Google Drive is a magic warehouse, Dropbox a robotic filing cabinet

Google Drive is about more than space, syncing, and apps--it's Google's web manifesto

Google Drive has arrived. To me, it feels more like a reminder than a release. It’s Google letting you know that the way they see your computer life is very different than the way you see it. Allow me to explain.

In practice, Google Drive is really just a big upgrade to Google Docs. Instead of 1 GB of storage for any file, you now have 5 GB of free space on Google’s servers to store whatever you want: documents, pictures, videos, AutoCad files, code projects, whatever you have. There’s an Android app, there are syncing clients for Windows and Mac systems, but they’re all really just fancy browser tools. If you open a Google Docs document, it opens in Google Docs in your browser.

But here’s the most interesting thing about Drive to me: when you arrive at your Drive page, the default view is to show all your Docs work and uploaded files in rough alphabetical order, with folder-like “collections” first. Why would anyone want to look at their files in alphabetical order? Because the way Google sees it, they’re not really your files, and they’re only in loose structures, and you should just think of what you want to look at and retrieve it. Here is how Google Drive product head Scott Johnston explained it to All Things D

… It was this idea of getting out of the way of the user so they don’t have to think about where their stuff is, and they can just do what they’re trying to do. It was a natural evolution of Docs. This is just more touchpoints to access your data.

Sundar Pichai, senior vice president for Chrome and apps, reiterated Google’s “That was then, this is now” view:

Today, when I look at different solutions out there, those are still in the old metaphor of “here are files that you want, manage them.” This is about you living your life online — planning a wedding, buying a house — and having your data available in that context. I think it’s a big pivot, and that’s what excites me and makes it a good product. It’s in the natural flow.

And they’re serious about that. As Whitson Gordon points out in Lifehacker’s Dropbox versus Drive showdown, the Windows and Mac syncing clients will “put” Google Docs in your system’s Drive folder, but when you click on them, it launches your browser. If you’re offline and using Chrome, you’ll be able to view a read-only copy, but the idea is Docs live in the online Drive—and maybe your future documents should too, huh?

Google Drive, connected to all your computer tasks

Google’s Drive search powers are powerful: document type, owner, last modified, and more properties familiar to Gmail power users. Drive also uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to index the text of your scanned-in documents. And, in the most science fiction move in recent memory, Google’s image search powers will be used on your photos. You shoot an image of an amazing carrot cake? Search “carrot cake,” and up comes that photo of dense dessert glory.

It’s not entirely dissimilar to what Apple has done with its iCloud service, coincidentally offering 5 GB of free space as well. When you go to save an iWork document, you don’t see a “Save as” option, you see “Save a version.” My father-in-law recently picked up a new MacBook Pro, and an iPad while he was at it. Even as a guy who’s spent years trying to explain new technology in understandable, non-jargon terms, I found it difficult to explain that the file he was working on was perfectly safe and accessible—it just wasn’t anywhere he could see it, move it, delete it, or otherwise interact with “it.” If he opened Pages on that iPad across the room? It was right there, and changes he made on it were saved instantly, too.

How you feel about Google’s Drive, and whether it appeals to you over similar services, or even just over your hard drive or thumb drive, will ultimately depend on your views on files, collaboration, and Google’s mission. If you already use the heck out of Gmail, Calendar, and maybe even Google+, the file integration that’s likely to come to Google Drive will likely hold great appeal. If most of your friends and family and coworkers have Google accounts they actively use, sharing photos and collaborating on projects might be really easy.

But there are age-old reasons not to put all your eggs in one basket, the main one here being the threat of being locked out of your Google account for one reason or another. If you’re concerned at all about Google’s inter-app privacy policies, Google Drive is not a great place to put every digital piece of your life. And while Google Drive will, like Docs, feature an easy way to export all your data should you choose, the pressure to create everything in Google Docs could leave you with some oddly formatted files.

Do you like having your files in front of you, for reasons of security, productivity, or age-old thinking about where things go? Then Google Drive isn’t quite the product for you. But maybe you’re better at creating things, throwing them into a pile, and knowing you can get right back to them when the mood strikes. In that case, Google Drive is cheaper than Drobox, offers more free space, and just wait until you can directly send your files through Gmail.

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