Google's announcement acknowledged how elusive the product has been, comparing it to the Loch Ness Monster--except that this mythical beast has finally surfaced in plain sight. The development of GDrive has been rumored since 2006. Signups for Google Drive are open, although you may see a notice that "your Google Drive is not ready," and asking you to sign up to be notified by email when it is turned on.
Consistent with recent leaked details, the Google Drive service includes 5 gigabytes of free storage. That matches Box's standard offer and bests Dropbox's starting storage allowance of 2 gigabytes. Both competitors offer more for free under certain circumstances. For example, Box has run 50 gigabytes free offers for smartphone users, and Dropbox offers extra storage to nonpaying customers who send it referrals.
[ What's at stake in the Oracle vs. Google case? See Oracle, Google Trial: Goliath Vs. Goliath.]
Users can choose to upgrade to 25 gigabytes for $2.49/month, 100 gigabytes for $4.99/month, or even 1 terabyte for $49.99/month. When you upgrade to a paid account, your Gmail account storage will also expand to 25 GB.
Beyond pricing and raw storage, Google Drive will be interesting for its integration with Google Docs and its potential for integration with cloud applications and Chrome extensions.
Chuck Dietrich, VP of SlideRocket (part of VMware's social software division), said that in addition to letting SlideRocket presentations be shared through Google Drive, the integration makes it possible for Google Drive users to open PowerPoint documents in SlideRocket. In the same way, LucidChart can be used to open Microsoft Visio documents.
"This provides a vehicle to start hijacking people off Microsoft offerings onto Web-based offerings, either from Google or partners," Dietrich said. A Google Drive user browsing a file share would also have the option of downloading a presentation or opening it in the Google Apps presentation tool, he said, but his hope is that some will choose to check the box to say PowerPoint documents should be opened in SlideRocket by default.
Google is emphasizing its traditional competency in search, saying that in addition to full-text document search it will also use optical character recognition to mine searchable text out of images and scanned documents. The OCR technology "is in its early stages, and we expect it to get better over time," according to the Google blog post.
Google Drive will initially be available for use with PCs, Macs, and Android devices. A version for iPhone and iPad users is under development, according to Google.
Two of the most obvious competitors to Google Drive will be Box, with its emphasis on enterprise content management in the cloud, and Dropbox, which is adding team file sharing for businesses to its traditional emphasis on PC and device sync for consumers and creative professionals. Many other cloud storage services for backup, sync, and file sharing have emerged in recent years while Google bided its time.
Matthew Self, VP of platform engineering at Box, said his company would still be able to distinguish its offering with enterprise features like finer-grained control of sharing permissions and round-the-clock phone support for paying customers.
"I think Google Drive will probably fall somewhere between Dropbox and Box," in terms of appeal to enterprise customers versus consumers, Self said. "This is a little like when the Apple iCloud came out. There was a lot of noise and a lot of churn when it came out, but when the dust settled it was clear it only helped Box because it was not an enterprise grade solution--very focused on consumers and Apple devices."
IT's challenge in dealing with social networks comes on two fronts: How to interact with would-be customers on big social networks like Facebook, and how to provide employees on internal networks with collaboration that's as powerful as their Facebook experiences. This virtual event, Social Business: Marshaling Expertise, Engaging Customers, Building Brands, will help IT leaders sort through their strategic choices. It happens April 26.