Google Drive

Introduction

Google Drive is a combination of cloud storage and local disk synchronization services.

Google Drive allows you to use Google’s servers as your primary file storage, and then sync those files to one or more devices. Supported devices include Windows (XP, Vista, 7), Mac OS X, iPad, iPhone, and Android (tables and phones).

Google Drive differs from sharing oriented services where the file is uploaded to a server to be shared (like a browser based FTP service such as Box). It also differs from pure sync services where the file is never actually stored on a server, but is simply synchronized between multiple devices.

What’s good about Google Drive?

In 2 words: Price, Google.

As of July 5, 2012, Google Drive has lower prices than many of the alternatives. Also, if you’re a heavy user of Google’s other services (like me), then the integration with other Google services is excellent. Personally, I’m find the ability to email a link to a file in Google Drive to be a superior experience to attaching a large file to an email.

While the “what’s good” section is small, the short version is that Google Drive does what it is supposed to do. It syncs your files to Google’s servers and keeps your devices up to date.

What’s not so good about Google Drive?

The upload problem

I have been using Google Drive since it was first released, and it’s still uploading files. Unless you have huge upload bandwidth, Google Drive suffers from the same problem as all cloud based storage services. That is, how do you get 100 GB, 200 GB or more into the cloud. Unfortunately, we live in a download world, and most people have a faster download than upload.

Bugs and other functionality failures

I have used Google Drive on a number of different platforms, including 2 Windows XP machines, 1 Windows 7 machine, and 2 Android phones (Galaxy Nexus and Droid Razor Maxx).

Of all the platforms, Windows 7 has been the least buggy, but it’s still not perfect.

Windows Explorer crashes (consistently) on Windows XP when you browse the Google Drive folder. I’m not the only one to experience this problem: http://productforums.google.com/forum/#!topic/drive/fBaZxY5QUBc

Google Drive is a bandwidth hog

Google Drive uses all of the bandwidth that your laptop/desktop has access to. If you only have 1 machine on a home network and you’re syncing a big file, say a 1GB home video, then you’ll notice that other web pages open slowly. Of course, if you have 2 more people on a home or small business network, then other users will complain of that their Internet access is slow.

To date, Google Drive is not allowed on our corporate network, and I agree with the policy. I’d hate to see what happens if 10, 20 or more people are all syncing large files at the same time. While the bandwidth per client is controlled on a corporate network, it still means that each person with Google Drive will suffer with a slow Internet experience (until the sync is done).

Missing features

There are some important/useful features that are currently missing from Google Drive, including:

  • Manual sync: There is currently no way to force Google Drive to sync.
  • File size: Is that a 1MB file or a 1GB file? You’ll never know in Google Drive’s web interface, so have fun figuring out the download time. You’ll notice this problem when you sync your home movies.
  • Child folder sync: While you can use the Preferences to select which folders to sync, you can only select/deselect top level folders. There is no way to sync a subset of a folder.
  • List of completed/in process files: When you add files to Google Drive, you’ll see a status message of 1 of 125 files synced. However, there is no way to see what is done, and what is in process.
  • Bandwidth management: As mentioned elsewhere in this post, Google Drive will use all of the bandwidth that’s given to it. So, you’ll need to use your router to control how much bandwidth is made available to Drive.

Should you use Google Drive in your business?

The short answer is no. At least not yet.

If you have Windows XP, then you should wait until Google fixes the bugs with Windows Explorer. You don’t want users complaining that Windows Explorer crashes every time they view files in their Google Drive folder.

I’d also wait until Google adds bandwidth controls.

Lastly, local sync is a required feature for a business use case, where most users will be on the same network. (DropBox has has this feature, called LAN Sync, for a while.)

Alternatives to Google Drive

There are a lot of alternatives when looking into cloud storage and synchronization services including:

Summary

Overall, Google Drive is a good solution at an attractive price. There is room for improvement, but if you’re a big Google user then it’s an easy winner.