We've been hearing about Google Drive, the cloud file hosting and sharing service from Google for a while now. There have been plenty of clues and hints and Drive was most definitely coming. But now we have another confirmation, the Wall Street Journal is saying that Drive is on its way, in the coming weeks or months, and that it's got Dropbox as its main target.
Google already offers file hosting via Google Docs. Users can upload any file to the cloud, provided they have the storage space to do it. They get 1 GB free by default, but paid storage is very cheap, $5, €3.77 will get you 20 GB for a year.
That said, few people use Docs as a multi-purpose file hosting service. Even though it's technically possible, it's too complicated.
Users have to upload files by hand, via the browser. People will do that with a file or even 10 and will do it once in a while, but they won't to keep their files up to date or to sync any significant amount of them between devices, there's simply too much friction.
Dropbox on the other hand couldn't be easier, just install it, place the files you want synced in its folder and that's it. Any update to the files, any new files added will be uploaded automatically and synced across all devices you use Dropbox on. Sharing is as easy as providing the email address of the people you want to share with.
This is what Google is aiming for with Drive. There will be a desktop client and, very importantly, there will be mobile clients. Any specifics are speculation at this point, but an Android client is definite. An iOS one would be nice and Google will probably have one at launch if it wants its service to pick up steam.
The WSJ is saying that Google Drive should be free for users and companies, but that Google will charge for more space than what is offered for free. That's hardly surprising, it's what Dropbox is doing and it's what Google has always done. Google Drive could come with 20 GB of free storage, maybe even more
The key question is how much is Google going to offer for free. Dropbox comes with 2 GB of free storage, but you can get much more
by inviting other people to use the service, or by using the beta clients for example.
Google won't be able to compete with Dropbox, which should have over 50 million users at this point, if it won't offer a lot more free storage out of the box. Integration with the rest of Google services is nice, but it won't be enough.
What's more, Microsoft is offering 25 GB of free storage with Skydrive, its own cloud storage service. But much like Google Docs, Skydrive doesn't offer any automated sync options, everything has to be uploaded by hand, with the small exception of the Windows Phone 7 app.
There is the Live Mesh option, which offers automated sync, but is not an exact replacement for Dropbox. SkyDrive files and folders can't be accessed via Live Mesh for example, only the ones synced from a computer to SkyDrive, in which case the free storage limit is 5 GB.
Microsoft is said to be working on better desktop and mobile clients, to be included in Windows 8 perhaps, but maybe sooner. Google made a splash when Gmail launched by offering 1 GB of free storage, an unheard of amount.
That was eight years ago and Gmail has only gotten to over 7 GB at this point. The free storage limit in Docs and Picasa, 1 GB, hasn't been increased since launch. All of this weighed in, Google Drive will have to launch with 20 GB or more of free storage, or at the very least 10 GB, if it plans to turn anyone away from Dropbox.
Of course, that will drive Dropbox to offer more as well. Google is also said to deliver more storage for less than what Dropbox currently asks for, $10, €7.54 per month for 50 GB.