The Everything Drive
Why Google Drive, Dropbox, and other online file-storage services will be better together.
Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, SugarSync, and box.com all give away some space for free, and then ask you to pay a few dollars a month for more. But how much space do you need? I’ve been using Dropbox for years and have never run against its 2GB limit. Dropbox has lots of paying customers, so clearly some people want more space. But probably not that much more—Microsoft says that 99.94 percent of SkyDrive users store less than 7GB of stuff. On the off chance you need even more space than that, all you’ve got to do is allocate your files between all these services, maximizing the amount of free storage that everyone’s giving away. Between all these firms, there’s almost 25 GB of completely free online storage available for the taking. And chances are that number will grow—as the cost of disk drives plummets, and as competition rises, they’ll all have to offer more and more free storage.
For Microsoft and Google, this state of affairs isn’t so bad. Neither expects to make much money from file hosting. They both consider online storage an adjunct to their other products—SkyDrive makes Windows devices better, while Google Drive keeps people using Google’s ad-supported software. But for cloud-storage startups like Dropbox, the rise of competing storage services could be terrible. Right now, my SkyDrive and Google Drive folders sit empty next to my Dropbox. When I hit my 2GB limit, all I’ve got to do is switch over to one of the other two—and, just like that, Dropbox’s $4 billion valuation will go up in smoke.
If I were Dropbox chief Drew Houston—or another hungry startup entrepreneur—I’d work on a way to cobble all these rival services into one super file-storage service. As users begin to store their files across a host of different online services, keeping track of where you put what could get a little hairy. Are your family pictures in your SkyDrive, or your Dropbox? Did you store that important tax document in your Google Drive, or somewhere else—and, if so, where?
Imagine a service that kept track of all these different drives for you. Call it your SugarDropSkyGoogDriveBox—or, actually, let’s call it your Everything Drive. This would serve as a front end for all the free space you’ve signed up for online. When you save something to your Everything Drive, the service will automatically choose whether to put the document on your Dropbox, your Google Drive, your SkyDrive, or elsewhere, depending on where you’ve got free space. When you need that file again, just click on it in your Everything Drive (which you’d be able to see on all your devices) and it will load up instantly—and you’d never know which online service it’s actually stored on.
All of the major storage services offer access to developers, so, as a technical matter, creating the Everything Drive should be possible. All we need now is a smart programmer to build it. What do you say, engineers?
Farhad Manjoo is Slate's technology columnist and the author of True Enough: Learning To Live in a Post-Fact Society. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter.