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Google Drive: Hands-On Winner

Google's new online storage service represents the natural evolution of Google Docs, and another transformation for the world of collaborative file management.
Google launched Google Drive, its new cloud-based file storage, management, and sharing service, Tuesday. It offers 5 GB of data storage for free and significantly more if you're willing to pony up some cash each month. It supports 30 different file types and a number of mobile and desktop platforms. Google Drive isn't exactly unique, however, and competitors Dropbox, Box, iCloud, SkyDrive, and others offer similar features sets. What makes Google Drive different or better than the rest, and who will benefit from it the most?

I've used Google Docs every day for more than five years. Its online document and sharing/collaboration tools are an essential element to my workflow. Considering how many governments and business have "gone Google," I am surely not the only one who's come to rely on Google Docs.

Tuesday's introduction of Google Drive is more a revamp of Google Docs than it is a brand new service. Essentially, Google is rebranding Google Docs to Google Drive, and modifying its user interface to suit a bunch of new features.

Docs already lets users create documents, spreadsheets, and other files. Those files could be edited, shared, downloaded, uploaded, and so on. None of that has changed, only now Docs, er, Drive users have a minimum of 5 GB of storage of which to make use. There are a few key differences, however, that dramatically improve the usefulness of the whole shebang.

[ Learn more about Google's new cloud storage service. See Google Drive Arrives, At Last. ]

In addition to the browser-based user interface and file access, Google has developed dedicated applications for the Android, Windows, and OS X platforms (an iOS app is on the way). These apps give PC and smartphone/tablet users instant access to their files and will automatically upload, download, and sync them across multiple devices types.

I downloaded and installed the Google Drive app on two different Macs, an Android tablet, and an Android smartphone. On the Macs, I was able to download and sync all my Google Docs files to a local "Google Drive" folder. Want to make a file on your desktop available to your smartphone? Easy, just drag and drop it into the Google Drive file and it syncs across the 'Net where it can be accessed on the smartphone. Dropbox handles this same feature very well.

The real killer feature is search. You've always been able to search through Google Docs, but the new tools available in Google Drive let users sort among file types, file owners, file visibility, and so on. Being able to specify searches just for PDFs or presentation files can really help narrow down results and speed up the searching process.

Perhaps what's more enjoyable than easy file syncing, though, is easy file sharing. I'm not talking about sending a spreadsheet to your boss. I'm talking about social networks and other services such as Google+. Sending files, such as photos, from Google Drive to Google+ or Picasa is a breeze. It's also a snap to send files, including music tracks, documents, or photos, from an Android device to the online drive.

Who will benefit most from Google Drive? The service is clearly meant for use by consumers and not necessarily the enterprise, where intranets are the norm for file storage, management, and sharing. Small businesses that can't afford to purchase intricate database systems can reap plenty of rewards from the simplicity offered by Google Drive.

Will Google Drive replace the services it acts to mimic? Probably some of them. It's one thing to be able to swap files from device to device, but something else to create, share, and collaborate on files with coworkers or others. For organizations or individuals who don't need the powerful document tools, sticking with services such as Dropbox or Box will make sense. Any business invested in Google's services and Google Docs should look seriously at Google Drive.

As companies increase their use of cloud-based applications, IT and security professionals must make some tough and far-reaching decisions about how to provision, deprovision, and otherwise manage user access. This Dark Reading report, How To Manage Identity In The Public Cloud, examines the options and provides recommendations for determining which one is right for your organization. (Free registration required.)

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