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Google Drive and SkyDrive Take Aim at Dropbox

Practically since the launch of Google’s Gmail service, rumors have abounded that the search firm would offer a generic Internet storage service called Google Drive. On 24 April 2012, the company finally did, providing free access with a Google account, but without requiring an invitation or labeling the service as “beta.” Apparently hearing the beat of the same drummer approaching, Microsoft also significantly upgraded its SkyDrive system a day earlier on 23 April 2012. But will either offer a significant advantage over the popular Dropbox service?

Google Drive works very much like Dropbox, focusing on a single folder (Mac OS X and Windows) and enabling you to choose which subfolders you sync on given computers. An iOS app is coming, and Android software is already available. Your Google Drive can also sync your documents from Google Docs, although you still need a Web browser and a live Internet connection to edit them. (You can view Google Docs files in an offline, read-only mode using the Google Chrome Web browser. For another way of getting local copies of Google Docs files in usable formats, see “Back Up Your Google Data with CloudPull,” 6 March 2012.)

Google Drive includes 5 GB of free storage, separate from storage used for Gmail (which was bumped to 10 GB) and the Picasa photo-sharing service (which gives you 1 GB). More storage may be purchased, starting at $2.50 per month for an additional 25 GB available to both Google Drive and Picasa. These pricing plans are new; the previous yearly plans are no longer available, though anyone with an existing yearly plan can keep it active.

Meanwhile, a certain Redmond-based Google competitor coincidentally announced updates to its five-year-old SkyDrive storage and sync service. SkyDrive previously offered decent Mac and iOS support, but didn’t provide direct file-system integration and lacked a number of useful features.

SkyDrive used to comprise two separate services: sync, called Windows Live Mesh, that enabled both cloud-based automated file synchronization and peer-to-peer file copying among your computers; and Web-accessible storage. Microsoft allowed 25 GB total of free cloud storage, 5 GB of which could be used for cloud-based sync among computers. Peer-to-peer sync has been dropped, and new SkyDrive accounts receive 7 GB of free storage.

The update on several platforms (Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, Windows, iOS, and Windows Phone) brings Dropbox-like folder and synchronization features. SkyDrive also enables you to access remote files on your other SkyDrive-enabled computers. That’s a rather nice addition, and something found in few sync services; it’s typically part of remote screen access systems, like LogMeIn.

To make up for the drop in storage to existing users, those who registered before 22 April 2012 and have less than 4 GB stored can upgrade to 25 GB by clicking a link on the SkyDrive site after logging in. Those registered users who already stored more than 4 GB have automatically received a bump to 25 GB of free storage. Additional storage may be purchased starting at $10 per year for an additional 20 GB of storage.

It’s impossible to compare iCloud directly with either Google Drive or SkyDrive (or with Dropbox) because iCloud doesn’t allow arbitrary file storage and syncing, nor does it have any sharing features. Rather, iCloud syncs data between specific Mac and iOS apps, and provides centralized storage for Apple services like iTunes Match, Photo Stream, and email.

On the other hand, Google Drive and SkyDrive compete directly with Dropbox, which includes 2 GB of storage with free accounts and offers paid accounts starting at $10 per month for 50 GB. However, as noted in “Get More Storage for Testing Dropbox Camera Uploads,” 29 March 2012 and “Dropbox Referral Bonuses Doubled to 500 MB, Retroactively,” 4 April 2012, using a new camera upload service (just out of beta) can bring a free account to 5 GB of permanent storage, while referrals can boost a free account to as much as 16 GB. (The overall combined limit of additional storage for free accounts is 16 GB.)

The comparison to Dropbox is apt, not just because Dropbox beat both Microsoft and Google to the market by years with this sort of offering, but because of the tens of millions of people already using Dropbox, and the way in which its integration and features define what’s expected from these and a dozen other Internet sync/storage services. How Google Drive and SkyDrive will fare against Dropbox remains to be seen, not so much because of the feature set or the amount of storage provided, but because Dropbox is riding the network effect wave — since so many people use Dropbox happily to share files with colleagues, it’s hard to see what the incentive would be for switching to a largely similar competitor.

Dropbox also isn’t sitting still. Simultaneously with the Google and Microsoft announcements, Dropbox finalized a feature previously available only in beta — read-only links to any file in your Dropbox folder, regardless of which subfolder it’s in. The feature is great for sending a file in a shared folder to someone who needs to see it, but doesn’t need to edit it. The update also adds the capability to share entire folders’ contents, and to revoke publicly shared links.


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Comments about Google Drive and SkyDrive Take Aim at Dropbox
(Comments are closed.)

Duane Williams  2012-04-24 22:28
The Google Drive web page told me "Your Google Drive is not ready yet." Apparently it's not yet released to everyone.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-04-25 06:45
Google does roll new features out in waves, so that's not terribly surprising, though it is a little annoying when some people can get it and others can't.
Duane Williams  2012-04-25 07:29
This page explains the wait list for Google Drive:
Waldova  2012-04-26 08:04
I have discovered that SkyDrive can't handle a path longer than 256 characters. For me, it means I can't run DevonThinkPro off Skydrive as i now do off Dropbox...files buried in a package form can have very long pathnames that you don't see within a fully-mac environment.
Doug Lerner  2012-04-30 16:46
In the article it says, " How Google Drive and SkyDrive will fare against Dropbox remains to be seen, not so much because of the feature set or the amount of storage provided, but because Dropbox is riding the network effect wave — since so many people use Dropbox happily to share files with colleagues, it’s hard to see what the incentive would be for switching to a largely similar competitor."

I doubt people will switch. But it seems worthwhile to also have SkyDrive. (I can't actually get to Google Drive yet).

Also SkyDrive has the "view only link to individual files" that DropBox recently announced. So I think DropBox is playing catch-up.

Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-04-30 16:51
Dropbox is way behind other services (like SugarSync, or even iDisk!) in allowing arbitrary files to be shared. Recall that iDisk links could be set to expire after a given period, even, which Dropbox doesn't offer.

The rest of SkyDrive was fine but somewhat lackluster compared to Dropbox until this refresh. Microsoft might even have more users than Dropbox because of SkyDrive's integration into Windows Live.
Simonre  2012-04-30 17:07
Just signed up to SkyDrive with the demise of iDisk looming. Pleasantly surprised. Easy to use. Cheaper than iDisk, great iOS app. Office integration (web Word - wow, so much better than the real thing). Will Apple one day launch a cloud-based sync storage system that integrates with native apps? #microsoftleadstheway
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-05-01 06:06
SkyDrive is Lion-only, which will get in the way of adoption in many environment where people are still using Snow Leopard.
Durbrow  2012-04-30 17:28
My understanding is that none of these services offer encryption and that Google Drive can use your files in advertising. Can someone confirm or falsify the above?
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-04-30 17:43
All of the service encrypt your files in transit and on the servers, but the encryption is entirely in the hands of the providers. SpiderOak is the only sync/storage service that offers user-generated and -stored encryption to which they have no access.

As for advertising: that's a reading of Google's terms of service, but in practice, it doesn't seem as if the rights would allow them to do this. They need to write a cleaner set of terms of service to make sure it's clear there there's no way they would use files in this manner.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-05-01 06:10
And if you were really worried about this, you could simply store your files in an encrypted disk image within the Google Drive folder. Same is true for SkyDrive, Dropbox, and all the other services other than SpiderOak.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-05-01 07:25
I will disagree with you. It's very inefficient to use encryption as an overlay, although it's possible. BYOE (Bring Your Own Encryption) is a stop-gap that works, but not a solution.
Lorene Romero  2012-05-06 21:56
I'm wondering if there is a way to access more then one Google drive on the desktop. I, for example, have multiple gmail accounts. Is there a way to switch between Drive accounts? Or is the desktop application limited to just one account
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-05-06 22:38
Just one, looks like. You have to Disconnect the drive, which I believe deletes its contents on the desktop! And then resyncing to a new account pulls in the data from that one.
Jeff Carlson  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-05-06 22:44
Maybe connect to a different gmail account under a different OS X user login?
Lorene Romero  2012-05-09 22:00
Thank you Glenn and Jeff for replying. I do have a feeling you can only have one. Drats. They've managed not to just be clear about that point. Many of us have more then one gmail accounts and it would help to have difference "Google Drives" to help keep things a part. Thanks again