TECHNOLOGY

Google Drive: A Box- and Dropbox-Killer?

Cloud start-ups have thrived because no major Big Tech company beat down their doors. That just changed.
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It's official: Google announced its new Google Drive service Tuesday—just one day after I wrote about how the Mountain View tech giant was moving into a territory wholly dominated by Box and Dropbox.

This is not good news for online storage vendors.

The features

What's so unique about Google Drive? First off, the service is more than just a place to put your files. Users will be able to sync their documents, photos, videos, music, and any other files online. Those who have permission can then collaborate on those files by editing them and leaving comments.

Revision history will work automatically. Say you add a note to a document or edit a photo. You can revert back to an earlier version from up to 30 days ago without even enabling revisions—Google Drive keeps track of changes. But you can also flag any file to maintain a revision history indefinitely.

Google has not announced the exact number of partnerships, but the service will be added to websites and mobile apps for easy sharing—you can just select "send to Google Drive" from the app. The service will work with native file formats like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator so you can open them in a browser.

Another unique feature: Google Drive will use image recognition technology. So, when you search for "mountain" the service will detect images and search through docs that are related to that term. Drive also integrates with Gmail (you can send a link to Google Drive instead of sending an attachment).

...and Google has something else going for it

Reading through this list of features, the founders of Box and Dropbox might be ready to find a rock and crawl under it. The main problem is not even that Google Drive sounds compelling; it's that the service already has a major advantage, and it is not even available yet. (To get an account, visit the site and click the notification button.)

Just look at Google+ as an example. When I used it again just today, Google+ knew which users I was communicating with the most and suggested adding a few of them to my Circles. In other words, Google has been reading my email. Google Drive will fit right into my daily routine. And, by the way: It will fit right into the daily routine of tens of millions of other users.

There is a silver lining, though. One of the great things about starting a successful start-up like Box or Dropbox is that you can often build up a loyal fanbase. Google Drive might be a better option out of the gate, but many users have already filled up their storage allotment with hundreds of music files, every Excel spreadsheet they've ever created, and their entire image library. The words "loyal" and "lazy" often go hand in hand. If it takes effort to port files over, some might take a pass. (Unfortunately, it might be as simple as doing a "select all" on your local Box or Dropbox folder and pasting into a different Google Drive folder. Sometimes, easy file syncing has a downside.)

And then there's this. Gizmodo reports that the free account for Google Drive will come with 5GB of storage. Dropbox only offers 2GB, and while Box offers 5GB, no individual file can be over 1GB on the free account, which rules out just about every HD video file. Doom, meet gloom.

This battle is just getting started

So what can you learn about this recipe for disaster? As I mentioned with Box, they already have a leg up. That service includes an admin console for managing users in the Business version. The Enterprise service includes high-end features like Salesforce integration, single sign-on (access is granted to Box along with a number of other services through one login), and MS Active Directory support.

Meanwhile, Dropbox just released its new Teams version, which costs $795 per year for five users. That version has an admin console and team management features which appear to be lacking in Google Drive.

In fact, one irony of entrepreneurship is this: One way to fend off the wolves is to feed them. Both Dropbox and Box seem to be gearing up for enterprise adoption. Like Apple, Google has thrived by targeting mass consumers, not necessarily larger companies. The hope is that these smaller online storage vendors will survive by innovating more and appealing to larger companies. Or maybe Google Drive will just suck.

IMAGE: GoogleBlog
Last updated: Apr 24, 2012

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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