5 Reasons to Give Google Drive a Shot

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Google Drive, the company’s answer to online storage tools like Dropbox, Box.net, SugarSync and Microsoft’s SkyDrive, arrived yesterday afternoon as forecast, though with little ceremony.

It wasn’t…then suddenly it was, offering 5GB of free online, synchronized storage, no strings attached, with competitive upgrade prices if you need more, from 25GB on up to 1TB.

(MORE: Long-Awaited ‘Google Drive’ Cloud Storage Service Finally Launches)

Is it worth a look? Like most freebies from companies as ubiquitous as Google, I think so. After all, the only way to determine whether it’s right for your particular setup is to give it a spin.

You get more free storage than Dropbox

Google Drive offers 5GB free storage, no privacy tradeoffs like crawling your data or bothersome inline ads to worry about. Dropbox, arguably the most popular cloud storage alternative at the moment, only gives you 2GB free. Beyond that, the two offer similar synchronization basics, while Google naturally offers better integration with Google’s online products. That said, Dropbox’s simplicity of file sharing remains superior to Google Drive’s, offering better-integrated tools to quickly make files or folders accessible to other users (without requiring service memberships or logins), but if you and your friends, family or work collaborators already live in the Googlesphere, you owe it to yourself to give Google Drive a shake.

It replaces Google Docs

Activate Google Drive and Google Docs is no more, at least as a standalone destination: Click on your old shortcut and you’ll be rerouted to drive.google.com, where your ‘Documents’ folder now exists as a subset of ‘My Drive’. Crafting a new spreadsheet or presentation now occurs by clicking a ‘Create’ button, and you can access shortcuts to your Google Docs directly from your Google Drive — launch one and you’re automatically routed to its Google Docs interface through your default browser. If Google Docs is your office suite mainstay, then Google Drive is a no-brainer.

One word: search

Upload documents, videos, PDFs, photos and more to your Google Drive and when you search on words like “Tuesday” or “urgent,” the service searches within each file for matches. What’s more, it uses optical character recognition (OCR) technology to make legible text in even scanned documents searchable (Google uses the example of an old newspaper article). The company even claims to be able to match unnamed photos with search terms, though it’s apparently limited to easily recognized objects, say the Grand Canyon or Washington Monument.

It’s reasonably quick and (almost) platform agnostic

There’s no such thing as a “fast” cloud drive at this point, but Google Drive synchronizes offline files as fast as anything else, sometimes faster: In my tests, a 12MB image file took about two minutes to synchronize with Google Drive, where the same image took over three minutes using Dropbox. And Google Drive works on Windows and Mac devices as well as Android ones out of the box, with a promised iOS client for iPhones and iPads in the offing (if you use one of the latter, you’ll have to wait a bit longer). Google provides native apps for each device, making synchronization as simple as downloading the client, then dragging and dropping files to a mount point. The service’s only downside, if indeed this counts as one, is that it won’t sync existing folders outside the Google Drive share (on the other hand, the upside of having a single share point — though not unique to Google Drive — is that it encourages first-time users to organize their volatile data within a single location, making that data subsequently easier to find and maintain).

You don’t have to choose

The wonderful thing about free cloud storage for the moment is that it’s truly free, no hidden gotchas (well, yet anyway). So there’s really no reason not to avail yourself of multiple services, say you need more than Google Drive’s 5GB, or you want multiple backups of files, or you just want the benefits of Google’s search and native service features but don’t want to give up Dropbox’s sharing agnosticism and simplicity. The extra drive shares do add a touch of clutter to your operating environment’s menubars or drive shortcut overlays, but if you’re the sort of person who needs more than 5GB for work files or online collaboration, you’re probably already a data-juggling pro.