You probably heard that Google entered the cloud-based file sync race yesterday by releasing Google Drive. At first glance, Google Drive seems to be a head-on competitor to services like Dropbox or Box, but after reading the announcement it looks like there's more to it than just file sync.
Like the other cloud-based file sync services, Google Drive has a client agent that you install on your Mac or Windows client which keeps a folder in sync across all your computers and the cloud. There's also a web interface where you can browse, preview, share, and download your files. Where Google Docs seems to be different is that web apps also have access to your Google Drive. (So the idea is that you can work with a file with a web app from a browser or from the local Google Drive folder via a locally-installed application. Cool!)
What I was hoping Google Drive would be! :)
When I read about Google Drive, I was thinking it was going to combine something like Dropbox and Google Docs. I was thinking that it would have all the file syncing to have my data everywhere, but that it would also let me interact and manipulate that data via Google web apps like Google Docs. (So I thought I could drop a Word doc in my Google Drive and have it sync everywhere, and if I needed to I could edit that file from any one of my devices or from the web-based Google Docs editor.)
If this was true, it would represent a big step towards the future that we discussed in our recent book. We love the idea of separating data files from the applications that manipulate them. A Word document should be available to a user on every device, and it should be editable via Word on a Mac or Windows, via something like QuickOffice from an iPad, or something like Google Docs from the web. (And of course we didn't invent this idea. InstallFree Nexus will do the same thing, and Citrix XenApp can be used to open remote Dropbox files with their appropriate Windows applications.) Still, we were excited about Google Drive and Google's approach to this space.
What Google Drive actually is. :(
When you first install the Google Drive agent on your computer, it's automatically populated with all of your existing Google documents and spreadsheets. Well.. you think it's being populated with all those files until you notice that they're all less than 1k in size. It turns out that they're just links to the existing Google Docs web-based office products. I was thinking/hoping these would be actual document files that I could edit with full local Office apps, but that's not the case. If I'm offline, I don't have access to these files any better than the existing Google Docs offline Chrome plug-in (since they're just links). So actually I'm not entirely sure what the point is of putting all those "files" in my local Google Drive?
The other major problem with Google Drive is that if I add real local files (.docx, .xlsx) to my Google Drive folder on my laptop, they're synced among all my devices and they show up in the Google Drive web interface. So that's cool (and just like you'd expect). Unfortunately if I click on one of those .docx files in the web interface, it does not open up in the real Google Docs editor. Instead it just opens in this lame preview-only viewer. If I want to edit the document, I have to "export" it to Google Docs format. But doing so creates a new instance of my document?!? So now I have the original .docx and the Google Docs version. Now if I edit it via Google Docs, it will always be Google Docs format. If I ever want to edit it with Microsoft Word again offline I have to "download as" Word and then save it into my Google Drive. Of course doing so removes any spaces in the file name and only exports the .doc, not the .docx, which means that I now have three different versions of the same file in my Google Drive!
The same is true for all of the other Google Drive-enabled web apps that I tried. It seems like all they do is add shortcuts to their own web pages via my filesystem.
So I can say for now that my use of Dropbox is safe. In fact I don't really understand the point of Google Drive. If you're just going to use it for file sync and not edit files via the web, I guess this is just a cheaper version of Dropbox?—Google Drive is $60/year for 50GB versus $100/year for Dropbox—though Dropbox has more features (web sharing) and an iOS client.
Really I just don't understand why Google Drive creates those little stub link files in your desktop folders for files you can only edit online?