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Google Drive Wants to Sync Your Stuff

Flash drive shaped like a Taco Bell hot sauce packet

On Tuesday, this little company called “Google” announced its newest service: Google Drive. While you might think that this means we’re all getting self-driving cars, it turns out that Google Drive is a syncing service, designed to keep all of your files synced between the different computers, tablets, phones, and other devices in your life. As so often is the case with Google, they’ve got a really nice video explaining the service:

If Google Drive sounds familiar, it’s perhaps because we have written frequently about other tools that help you keep your life in order. We have well over 100 posts about Dropbox, which has long been a ProfHacker favorite because of its simple interface and the fact that it just works. Given some concerns about privacy and security in the last year, we’ve also been recommending SpiderOak as a secure alternative to Dropbox. SpiderOak has rock-solid security, but it’s not as simple to get started with, which is why Natalie has written a tutorial: SpiderOak Step by Step. (For what it’s worth, I’m still using Dropbox most regularly.)

Google Drive works much like these tools: after downloading the Google Drive client, it creates a folder on your desktop, and anything you drag into there will sync to your Google Drive. When you install the client on another computer or the app on your Android phone (sorry, no iOS app yet), anything you’ve added to the Drive will be synced to your computer. Simple, right? Been there, done that.

Well, Google Drive is a little bit different because when you log in to it, you’ll almost certainly discover that you already have content there. That’s because Google Docs has been folded into Google Drive. In fact, once you’ve activated Google Drive, the familiar URL docs.google.com will redirect to drive.google.com. In a way, this is convenient because it means that you now have copies on your hard drive of all the documents you’ve created over the years. (I had 700 of them.) But they’re still Google Docs: the extension on the files is “.gdoc” or “.gsheet,” and opening the files simply launches a browser window, opening you in the familiar Google Docs interface. Here, however, you might spot a big problem. If you’re not connected to the Internet, you can’t do anything with these documents. Even if you’re using Chrome with the Offline Google Docs app, it doesn’t let you see your documents. Hopefully this gets updated in the near future.

Of course, Google Drive isn’t just for Google Docs formats. You can add any number of different file formats–videos, photos, PDFs, and more–to your Drive and have them accessible across all of your computers. And for most of these files, you can open them in Drive’s web interface. (mp3s appear not to work.) You can then share them with others–just like Google Docs–and all of your different collaborators can leave comments on the items.

Picture of image in Google Drive

The other major perk Google highlights for Drive is the ability to search (go figure, it’s Google) easily through all of your documents. Drive even provides OCR for scanned documents. You do this search, again, with the familiar Google Docs interface.

All in all, Google Drive appears to be an adequate competitor for Dropbox, SpiderOak, and any of the other competitors in the marketplace. You can expect that it will play well with other Google products and services, as you can see from the number of Chrome apps for Drive that have already appeared. Drive has not yet been enabled for every Google user (it took me about 36 hours to get access after I requested it at the Drive homepage), but when you do you’ll find that you get 5 GB of storage for free and that you can purchase more if you need it. (There do not appear to be ways to get extra storage for free, as you can with Dropbox.)

In the first day of Drive’s release, there were some questions about its terms of service. I’ll commend you to this analysis of privacy policies for Drive, Dropbox, Skydrive, and iCloud and let you draw your own conclusions. And if you want someone to tell you the differences between all these syncing services, you could do worse than this comparison between Drive, Dropbox, SugarSync, and more.

At the moment, I’m not all that sure that I need another sync solution, especially when Dropbox works so well for me. But I’m open to being convinced otherwise. Have you experimented with Google Drive? Does it have a place in your workflow? Let us know in the comments!

Lead image: Border Sauce USB Drive 9 / Vadim Molochnikov / CC BY 2.0

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