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Updated: May 6, 2012 10:51 IST

Google goes on a data storage drive

Deepa Kurup
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Data on the go: A screenshot provided by Google demonstrates the new Google Drive service using an Android device.
AP Data on the go: A screenshot provided by Google demonstrates the new Google Drive service using an Android device.

Is Google Drive, a late entrant in the cloud storage service market, worth switching clouds for?

Announcing the introduction of its cloud storage service on its official blog, Internet giant Google poked fun at itself by comparing the Google Drive to the Loch Ness Monster. The Drive has been in the making for over half a decade now, during which time most of its competitors have gone on to claim this space.

Google Drive, a late entrant into the game, has so far offered a slightly-evolved version of Google Docs. Many of us, who are already familiar with online office suites and file-sharing, are already used to the idea of storing and sharing personal and professional data on the cloud. This simply means that now information that we wish to keep with us on the move, can reside on the cloud (on a server in a data centre that belongs to a service provider) rather than just in a drive on our desktop, or any other storage device.

But there's nothing new about that, is there? In this age where we have begun to take the cloud and cloud-based services for granted, Google Drive is barely a new offering. In fact, many would say, it is rather late in the day for a tech giant like Google to be introducing storage services given that competitors have already been hosting similar services for some time now.

Players aplenty

Services such as Microsoft's SkyDrive, Ubuntu One, Apple iCloud, Amazon CloudDrive and others like the widely popular DropBox (a five-year-old start-up that leads the pack in this field), SugarSync and SpiderOak, have already carved various niches for themselves in the market.

So is Google's offer tempting enough for users to switch clouds? What works in Google's favour is the fact that many of these users are already using many of its services, and are familiar with these interfaces. That Google Drive offers integration with their office application suite Google Docs, social networking service Google Plus and offers the ability to open and view several more types of file formats (all from the comfort of your browser) is certainly a plus. Google Drive is a significant upgrade in utilities as well as appearances from the G-Drive service, that Google started in 2004, simply because Google has since added many more useful services.

Search expertise

As an initial offer, Google offers free online space of 5 GB, which is less than Microsoft's SkyDrive (7 GB), but significantly more than what DropBox offers (2 GB). A product that stores personal documents, photographs and videos, it is a logical evolution from Docs and a good way to share data with friends — yes, no more ‘that file is too heavy to share' — and work collaboratively on documents.

Like most of Google's products and services, Drive too has a certain charming simplicity to it (as does DropBox, which has a simpler and slicker interface). Easy to use, all you need to do is install an application that has a drive folder on your desktop (or mobile phone screen). Then you can easily drag and drop whichever files you wish to share on the cloud, or back up on Google's servers in its data centres. This would allow you to access the files from multiple devices and locations, as long as you are connected to the Internet, and to share it with others with remarkable ease (by simply sending links).

What could be its USP — and Google is certainly pitching it so — is that it can draw on the one field where its has been a pioneer in terms of technological expertise: search. Indeed, going by first impressions and a simple comparison of the search capabilities of Google Drive and DropBox, Drive appears to have an advantage. On Google Drive, it is easy to search within documents, including optical character recognition that allows the system to scan through images too, making search easier. This is smarter because other services only search for file names, making the process far less efficient.

Privacy

Within days of announcing the product, privacy watchdogs slammed Google for its privacy policies outlined in Google Drive's terms and conditions.

Google has run into similar issues before, most infamously with Google Buzz, its first foray into the social media space when it had to eventually withdraw the product. Indeed, with Google being one of the largest repositories of personal information on the Web, privacy is a valid concern.

The privacy policy for this service, however, is in line with other Google services (Google consolidated their policies in March 2012). What must be kept in mind though is that Google openly admits to collecting personal information that users provide and other technical usage-related information from users' systems so that it can ‘better their services'.

In its Terms of Service, Google also states that with the content submitted to its services, Google gets the ‘worldwide licence to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content'.

Critics, even those who agree that these policies are indeed consistent with what is prevalent in the industry, have criticised the “loosely worded conditions”.

In a statement shared with The Hindu, a Google spokesperson said, “As our Terms of Service make clear, what belongs to you stays yours. You own your files and control their sharing, plain and simple. Our Terms of Service enable us to give you the services you want — so if you decide to share a document with someone, or open it on a different device, you can.”

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