In the same way that people rarely change banks or e-mail accounts – mainly because it is too much trouble – we may soon see lock-in loyalty for the scurry of cloud storage services now appearing. That may be the idea: you deposit files and the storage provider hopes to interest you in its other services.
Google Drive, launched on Tuesday, is a long-awaited service from the company that stores all types of files in its cloud as well as copying them to all your devices. If you already use Google Docs for creating and editing documents in the cloud, the conversion to Drive is fairly painless. The Docs label is replaced in the top menu bar in Google by Drive, and all your files are stored under MyDrive.
Google also prompts you to install a program on your laptop or desktop PC. This creates a local Google Drive folder where sub-folders can be created and any type of file dragged in. They are automatically synced with the cloud and other devices. This is the approach used by the start-up Dropbox (see below). I tried dragging a photo on my desktop into the folder and saw it in MyDrive in my browser within seconds, either in full size or with other images in a new grid view.
I was less keen that the Drive program automatically downloaded all my existing Google Docs to my desktop folder since I had been happy keeping just one copy of all those files in the cloud. I tend to use cloud storage and file syncing for e-mail attachments, PDFs, a few key files and photos stored on smartphones – I use an app to share the pictures with my PC and other devices – something Apple's iCloud does automatically with Photostream.
Apple has accumulated 125m users of its iCloud service just six months after the launch. But while it does a great job of saving and moving photos and music between different Apple devices, it is less agile with documents, video and non-Apple products – a weakness the other three updated services are exploiting
So far, Google Drive has an Android app, but none for the iPhone. It offers more file types and an easier, more visual way to manage them than Apple.
Google sees Drive as a platform for third-party apps to use. It has 18 at launch, such as Lulu, which lets you convert documents to ebooks, and WeVideo, which allows HD video to be opened and edited.
The first 5Gb of storage is free. Prices per month then range from $2.50 for 25Gb to $800 for 16Tb.
Maintaining its edge, Dropbox announced a feature on Monday whereby a simple link can be sent to non-Dropbox users to share a file or folder: with a click they can preview the file in a browser, whether document, photo or video.
This is Dropbox's forte – to create simple tools and concepts for syncing and sharing files across all types of device, which others are now imitating. Its local folder syncing is available on PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android and BlackBerry devices.
Dropbox offers 2Gb free, and then 50Gb of storage for $99 a year.
Microsoft sought to steal Google's thunder on Monday with an update to its SkyDrive cloud service. It too added a Dropbox-like feature with a folder called SkyDrive, created in Windows Explorer. There is the same drag-and-drop transfer of files to the service and photos from my Windows Phone smartphone automatically showed up there.
SkyDrive also gives you remote access to your main PC and allows you to stream video from it – a feature lacking in Google Drive. Microsoft offers SkyDrive as a Windows Phone, iPhone and iPad app and there are apps that link to it, such as Xobni, which shows SkyDrive files within Outlook.
Microsoft has undercut Google on price and free capacity. The first 7Gb is free and it offers 50Gb of storage for $25 a year.