A real Google Drive in the cloud seems to be on its way.
It looks like the Google Drive is actually going to show up next week. Tellingly, when I asked Google what the truth was about the rumours, Google had nothing to say instead of their usual "official" no-comment when I ask them about subjects they're not ready to talk about. So, I think at long last that Google Drive really is on its way.
Here's what we think we know now about it: The service will offer 5GBs of free storage; it will be integrated with Linux, Mac, and Windows file management systems in the same way Dropbox is; it will be made available on the week of April 23rd; and to use it you'll need to have a Google Account.
That sounds good, but how does it compare with the already existing personal cloud storage alternatives? Here are your most important alternatives.
If you want more storage, and if you intend on using Amazon to store your music collection you will, Amazon offers several tiers of storage, ranging from 20 to 1,000 gigabytes at a price of $1.00 per gigabyte. So, for instance, 20GBs will run you $20 per year.
Apple iCloud: iCloud comes with 5GBs of free storage. MobileMe customers receive 20GB of additional iCloud storage space for free, if they pick it up by June 30, 2012. Like Amazon’s Cloud Drive, it’s actually more than just storage. Any music, apps, books, and TV shows you purchase from the iTunes store, as well as your Photo Stream, don’t count against your storage quota.
Apple’s iCloud gives you not just storage and an online music server, it also includes all of Apple’s wireless services. These include contact synchronization, its own e-mail service, mobile backup, and location awareness.
ICloud also works hand in glove with iTunes Match. Match, which is built into the iTunes app lets you store your entire music collection, no matter its source in iCloud for just $24.99 a year. Music that’s already in iTunes, even if you didn’t buy it from Apple, doesn’t count against your storage limits.
Basic iCloud services are available via the Web on any platform. To really use it to its full potential you need to be running a Mac with Lion or an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch running iOS5. It also runs reasonably well with Windows with the latest version of iTunes. What about your Mac running Snow Leopard or an older version of Mac OS X? Too bad.
Additional space is priced at $20 per year for 10GB, $40 per year for 20GB, and $100 per year for 50GB.
Box: This service is aimed more at businesses wanting to share large and work on large files than it is individuals but it's 5GB of free storage is nothing to sneeze at. To use it, you must go through it's Web interface. This means you can use Box with almost any operating system, but it's also a little clumsy.
Once you start using Box, you'll soon see that the Box is designed less for storage than it is for collaborative work. For example, you can invite co-workers to edit your files. One interesting point about the Box is that's designed specifically to work well with Google Apps. How this will work out with Google Drive on its way is an open question. At this time, the Box Google Apps service are a paid service. I strongly suspect that Google will offer at least minimal Google Drive and Google Apps integration for free.
Dropbox: Dropbox wasn’t the first cloud-based storage service but it was the one that popularized it. Unlike the other cloud systems, Dropbox doesn’t need a Web-browser interface. It will run natively on almost any PC, including Linux or devices running Android or iOS.
What I really like about Dropbox is that I can use it just like it was any other network drive with my file manager. Unlike the other services, there are no extras. Dropbox offers file storage without any frills. On the other hand, sometimes that’s all you need and since it lets you easily get to your most important files no matter what device you’re using I find it extremely handy.
SkyDrive is Microsoft's personal cloud drive offering. True, it lets you save, share and access files but you must use it through a browser, IE by choice but it will work with others. It appears that, like iCloud and Ubuntu One, Microsoft will integrate SkyDrive with its operating system. The word is that SkyDrive will be integrated into the Windows 8 file manager in the same way Dropbox already works with almost all operating system file managers.
Microsoft, however, is also trying to sell it, together with Office Web Apps and local Microsoft Office software, as a project collaboration package in the same way that Box works with Google Apps. To really use it you pretty much have to be committed, ala iCloud, to up to date Microsoft software. That said, the one thing you can’t argue about is its price: SkyDrive comes with 25GBs of free storage. That’s far more than the others.
For Windows users, SkyDrive may soon be the cloud storage solution of choice. It’s just not quite there yet.
SugarSync. SugarSync offers 5GB of free personal cloud storage. It also positions itself as a cloud-backup service ala Carbonite and SpiderOak.
SugarSync works on Mac, Windows, and most mobile operating systems via an application. It does not, however, have a Linux client yet. SugarSync also looks easier than it actually is. It looks like you can drag and drop files to the SugarSync file manager, but it requires an additional step, “Add Sync Folders” before you're actually moving files to your new cloud synchronized directories.
Like Dropbox, the more customers you bring to SugarSync, the more free space you get. If they open a 5GB free account, you both get a free 500MBs with a maximum of 32GBs. If you can talk them into paying for a 30GB or larger account, you both get an additional 10GB and there's no limit to how much bonus space you can get.
If you're willing to pay for more storage, the SugarSync paid plans start at 30GB for $4.99 a month of $49.99 a year. You can push all the way up to a 500GB plan that starts at an introductory price of $39.99 a month or $399.99 a year.
Ubuntu One: You might think that this service would be for Ubuntu Linux users, or at least Linux users, only. You’d be wrong. This service, which offers 5GBs of free storage and music streaming is also available on Windows. Ubuntu One is also available on both Android and iOS.
The Ubuntu One music streaming service, which currently comes with 20GBs of storage, is completely fee-based. It costs $3.99 a month or $39.99 a year. If you need more pure storage space for files and the like over the initial 5GBs, it’s $2.99 per month or $29.99 per year per 20GBs of storage.
When the Google Drive arrives, I expect the pricing for all these services to change. So, if you need more than a few gigabytes of cloud storage, I'd hold off on paying for any additional storage at this time. I expect everyone to be offering more storage for less by the end of April.
So how will Google Drive compare? I use most of these services every day, and I like Google services. So, I'll use Google Drive too, but it's going to have to prove itself before it replaces Dropbox as my go-to personal cloud storage choice. For today, Dropbox is still my favorite cloud service. It doesn't offer a lot of service; it just does a great job of offering cloud storage that's as easy to use as any local directory. For me, that's still the gold-standard of cloud storage.