Dropbox sets the current consumer standard for easy to use file synchronization. Install Dropbox on your work and home computer. Login to your Dropbox account on each computer and a file saved to the Dropbox folder on your home computer will be synced to Dropbox's servers, and then replicated to the work computer.
Think of Dropbox as a web-enabled flash drive. Dropbox provides locally installed applications with cloud-synced data storage. A Microsoft Word document saved to your Dropbox folder at home can be opened from your work computer's Dropbox folder.
Google Drive at first seems similar. Install Google Drive on your work and home computer. Login to your Google Drive account on each computer and a file saved to the Google Drive folder on your home computer will be synced to Google's servers, and then replicated to the work computer. A Microsoft Word document saved to your Google Drive folder at home can be opened from your work computer's Google Drive folder. Just like Dropbox.
But Google Drive also provides desktop access to cloud applications and cloud data. That's different.
More in the cloud
With Google Drive, a double-click on a Google Doc opens the document in a browser, ready to view or edit. As you'd expect, this works for Google documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
This also works for Google Drive integrated applications, such as MindMeister's online mind mapping application. Once enabled, you can save a MindMeister mind map with Google Drive. The file will appear in the desktop Google Drive folder. Double-clicking the file will open the file in the web application within a browser.
Google Drive supports viewing of more than 16 files types. You can view files from applications not installed on your computer, such as Apple's Pages (.PAGES) documents, Adobe Photoshop (.PSD) files, or even Autodesk's Autocad files (.DXF). You also can comment on files in Google Drive - without affecting the content of the file itself.
That's Google Drive's strength: providing desktop access to cloud applications and data.
Because the Google Apps administrator controls users accounts and logins, the administrator can transfer ownership of files and folders to other users should an employee leave. Dropbox exists outside this authentication framework. Administrators seeking additional file security and backup should look to third party solutions, such as CloudLock or Spanning Backup.
Each user receives an initial 5GB of storage, but both the Google Apps administrator and each user can purchase additional storage, if needed. Google native docs, spreadsheet and presentation format files do not count toward the storage limit. Storage as of May 2012 is priced at $5 per month for 100GB of storage.
Google Drive helps people transition from the "local app, local data world" to the "cloud application, cloud data world". Google Drive is also an excellent solution for organizations that use Microsoft Office documents and a local Windows Server to store and share Microsoft Office documents. People can continue to save and open files using the Google Drive folder on their desktop.
Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.