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.

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