Long ago Google internally tested a file storage service code-named Platypus, but the world referred to it as Google Drive or Gdrive. In 2008 they killed off the project, instead allowing users to upload files to Google Docs in the familiar interface we use today.
Meanwhile, “store your files in the cloud” services like Box.net, Sugarsync, and Dropbox have gained in popularity, with Dropbox recently valued at $4 billion.
People want their files online but aren’t ready to work exclusively in the cloud as Google hopes. Yet there are recent clues that Google may be bringing Google Drive back, including code in the open source Chromium browser that references “drive.google.com.” And some Google Docs users seeing messages saying, “Items have been removed from your Google Drive”, as TechCrunch reported. Is Google preparing to give us the cloud sync service we’re looking for?
Google loves the cloud because Google is the cloud. Given a choice, they would have everything cloud-based. Many of us are embracing that approach and its benefits, but realize that we haven’t yet reached a point where everything can be cloud-based. We still need our local storage and programs.
Google Docs provides the option to upload your files to the cloud and work on them there, and even to access them while offline, but if you want to work on them with a local editor, things get messy with uploading and downloading, managing versions, installing syncing plugins, and so forth.
Getting our files into the cloud is the first and most important step. If Google wants us in the cloud, make the transition easy and we’ll be more likely to follow.
How It Should Work
A better way would be to let us have our local files, but sync them to the cloud so you can access and edit them there as well. It would be the best of both worlds. If you’re at the office and want to work on a Word document on your desktop, you pull it up from your hard drive like you always have. If you’re on the road and want to make some changes, you pull out your tablet, open Google Docs, and make the edits. In either case, the changes are immediately synced between your devices and the cloud so you always have access to the latest version.
Granted, syncing all your files with Google won’t allow you to edit them all in the cloud, but the most popular file types can already be edited through Google Docs, and as more files get uploaded, more opportunities will appear for additional apps.
This type of syncing is not new, and is exactly how Dropbox works. Sync a folder from your local hard drive to Dropbox and the files are loaded online. Every change you make to them is immediately synced to the cloud. You can sync that same folder to another machine, allowing you to have identical content on multiple machines, as well as accessing it from your smartphone or tablet, or downloading it to any other computer via the Web interface. Dropbox even provides a nice photo gallery, showing the first example of how a Web app layered onto your local data can behave.
Why would a business want its files in a cloud-synced Google Drive? If they do it right, by copying Dropbox feature by feature, there are a number of reasons why Google Drive would be desirable.
Portability: With your files stored locally and in the cloud, you have access to them whenever you need. On a plane and don’t want to pay for Wi-Fi? No problem; use the copy stored on your local hard drive. In the car and only have your smartphone? Easy, access the files through 3G/4G. At a friend’s house and don’t have any of your devices with you? Use their computer to download a version from the Web, or edit within Google Docs.
Backup: We all know we need to back up our files, but few of us have a rock-solid method of doing so, and we are inevitably reminded of this when we lose a file. With your files synced to the cloud, Google Drive can become your backup, offering to restore recently deleted files, or perhaps for an extra fee, any file you’ve ever stored there.
Versions: Short of having a full backup, it’s also useful to have a backup of all the versions of your files. If you edit a file today and later wish you could go back to the way it was yesterday, can you? Google Docs and some software packages offer this option, but by handling it at the file system level the way Dropbox does, you could simply look at all the versions of the doc as they were synced to Google Drive, sorted by modification time, perhaps even with previews for popular file types, and choose the one you want to bring back.
Sharing: It’s difficult to share a file from your local hard drive with a friend or colleague, and if you do, it’s generally as a standalone document, so you don’t see changes that they make. Google Docs makes sharing easy so you can both work on the same document, and see each others’ changes. Google Drive could take this further by allowing your colleague to work on a copy in the cloud, while you work on a copy on your laptop, and both will remain in sync.
We’re doing things on the Web that we couldn’t imagine just a few years ago. By having our files in Google Drive, Google will enable interesting and enticing new ways of organizing, viewing, editing, and sharing our documents. With each new option we’ll be pulled closer to the cloud and further from our local files until we’re happy to live completely in the cloud, as Google is pushing for.
Though the cloud may be Google’s destination for all of us, many would be happy with something in-between, allowing the best of both worlds. Being able to work in the cloud when it makes sense, yet still work with local files and programs, is a comfortable balance that gives you flexibility in how you work and assures you of your data’s portability. With a properly designed Google Drive, this could be our future. And while Google has their own reasons for making it happen, you and your business can benefit, as well.
Joseph Fieber is an experienced blogger who spent 25 years as an IT pro, and has a background in computer consulting and software training. He can be contacted through his website, JosephFieber.com.
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