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.

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Google Wallet on Android

What is the Google Wallet Android app?

I have finally had an occasion to use the Google Wallet app on my Galaxy Nexus. So what is the Google Wallet Android app? It’s basically an Android app that acts like a digital credit card that you can use to purchase coffee at Peet’s, medicine at CVS and so on.

There is a special reader in the store that you tap your phone against when checking out (kinda like a credit card swiper except that you tap your phone instead of swiping your card). After tapping, you are prompted to enter a PIN (just like an ATM card), everything is automatically paid for, and your ready to pick up your bag and walk out the door.

To use Google Wallet, you will need a phone with an NFC chip. As of June 2012, the only phone that supports Google Wallet (to my knowledge) is the Galaxy Nexus.

A cool app

I have now used Google Wallet to make a few purchases and I have to say that it’s a nice upgrade to a plastic credit card. I have found that if I enter my PIN before getting to the checkout counter, I can just Tap and Go.

The coolness factor of the technology also helps. I got a free coffee at Peet’s the other day because the barista loved that I paid with my phone.

Security

I’m not too worried about security at this point at I don’t have my credit cards linked to Google Wallet. Currently, I’m using the Google Prepaid Card so if I lose my phone it’ll be like losing a gift card.

However, for this form of payment to go mainstream security will be very important, which is why I would like to see apps from the the banks and credit card companies.

A Multi-App Future?

Much as we have multiple debit and credit cards in our wallet, I think the future may be to have multiple digital payment apps, such as a Visa app, an American Express app, and so on. It would be nice if during payment a list of payment apps is displayed so that we can select one, much as we select a credit card when we open our wallet.

Another benefit of multiple apps would be security. One issue I see with a single app controlling every credit card is that it forms a single point of failure (in terms of a security breach). Personally, I also think the banks and financial institutions have a much longer history writing software that secures our payments, so an app from Visa may have tighter security that one from Google, Microsoft, Apple or another non-financial institution.

Summary

Google Wallet is a cool and useful app. Unfortunately, the number of phones that support the app are limited, and the NFC readers are only in a few big name stores. But, it’s nice to use the future today (unless you’re from Japan, then paying with your phone is old hat).