Thursday, May 03, 2012

Review: Google Drive

I was one of the enthusiastic early users of Google Drive way back in 2007, when it launched internally at Google. It was great. I would drop stuff into it, and I could pick things up from my laptop, desktop, or if my laptop's hard drive crashed, I'd get all the data back. Thanks to the magic of VPN, I could even get those files sync'd to my home machine. I was very sad when Google Drive got canceled.

When I started Independent Cycle Touring, I discovered that Dropbox worked better than Google Docs. I managed to wrangle some more free quota, and started putting all my important files on Dropbox. (The source files for Independent Cycle Touring alone were more than 4GB, so getting extra quota was important) At last year's Worldcon, big name authors were telling newbies to get and install Dropbox and put all important work in there so it would be backed up.

With Dropbox now worth $4B, Google Drive was hurriedly revived and launched recently. My wife and I were curious, so we played around with it a bit. First of all, the UI is lousy compared to Dropbox. When you create a new folder and move files to it, there's no way to specify "Share this with someone" directly from the Windows Explorer. You have to know to visit Google Docs on the web and then select the folder and then share it. The recipient then has to move the shared folder into her "My Drive" folder before the files are sync'd to her hard drive!! This is a major botch up! On Dropbox, if you share a folder with someone, they receive an e-mail and once they click "accept", the folder is automatically sync'd to their local drive, no questions asked. It took a while for us to figure this out.

Conflict resolution is crude: we both edited a file at the same time in Microsoft Word. On Dropbox, the simultaneous edit and saves would create multiple copies of the same file with our different edits. This could be annoying to resolve, but at least you knew what happened. On Google Drive, the first copy would save just fine, and then the other person would get a "Cannot sync this file" message with no explanation.

We didn't try syncing large numbers of files, which we know works well on Dropbox, and works badly on SkyDrive (one file at a time, no smart scheduling of small files to sync first).

Conclusion: Dropbox is still the one to beat. If I was a Dropbox user, employee, or investor, I would not be worried by Google's entry into this field. If you're already a Dropbox user, there's no need to switch. If you're a Google Drive user, you should consider switching to Dropbox. (I am not an investor in Dropbox, just a happy user)
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