A 5GB Google Drive Next Week? Almost Time to Leave Dropbox?

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Alleged leaked screenshot of Google Drive.

Google’s cloud storage tool/service/feature (you pick), dubbed Google Drive, is right around the corner, claims The Next Web. The site says it just received a draft release from a Google partner that teases specific details, like that the drive will offer 5GB of space out of the gate, live at http://drive.google.com (that URL currently returns a “Not Found” 404 error) and launch next week — Tuesday, most likely, wagers TNW.

So 5GB for the price of signing up — that wouldn’t be a bad deal at all — and more if you’re willing to pay. Dropbox, Google’s scrappiest and most visible combatant, offers 2GB for free and charges $9.99 a month or $99 a year for 50GB, $19.99 a month or $199 a year for 100GB and lets teams pool resources to share up to 1TB. I use the freebie version of Dropbox currently. I switched to it last year, after I heard Apple was putting a knife in its Mobile Me suite (including iDisk), for which I’d been paying $99 a year to split 20GB of online storage between Apple Mail and Apple’s poky iDisk service. iCloud, Mobile Me’s stripped down stand-in, has no online drive option.

(MORE: Google Reportedly Building Cloud Storage Service to Rival Dropbox)

So off to Dropbox I went, after fooling with a few of the most popular (but ultimately less impressive) alternatives. And hey, 2GB free! I’m a full-time writer, but my entire career’s worth of thousands of text files would fit comfortably on an old-school, less-than-1GB thumb drive, compressed.

Word is Google’s 5GB drive will work off the block with both Windows and OS X systems, including “in desktop folders,” though how, specifically, remains to be seen. Presumably you’ll be able to access your files on a computer, phone, tablet or through a browser, make changes and see the file updated on all devices immediately. As for iOS support versus Google’s Android platform, there’s no word, just that Google’s support pages already list document editing support for the Android-specific Google Drive app.

In theory, a freebie 5GB multi-platform Google Drive could be a wonderful thing. But hold up — Google already gives us tons of storage in its other apps without asking for user compensation. It makes money by putting its digital fingers in our stuff (to a greater or lesser degree, depending on our privacy settings, but the fingers are always there to some extent) and using what it gleans to serve up targeted ads. It’s not clear how Google plans to monetize its free version of Google Drive, but precedent would suggest there may be a data crawling angle, and if there is, that alone could be a deal-breaker for some.

As my colleague Keith Wagstaff noted in February, there’s also the interface to think about. Will it have the same basic look and feel across all platforms and devices? Will it elegantly integrate with each device’s menubars and/or launch areas? If Google Drive isn’t as seamless as Dropbox, which synchronizes a speedy local folder-share with a slower online one in the background, users may balk.

What about Google’s other services? Will Google Drive integrate with other Google apps somehow, say Google Docs or Google Play?

And what of the arguably biggest question: reliability? According to Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, who recently spoke to my colleague Harry McCracken at SXSW 2012: “What people love is not free space … It’s that they could literally take their MacBook Air and throw it in the river and not lose anything.” So Dropbox sees itself as the “peace of mind” company. But hasn’t Google already more than proven itself in the dependability arena? How often is Gmail on the fritz? How often have you lost data stored with Google in general? Through Google Docs? Any other Google service? Typing “gmail data loss” into Google turns up one instance, back in February 2011, but that amounted to a service glitch, and the supposedly .02% of users impacted eventually saw all their “lost” email restored because Google keeps backups of its backups on tape.

I’ll say this: The minute Google Drive launches, assuming it does so with a Dropbox-competitive option (be it 5GB or 2GB), I’ll give it a try. But for anyone who doesn’t really need more than Dropbox’s basic 2GB of space, if Google Drive is just another cloud drive, the question’s going to be whether Dropbox users (among others) are going to bother. A lot of Dropbox users use the service for more than just personal storage, sharing files or pictures with friends or using the service as a collaborative work tool. They’re somewhat entangled, in other words. It’ll probably take more than just the promise of a few gigabytes more in free storage to convince many to abandon what they already know and depend on.

MORE: SXSW: Dropping In on Dropbox’s Drew Houston

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