially if you're willing to buy an album a year to get the 25GB of storage for free however, there's no automatic synching currently with Amazon Cloud Drive. On the other hand, if you want the easiest service to use that works across the most mobile operating systems, your best bet is Dropbox.

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