The Google rumor mill is speculating that “Google Drive” will launch shortly. Anticipation has been mounting for years that Google will provide a virtual cloud drive that can synchronize transparently with your local file system. Many have referred to it as a “DropBox killer” or Google needing to offer parity with Microsoft’s SkyDrive, however I believe this is much larger eco-system play with important but subtle differences.
Since the launch of the Chrome browser, Google has made its goal clear: Neutralize the importance of traditional operating systems like Microsoft Windows or Apple OS. Google’s vision is that the “office” belongs in the cloud (Microsoft is playing catch-up here with Office 360), and recent product enhancements such as the ChromeBook/chrome OS, Google docs, Google TV and Google Apps have been closely aligned with this strategy. By using sophisticated algorithms to mine content, interactions, relationships, etc. all these services are high-value in improving Google’s ability to effectively target advertisements and increase ad-views.
So where does Google Drive fit in this strategy? From the speculation it is technically comparable to DropBox, but there is a powerful distinction . While DropBox is about mobile file storage, Google is tightly integrating the OS and Google Docs to make the OS less relevant. Google Apps (including third party apps) running in the cloud can now open, edit and create local files. Allow Google to be your default file handler for .doc and .xls files and all your local word and spreadsheets can be opened / edited in Google Docs and mirrored in your cloud storage. No need for Microsoft Office.
Another powerful capability will be opening/downloading files from the web. The workflow of downloading a spreadsheet from a website or mail attachment, saving it to a folder and opening it in Microsoft Office is slow and cumbersome. By tightly integrating in with Google Docs, users can elegantly open any web document directly. No Downloading! It never has to touch your hard drive (or you could chose to sync it locally.) Instantly open even very large documents from the web in Google Docs without the local transmission time or cumbersome workflow steps. Elimination of local downloads becomes incredibly alluring on mobile devices where bandwidth is scarce, slow and expensive.
Admittedly, Google doesn’t have a stellar track record with product launches that stick. It’s fond of experimenting and willing to shut things down so this could be yet another lab toy, however it seems so in aligned with Google’s strategy that I’d wager in a few years we will look back and wonder how we ever lived without it.