The free 5G cloud storage service is now available, but read the fine print
Cloud computing is one of those trendy terms that people throw around liberally these days, even if they don't quite understand what it means. In its most basic sense, an online cloud is a collection of remote computers that are accessible from nearly any location and that can either perform a task or store data.
Google's new Drive service is the latest example, but chances are you've been using a cloud for years. Use Gmail, or any other web-based mail system? Then you're already knee-deep in cloud computing. Store files on a service such as Dropbox? Same thing. Keep your photos online in Flickr? You guessed it, cloud again.
So, why is the new Google version so important? Dropbox, Microsoft's SkyDrive, and others have offered similar services for years. Google Drive is newsworthy because a huge number of people already have Google accounts and use Google services, so chances are all you have to do is surf over to drive.google.com to get started.
There are a few good reasons to store files on a cloud drive. If you move from computer to computer often (or use a lot of internet cafes), this gives you access to files, documents, images, and videos from nearly anywhere. It's a big step up from having to remember to email yourself a copy of a document, or constantly saving files to a USB key or DVD and physically moving them to a new computer via what we used to call "sneakernet."
The collaboration and sharing features of Google Drive make it easy to pass a document around, and Google will automatically save older versions of your files for 30 days in case you screw anything up too badly.
One issue already causing concern is the terms of service you agree to when using Google Drive (or many other Google products). According to the fine print, Google can "use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works... communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute" any content that the company hosts for you. But, the same document also says "You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours."
Yes, it's all standard business legalese (for example, Google is not going to take the novel you've been writing in Google Docs and claim they own the movie rights), but it's worth taking note of the issues that come up as we share more of our personal information and store more of the things we produce online.
What we liked about Google Drive
1) Easy to use — if you have a Gmail account, for example, you're already signed up.
2) 5GB of free storage — it's not enough for even a single DVD-quality movie, but it's pretty good for documents and photos.
3) Easy collaboration — share file access with others to allow them to edit and update your documents (a lot of these articles have been written via shared Google docs).
4) Access nearly anywhere — Including any PC or Mac web browser, Android devices, and iPhones and iPads via a coming-soon app.
What we didn't like
1) Not great for media — with only 5GB of space, your music collection won't fit here (Amazon offers a great cloud storage locker with lots of space for music).
2) Not the best layout — like Gmail, Google Drive eschews traditional folders and sorting options, which can be confusing.
3) The fine print — there has been some concern over the fine print of the Google Drive service agreement with regards to privacy and ownership issues.