Midway through typing this sentence, I’ve shut the lid on my Chromebook, put it down on the coffee table, walked upstairs and continued typing on my Chromebox. I’m now walking to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee, typing away on my Nexus phone, all without stopping and all without impatiently waiting for changes to appear.
As I’ve been covering during my “Going Google” series, there are plenty of pros and cons for embracing the Google ecosystem. At the top of the list should be Google Drive (née Google Docs). To use an Apple marketing term, the Drive experience is magical.
But Google Drive is also one of the most important parts of the Google ecosystem. Since 2006, Google Docs has changed from a simple Web-based word processor to one of the biggest players in the productivity market. From the original acquisition of Writely to the introduction of real-time and collaborative editing all the way to the rollout of Google Drive, it has been continually innovating in the space.
Drive has competitors on nearly every front, and they are some of the biggest players in the technology world. Companies like Dropbox are coming at it from the data storage angle, while more established companies like Apple and Microsoft are going after the space with a vengeance with iCloud and Skydrive integration in Microsoft Office, respectively.
Despite the competition, Google Drive is simply better, because it is more useful in more situations. For working across devices and operating systems, on mobile devices (with a Google Drive app for iOS in the works, according to Google), and for collaborative working, it’s the way to go. If you’re dodging bullets and your laptop is often hit by strays, corrupting your data, you might have bigger problems, but using Google Drive may also be a solution on that front as well.
With iCloud integration, Apple beats Google on the user experience side of the equation, with the service being built into the core of iOS, OS X, and many of the most popular apps. This means seamless integration into all of your applications. Apple also sells its own iWork suite, which has more features than Google Drive. These seem like small plusses for Apple, but they do make a big difference for advanced users.
When compared to Microsoft Office, Google Drive faces a different type of competition. Microsoft Office has been the mainstay of offices for nearly two decades now, and it has a firmly entrenched position in the productivity market, with experts that are trained specifically for applications like Excel and Powerpoint. In addition, Office has more features than Google Docs and controls more of the mindshare of the market, as you’ll learn if you ask almost any Fortune 500 company.
But while both Microsoft and Apple have features that outpace Google Drive, the one thing that Drive excels at is collaborative editing. Bringing in multiple people to edit the same document at the same time is truly a leap forward compared to iCloud/iWork and Skydrive/Office. It simplifies the editing and writing process by leaps and bounds, and manages to speed it up too. All without confusing the user.
The advantages of Google Drive don’t stop there though — oh no — they go even further. Drive automatically saves the files as you go, meaning that the user never has to worry about data loss. Forget the days of worrying about battery life or hard drive corruption. Sunny days are here again, and it is a liberating feeling.
Theoretically, though, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. Google Drive does bring risks. What happens if the government wants to access to your files? What happens if Google suffers a catastrophic failure and you lose all of your data without local backups? Most worrisome of all, what happens when you inadvertently upload an infringing file? Who is at fault, and what are the repercussions?
Each of these are valid concerns, but they aren’t deal-breakers in the data preservation world. If the data was stored locally, all of these issues would still be valid, and possibly even more pressing. To mitigate these risks, Google is entirely transparent about its dealing with the government, DMCA takedown notices, and redundant backups. It’s never going to be perfect, but it does go a long way.
One hidden piece of Google Drive that is important is how it ties in with Chrome OS. Currently in beta, Google Drive is being integrated into the actual operating system, which effectively makes it the file system for the OS. I’ve been using this as my filesystem since it rolled out in the beta channel, and suffice it to say, it’s really great. It’s not perfect, with offline usage a little buggy — it is in beta, after all, so a grain of salt — but the tight integration pushes Chrome OS into the next league.
Google Drive’s advantages may not be new to many of you, but it truly is a key piece of Google’s ecosystem. Think about how much time people spend working on documents. If the company is able to put its logo and the universal Google bar in front of users the entire time, it does wonders for brand recognition. That, combined with the actual feature set of the products, makes Drive one major piece of the Google ecosystem. One that other companies should not be ignoring.
Oh, and did I mention it’s free?
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]