Google is finally launching its general-purpose cloud storage service. It's late to market, but it doesn't matter. Google's the juggernaut. It will easily steamroll the pesky small-fry, like Dropbox.
Or will it? Google has not conquered every market it's entered. See social networking, or photo sharing, or blogging. In the consumer cloud storage market, there are serious, well-established, and highly valued companies already up and running. Can Google compete? Is it right for you? Let's compare it to the existing grid of storage providers.
To review: Google Drive offers 5GB of free storage, almost the best prices beyond the free tier in a consumer product (Microsoft is better), and the biggest available online lockers. It's integrated into Google Docs so you can put your files from local apps alongside your Web files, which is pretty handy.
Google Drive is relatively easy to get started with on a PC, Mac, and Android device. It's a very strong product. We haven't even seen its iOS mobile app, nor the planned integration into Gmail and the Chrome OS operating system. These are coming.
Best for: People who live in the Googlesphere.
Free storage: 5GB; Price per 100GB: $60/year
More: Google Drive: It's slick, integrated... and not exactly free
Amazon Cloud Drive
New! Amazon has gotten into the Cloud Drive business with a new app. The Cloud Drive itself is not new, just the desktop software. You can store up to 5GB of files for free on Amazon's respected cloud servers. You can access your files from anywhere, of course. The big draw is that music files purchased from Amazon and stored on the drive don't count toward your storage allocation. As a promotion, in fact, any music files uploaded to the Amazon Cloud are stored for free. Amazon wants to push its Cloud Player online music app.
The downside: Amazon Cloud Drive is not a synchronizing hard drive like the other products in this list. When you're offline, you can't access or update files you've put on your drive. Rather, you copy files from your local system to the Drive. It's a good music storage product, but not nearly as useful for working with or sharing files as the other products in this comparison.
Best for: Storing a lot of music for free.
Free storage: 5GB; Price per 100GB: $100/year
More: Amazon Cloud Drive gains desktop app
Dropbox is the darling of the tech set for file synchronization and sharing, and for very good reasons: Setup is fast; The free service gives you a usable if limited 2GB of storage; and sharing files with other people is beautifully simple for both the sender and the receiver. If you're a Dropbox user and accustomed to the system, there's no need to move off of it. If you need a fast way to share a file with another user, or you want to park a file in the cloud to access it from anywhere or from other computers you own, it's still a fantastic experience -- better than Google Drive.
The upstart product from Google is not quite as simple or clear, but it does offer more free storage (5GB to Dropbox's 2GB) as well as better deals on paid storage.
Best for: Beautifully simple sharing.
Free storage: 2GB; Price per 100GB: $199/year
More: How to navigate the Dropbox redesign
Box is the file-sharing service designed for businesses. You can get a plan as an individual user, but this company makes its money from, and does it best work for, the business team. Desktop sync isn't even available on individual accounts.
However, on a business account, there's a lot to recommend here, including the sync feature, a suite of user account management and monitoring tools, and on the high end of the scale, integration into enterprise identity services. Google Drive isn't yet available for business customers on Google Apps.
Best for: Businesses
Free storage: 5GB; Price per 100GB: $40/year*
More: Box trying to unify cloud storage for business apps
SugarSync is the old-fashioned, super-feature-rich, ultra-flexible store and sync service. For individual users, it has a feature set that puts Dropbox to shame, and it allows very fine-grained control of what is synced, and to where. You don't have to sync just the system's own folder -- you can sync anything. SugarSync has highly evolved iOS apps, as well.
SugarSync, until today's Google Drive announcement, offered the largest available online storage locker for users, 500GB.
SugarSync is complex, however. While it offers a simple desktop sharing folder like Dropbox, it's easy to get lost and confused in its options.
Best for: Flexibility of what you sync and share
Free storage: 5GB; Price per 100GB: $150/year
More: SugarSync: Most useful sync tool ever. But you'll pay for it.
A new entry from LogMeIn, Cubby has taken the best ideas from existing sync and share products. It's simple like Dropbox, allows you to sync any folder like SugarSync, and it offers a computer-to-computer sync feature that lets you share folders between two computers without storing them in the cloud; this helps keep the price down if you're using the system to keep a lot of data synced between computers.
Cubby is in invite-only beta and pricing has yet to be determined beyond the 5GB free tier.
Best for: Syncing a lot of data between computers
Free storage: 5GB; Price per 100GB: TBD
More: LogMeIn launches Cubby: File sync and share done right
This is another flexible sync product. Like SugarSync and Cubby, it lets you share any folder on your computer. The CX team is focused on collaboration, and the product lets you create groups of users for sharing files. It gives groups collaboration tools, too, like discussion threads.
CX has another differentiator: 10GB of free storage. But it's among the most expensive solutions on a per-gigabyte basis beyond that.
Best for: Most free storage, sharing files with groups.
Free storage: 10GB; Price per 100GB: $240/year*
More: CX: Good sync product, doomed market
From the backup company Mozy (itself a part of EMC), there's a simple sync product called Stash. It should be a good solution for people who want to integrate their cloud backup accounts with the sync accounts, except it likely requires too much awareness of what's where to be used effectively. As a free service it's got the same 2GB limit as Dropbox, and its features aren't fancy either. But if you are a Mozy user, it's a nice add-on service.
Best for: Moziers.
Free storage: 2GB; Price per 100GB: $144/year*
More: Mozy blends file sync into its backup service
Wuala was once an independent cloud storage provider, but it was acquired by the hard drive vendor LaCie, and the product is included with some of the company's drives now. Wuala has a unique proposition, though: Its data is all hosted in Germany, Switzerland, and France, where privacy regulations are stricter; it would be, theoretically, harder for a government to get into your files on this service. There are no Wuala servers in the U.S.
Best for: The paranoid.
Free storage: 5GB; Price per 100GB: $129/year
More: LaCie merges with online-storage start-up Wuala
Bitcasa is the crazy one. The idea here is that you pay $10 a month for unlimited cloud-based storage that is synchronized to you computers' hard drives. In the Bitcasa vision, there is no real difference between the cloud and your hard disk. Your hard disk looks infinite because it's, technically speaking, just a really big cache for your unlimited cloud drive.
The service is still in beta. It may be that way for a while.
Best for: The dreamers
Free storage: TBD; Price per 100GB: Kind of missing the point
More: Bitcasa moves your hard drive to the cloud
Microsoft's cloud storage initiative (I hesitate to call it a single product) is the closest competitor to Google Drive. It combines access to SkyDrive, which is storage for the cloud versions of the Microsoft Office products, with Live Mesh, its hard disk in the sky. It also has the rare, but valuable to some, capability to sync files computer-to-computer, bypassing cloud storage.
Live Mesh is a credible competitor to Dropbox (Ars Technica story), although it's a bit of a mess to figure out what's what; Microsoft only recently announced its paid storage tiers for the service, which remain separate from the storage allocated to Microsoft Office files.
Best for: Microsoft true believers.
Free storage: 7GB (for files); Price per 100GB (on top of free storage): $50/year
More: Microsoft adds paid storage tiers to SkyDrive cloud service
And then there's Apple's solution. Apple uses cloud storage strictly for its own apps: You can store your files from Keynote, Numbers, and Pages in the Apple cloud, as well as backups of your iOS devices. It's seamless to open these files from any machine running the apps. But it's not a general-purpose cloud file storage product.
Best for: People in the Apple ecosystem
Free storage: 5GB; Price per 100GB (on top of free storage): $200/year*
More: Apple to build more iCloud apps
Google Drive is a very strong cloud store and sync product. It's easy enough to set up, offers a good free tier of service, and the best prices if you need more than that. If you work in Google Docs and use an Android device, this may become the ultimate file management product for you -- over time.
If you want a really elegant and simple solution for sharing, storing, and syncing, Dropbox is still tops.
For flexibility (syncing any folders), I like SugarSync, but only because LogMeIn's Cubby is still in beta and we don't know what it will cost. It's one to watch.
* Prorated from published prices if no 100GB plan is quoted.