Rumors that Google would get into the online storage game have been swirling longer than some of its rivals have been in business. The first bit of evidence appeared online in 2004, the year Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook. Every few years since then, Google acolytes have stumbled upon fresh proof that the GDrive was imminent. And yet it never came. Even though Google seemed to be in a better position than anyone to launch a personal file-hosting service—it runs acres of data centers, it fetishizes “the cloud,” and its corporate future depends on people accessing their stuff through the Web—Google bizarrely resisted creating a simple drive in the sky.
Eventually, people stopped waiting. In 2008, a start-up called Dropbox made it drop-dead easy to store and access files from all of your devices. A host of other start-ups, including Box.com and SugarSync, make similar drives in the cloud. And it’s not just a business for little guys: Microsoft launched its file hosting service, SkyDrive, in 2007, and has steadily improved the program since then. This week it announced several new features, including a Dropbox-like Windows app and slick new versions for the Mac and iOS. Yes, it’s true—Microsoft now offers a better cloud service for your Apple devices than anything made in Cupertino.
Now, finally, Google is joining the party. On Tuesday morning, the search company announced its own storage service called Google Drive. To describe this as anti-climactic is to do a disservice to anti-climax. Google says that when you put a file into your Google Drive, it will be available everywhere, including PCs and Macs, iPhones, iPads, and Android devices. In other words, it’s just like Dropbox and SkyDrive. But Google gives you 5 gigabytes of storage space for free, whereas Dropbox gives you only two gigs. That sounds fantastic … until you realize that SkyDrive gives you seven gigabytes gratis. Google says it offers several ways for you to collaborate with other people—Google Drive is built as an extension to Google Docs—which is nice. But it lacks the amazing sharing feature that Dropbox unveiled this week: Every file in your Dropbox now carries a link that you can share with anyone, even people who don’t use Dropbox. It’s the simplest way to share large files I’ve ever seen.
To be fair, there are some unique features built into Google Drive. For instance, the service gives you a nice search engine that scans and recognizes text in your image files—if you take a photo of a newspaper and later search for a headline, you’ll find it. Google is also willing to sell you more storage space than any of its competitors. If you want to, you can buy up to 16 terabytes of space for your stuff—enough for about 5,000 high-definition movies—for the bargain-basement price of $800 a month. More reasonably, you can get 25 gigs of space for just $2.49 a month.
But don’t pay Google for extra space. Indeed, if you’re paying anyone for online storage, you’re a chump. The beautiful thing about all this competition between online storage services is that you don’t have to choose one of them. These services are actually better—that is, cheaper—when you use them together.