WHAT IS GOOGLE WEB DRIVE? Mac users at MacRumors forums noticed that Google's recently released Picasa for Mac offers the option to move image collection to Google Web Drive. The company remains silent on the finding while most view this as an indication of imminent launch of the so-called "Gdrive service."The service has the potential to eclipse even Gmail, Google's second best-known product after their google.com search engine. That said, it's no wonder users have been ripe with anticipation for years - yes, that's how long the rumors have persisted. Gdrive is basically online storage where Google servers have enough capacity to hold the entire contents of your hard drive. It will likely also come with enough brains to do cool tricks now with bigger things down the road - like booting your computer from online drive to load the Google operating system.
Gdrive is basically a cloud-based storage that should have two faces: A desktop client that keeps local and online files and folders in two-directional sync via a web interface for accessing your desktop files anywhere and anytime, using any network-enabled computer. In addition, it will come tightly integrated with other Google services to enable editing of supported document types, like spreadsheets and presentations via Google Docs, email via Gmail, images via Picasa Web Albums, etc.
This opens powerful possibilities. For instance, you could start working on a spreadsheet at home and continue via Gdrive web interface accessed in an Internet cafe. When you arrive back home, changes to the spreadsheet have already trickled down from the cloud to your desktop. The idea, of course, is all but revolutionary, but Google's execution could set it apart.
SkyDrive, MobileMe, Back to my Mac
Microsoft's SkyDrive offers 25GB of online storage free of charge but is limited to 50MB per file. The software maker's more advanced beta service (dubbed Live Mesh) comes with a less spacious 5GB of online storage but with more intelligence: Its service keeps your files seamlessly synced across desktop, web and mobile worlds. The latter client also allows you to access files from your desktop using a Windows Mobile-powered cellphone.
Apple has promised similar desktop, mobile and web file syncing between Macs, PCs and iPhones via a MobileMe cloud service, but the feature was delayed due to ongoing MobileMe difficulties - even though Apple built it into its desktop. Called "Back to my Mac," this OS X Leopard feature pairs with MobileMe online storage to let you search, access and edit files stored on a remote Mac. Besides such offerings from industry heavy-weighs, there are similar free or low-priced online storage services from others that let you do more or less the same.
Storage for your entire life
Most of the aforementioned services are crippled in one way or another, however. None of them gives you enough storage in a free version, but paid upgrades are too expensive and you're better off buying a bigger hard drive for less money. It is these weaknesses that Gdrive aims to exploit as Google allegedly plans to offer an unlimited (or nearly unlimited) storage either free of charge or at a small fee.
If the company applies its "free-everything" policy to Gdrive, a free version should give us enough online storage to match the capacity of hard drives typically found in the machines of average users. Paid versions could offer true- or near-unlimited storage. Added intelligence could enable other neat features as well, like comprehensive backups with the ability to go back in time like Apple's Time Machine and revert previous file versions, automatic file scanning against known viruses and malware, searching the hard drive on your desktop remotely via google.com, and more. Yes, we're speculating here, but there are facts which indicate that Gdrive could arrive soon, and likely this year.
It's not vaporware
For instance, Google Apps in the past identified "www10.google.com" URL that led to the service login page as a Gdrive service. Although the reference was removed, you can still login to the mysterious "www10" service of Google Apps, although you can't do anything with it. Google also added CNAME entries for the "webdrive-client.l.google.com" subdomain, suggesting a product named "Webdrive." In addition, WHOIS check of googlewebdrive.com reveals that the domain points to Google's name servers.
As revealed in this MacRumors forum entry, the latest piece of evidence comes from several Mac user who noticed that Google's Picasa for Mac application, recently released as beta, offers "Google Web Drive" as one of the choices in the context-sensitive menu that appears when you right-click on a folder with images. Another Mac user confronted Google on Picasa forum to clarify this feature, but the company remained silent. Finally, Google's Todd Jackson, Product Manager for Gmail, alluded to Gdrive in a recent interview with Cnet. "We know people's file sizes are getting bigger," he said. "They want to share their files, keep them in the cloud, and not worry about which computer they're on. Google wants to be solving these problems."
So, Google gets to see all my stuff, right?
With Gdrive, privacy implications could overshadow its benefits. Remember how privacy advocates chased Google "to hell and back" for indexing content of Gmail messages? It also didn't help any that the company scanned your email in order to serve better, more relevant ads when viewing a message. Gdrive would scan everything you upload to it, just like Google Desktop - the company's application that brings the power of its search engine to your desktop (it scans the content of authorized files and folders on your machine).
We don't, however, see a problem if Gdrive will let users exclude any file or folder from being sent online, plus if indexed Gdrive stuff can't be associated with our personal information. As long as Google uses Gdrive indexing to provide better search and serve better ads, most would be willing to trade tiny bit of their privacy for a free online storage. [I wouldn't, not in a million years. -Rick]
Google built an empire on "free services - a bit of privacy" strategy and it'll certainly work with Gdrive. Yet, we have no doubt that Gdrive will become holy grail for privacy advocates around the world.
Pieces of the Google operating system fall in place
The Gdrive "leads and hints" mentioned in this article does not mean that a product exists, but they strongly indicate a new Google-branded online storage service is in the works. Google Web Drive, Gdrive, or whatever name Google decides to call it, may be just around the corner. Online sources are now sure Google will unleash Gdrive in 2009. Google watchers have no doubt that the product will stun users.
If the company can really deliver cloud-based storage with enough free space to hold entire content of your hard drive, it will be a key paradigm shift. Although Google once led in free email storage with Gmail, and still rates high with 20GB per account, rivals overtook the search giant with general-purpose online storage. Most of them offer around 50GB of cloud storage free of charge. Of course, that is not to say there is no innovation left in Google anymore. The company of its size and millions of users may prefer to wait for the right timing to do the job right.
We have no doubt that Gdrive could have a huge impact on everyone, especially the cloud-based generation that's coming up and running mainly web applications - doing most of its computing online. We're also pretty certain that Gdrive, Chrome and Android are important pieces of the bigger picture, the one that replaces Microsoft logo on your desktop with Google's. So, don't be surprised if the computer you'll be using a few years down the road comes with no hard drive at all, but boots the Google operating system entirely off Gdrive and the Internet.