Google Apps

Why Google Docs' new storage capabilities are a big deal

Is Microsoft getting short-changed in all of this Google Docs storage hype? Why is 1GB from Google better than 25GB from Microsoft? Christoper Dawson weighs in.

This is a guest post from Christopher Dawson, a regular blogger for TechRepublic's sister site ZDNet. You can follow Christopher on his ZDNet blog Education IT, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Google has been all over tech news early this week, between Nexus One issues, a possible pull out from China, and its rollout of up to 1GB of cloud-based storage via its Docs application. It's this last piece, though, that really caught my attention and, as I wrote earlier on ZDNet Education,

It also means that students can't claim that the dog ate their homework or their flash drive. While students are already storing essays, presentations, and the like in Docs, now they can store images, websites, zip files, CAD drawings, whatever, and share them with peers and instructors.

Who needs thumb drives when you have the cloud, right?

And yet Microsoft barely got a nod for its 25GB of free cloud-based storage in its Windows Live SkyDrive. That it rolled out in 2008. As fellow ZDNet blogger, Mary-Jo Foley, wrote Tuesday,

In a very uncharacteristic move, Microsoft is sending out notes to reporters and bloggers on January 12, reminding them that Google's just-announced 1 GB Google Docs storage limit limit pales in comparison to what the Softies already are offering with Windows Live.

Considering that I can find 3 or 4 1GB thumb drives in my couch cushions and companies give them away as tchotchkes, while 16 and 32GB drives can actually be a bit pricey at Best Buy, isn't Microsoft offering a lot more value for free to its customers? Why all the fanfare for Google? Why is this announcement such a big deal?

There are a couple of major reasons, not the least of which is that, while Google is still a remarkably strong brand, Microsoft remains the 600-pound gorilla fighting memories of Vista's failure and antitrust litigation galore. Perhaps a more significant reason, however, relates to Google's choice not to launch their so-called G-drive yet and integrate this type of storage directly into their Docs platform.

Google already has a cloud-based productivity suite that works really well for a lot of users. Businesses and schools are taking notice and are rapidly adopting Google Apps as their groupware and productivity software of choice. For schools, it's free; for businesses, the $50/user/year is very competitive with the combined costs of Microsoft's Office Suite and Exchange/SharePoint solutions.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has its SkyDrive, but its OfficeLive Web Apps are still basically in their infancy relative to Google Docs. Sure, they're very pretty, and the document fidelity moving from desktop to cloud-based viewing and editing (for some applications) is quite good. However, for organizations willing to take the plunge and create, share, edit, and manage most of their content in the cloud, Web Apps just isn't there.

By adding the 1GB of storage (which, by the way, doesn't include any of the content that exists in native Docs formats), Google certainly didn't match Microsoft's SkyDrive offering. Rather, they removed one more barrier to life in the cloud. Google recently introduced the ability to upload an entire folder of documents, spreadsheets, or presentations into Docs; now those folders can contain anything at all.

Businesses can even buy third-party software that accesses the Docs API to leverage the new storage capabilities. As outlined in the Google Enterprise blog, such software includes

Memeo Connect for Google Apps is a new desktop application that offers an easy way to access, migrate, and synchronize files to Google Docs across multiple computers. (PC and Mac)

Syncplicity offers businesses automated back-up and file management with Google Docs. (PC)

Manymoon is an online project management platform that makes it simple to organize and share tasks and documents with coworkers and partners, including uploading files to Google Docs.

So why are the new storage capabilities a big deal? What they lack in size, they make up for in ecosystem and broad utility for enterprises looking to embrace cloud computing. Microsoft Office 2010 allows you to save documents to your SkyDrive and integrates elegantly with OfficeLive Web Apps. It's slick, but still centers around desktop computing. Google's new offerings, however, acknowledge that cloud-based collaboration requires not only a platform for content creation (Docs) but a means to seamlessly share a variety of content that Docs can't address.

Microsoft definitely got short-changed in coverage of its SkyDrive offerings and Office 2010 should exploit Redmond's cloud services quite handily. However, Google still takes this round for the same reason it has won previous battles in this space: its services were designed from the ground up to be used online and this is a significant expansion of that vision.

31 comments
Arron Smith
Arron Smith

But it clearly falls short for the following reason people can just store common files online, and cannot collaborate on them, even though the word collaborate is touted in Google's announcement. ruby on rails developer

santeewelding
santeewelding

By way of linguistic heritage and the epistemology of reality; you, I gather, by study, practice, and experience of law. Me, in addition, by study and experience. Yes. I agree. It is short and to the point. How many of your audience, though, have traveled to, "res"?

herlizness
herlizness

> as in re: lax ? then it would pop in queries from people trying find out where they could have a drink at LA airport .. "re:" is good ... short, to the point

santeewelding
santeewelding

Herlizness. With her "re" stuff. Relax. I am also quick enough to do without being told what I told you. Go for it. You have it in you.

herlizness
herlizness

santeewelding wrote: > lol ... no, not really in my "skill set," though I have from time to time used one to trim my wigs ;)

santeewelding
santeewelding

As does a dear lady friend of mine, know how to operate a chainsaw? If you do, then, I think G-Man had better high-tail it. He don't stand a chance.

brian
brian

Last I read the attacks on Google were partially successful.

herlizness
herlizness

> I guess you're not a lawyer; here's how it works: your opponent will almost always make ridiculously broad discovery requests; if you can't work something out, you ask the court for a protective order limiting the scope, means, timing, etc of discovery. If your request is reasonable, well-supported and otherwise permits the opposing party to get the documents they need to advocate their position, chances are you're going to get the order signed. Judges do not favor wasteful fishing expeditions in discovery. See Rule 26 (c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and similar state rules. So, if I'm trying a patent case and my client's inventors have religiously kept all of the documents relating to the patent in litigation on Google Docs (or really, any other singular location) I think I have a pretty good chance of resisting discovery requests for turnover and physical inspection of disk drives. If you do discovery diligently, you can normally tell when someone is playing "hide the ball" ... there are glaring gaps in the record ... and in that case you go back to the court and then you WILL get to inspect whatever you want to inspect, likely at the other side's expense.

brian
brian

That's interesting to know, thanks for that. I'm used to stories like some disgruntled employee crying "piracy" and then stormtroopers bust in the windows and take all the computers for scanning. I was having a hard time imagining a lawyer being satisfied with "we promise" but I can see how your company paying for full-on stormtroopers in round 2 would be good incentive.

herlizness
herlizness

Brian, I didn't mean to suggest that physical inspection of hardware would NEVER be permitted; the BSA is pretty heavy-handed and if there's a credible allegation of piracy in a decent-sized corporation, full scans might be appropriate and necessary; that's a very different kind of case from the example I used where the legitimate interest in discovery typically only extends to the document files and not system logs, registries and the like, which would be useful and perhaps necessary in proving piracy and piracy cover-ups. The lawyers seeking discovery are often NOT satisfied with "we promise" but their motives are quite often suspect; they're trying to intimidate parties into settlements. It's the judges who, upon a reasonable showing, can get comfortable with a representation to the court that, for example, "all files relevant to the litigation and discovery request are stored on Google Docs" (or Cloud 9 .. or whatever). They will consider all of the supporting collateral facts AND they will keep in mind that if I'm standing before a court making a representation of fact, I as an attorney am now personally on the hook for what I'm saying is true and may suffer mighty sanctions in the event that I'm telling a tall tale. Perhaps more importantly, the process is fluid; should the discovery be limited it can always later be expanded as the story unfolds. There really is typically little point in full-bore discovery from day one; it is not uncommon for one side or the other to see the futility of their position in early stages of the process and then quickly get to the bargaining table. to re-visit BSA briefly; companies who have reason to know they are using unlicensed software are generally best-advised to settle early and pay up Liz

PaladinS
PaladinS

I wonder how much of YOUR information Google will be giving away to the government...

brian
brian

I ran across a rant on Facebook, people freaking out that their information might be made available. My response was "You're on Facebook. That's what Facebook is for." If the government is searching my gmail, I feel I owe someone in some office an apologetic beer for the sheer boredom I have caused him. As far as privacy we all have more to fear from people we interact with daily. Those people have far more interest in what happens in your daily life. I recently heard of a nurse getting fired because she got caught tracking another individual's medical history using a guessed password. The guessed password was the name of the company followed by the number 1.

herlizness
herlizness

> did you feel the same way when Facebook sent notices to people about purchases their friends had made at online stores? I don't think that's what Facebook is for and they ultimately agreed. There's a lot of information misuse and abuse going on ... and too much complaining about reasonable, foreseeable uses of it at the same time.

jeslurkin
jeslurkin

A'feared so. Also lazy 'n' ignorant. ;)

jeslurkin
jeslurkin

...for a "onerous frown" remark in a discussion to which this lurker was not party. :)

Bo Tym
Bo Tym

"You impress." I tend to agree.

santeewelding
santeewelding

You impress. I see no need for you to ask, "Why?" Would that I might answer.

herlizness
herlizness

probably both more and less than you think ... I don't think it's much of a threat to the average Joe ... but it is annoying as hell

techrepublic
techrepublic

So will we soon see third party companies offering their software to operate in the "Docs" ecosystem? CAD, engineering & modelling would all work well. I guess they cold even license the software usage on a pay per use basis...perhaps offering server farms to offload the calculations too. With the results being returned to the bespoke application running in the Docs interface?.... The mind boggles...

ketan
ketan

i would rather the drones at google rifle through my docs than Steve and the other trolls at MickeySoft.

jpalmer
jpalmer

The last time China attempted to hack the flash drive in my pocket I slapped him. I'm just sayin'. Don't mess with my drive... or my data. Physical control of your data prevents your privacy from being exposed at the whims of politics and policies. Those policies change change as fast as technology does. Remember Facebook's policy change around your personal data? If China were to offer Google 1B under the table and 75% guaranteeed marketshare for the next 10 years so it'd open up a back door... it'd be just "good business" to accept. What about markets that Google can't afford to leave? What kind of politics and government controls already provide a back door to your data?

xeno6696
xeno6696

Keeping in mind that the attacks on Google also happened in China--and that they were unsuccessful--the only real issue here is what happens during litigations. If a company gets sued but its docs are all on google's servers, how does that process get handled?

mattohare
mattohare

There is still a lot of the 'close world' that is not on the internet. Sure, it's great to have all of this when you can spend your life moving from one wifi connection to another. Or you can afford the mobile broadband connections, staying in their footprint. There are times when I am not connected to the internet. Either because it's not available (There are some towns here that seem lucky to allow mobile phone calls and SMS), it's too expensive (I go 150 miles in two directions and I'm roaming), or I just want some off-line time. For those, I'll stick with my hard disk and USB drive.

brian
brian

Much as I like the internet, I don't think having internet access is nearly as reliable as a desktop application. If you're a home user, maybe you have to worry about computer troubles, but those affect only the internet more often than the whole computer, and well if you're a home user and your computer dies completely then neither type of app works. Besides I live in a highly "connected" area and I had an internet outage just last night. If I'd been working on a term paper or a presentation for the next day, I'd have been screwed with online docs. Not an uncommon occurrence either, happens maybe five times a year, sometimes goes for a day. If you're a business you probably have spare machines so desktop apps are even more reliable. Can't polish your online docs for a presentation while you're on a flight. Someone mentions Google Gears, not familiar but that could definitely bridge that gap. Then you're just going back to the combination of desktop software with online capabilities, right back where we started, and the only arguments are features vs price. For me, Google Docs is relatively feature poor vs office, and I'm not even using it to crunch serious business docs. It's not even up to the level of Open Office last I tried it. OpenOffice plus a file server plus VPN gets you closer to what businesses need than Google Docs. One of those is free and the other two are already in place for other reasons. If I were Microsoft I'd go the route of Adobe and release lightweight office apps that do most things but pass on the complicated stuff that's hard to maintain. Just do it with the same UI and the same branding this time instead of the MS Works rebranding. "MS Word Lite" - OK, I know that does what Word does, but without the stuff that I never use anyway. If that operated as a free viewer when not licensed (like Mathematica's approach) then they'd solve the price and portability barriers that make people want to switch away from office.

blarman
blarman

Offline availability is still key to traveling users. That is one thing web-based apps can't do well yet. Google Gears was supposed to bridge this gap, allowing offline use of Google Apps, but it hasn't been released yet. Google: where's Gears?

remymaza
remymaza

The link works and has worked for me for several years... http://gears.google.com/ Still in beta though is that what you are talking about? Gmail was in beta for a long time but I've used it nonetheless. Being offline anymore isn't an answer in my eyes to *NOT* use the cloud. There are many tools you can use to cache your data locally and use it anywhere you go...

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

[i]There are many tools you can use to cache your data locally and use it anywhere you go... [/i] I already do that; it's called a hard drive.

RicoSpain
RicoSpain

The cloud issue seems to miss completely the issue that in some areas broadband isn't always stable and travelling in Europe means you are roaming constantly.

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