With the launch of Google Drive, the new cloud storage service unveiled today by Google, mainstream tech users will soon find themselves engaging in cloud storage and file synchronization among mobile, laptop and desktop systems.
And that will likely change the way we use the Internet, analysts say.
"Personal cloud is far more than just storage; it's synchronization, it's streaming, it's sharing files. Those ultimately become more important to the consumer than things like the personal computer," said Gartner Research Director Michael Gartenberg. "The age of the personal cloud becomes far more important than the personal computer."
After years of rumors and speculation, Google officially launched its cloud storage and file sharing service, Google Drive, offering users 5GB of free storage space. More importantly, Google Drive is tied into all of Google's other services.
The new service, for instance, will allow users to collaborate on spreadsheets, presentations and video, as the company's existing Google Docs service is built into Google Drive.
Once you choose to share content with others, you can add and reply to comments on anything, such as PDFs, images or video files, and receive notifications when other people comment on shared items, Google said.
Users can start with the initial 5GB of space. (By comparison, Microsoft offers 7GB of free capacity with its SkyDrive offering, Apple offers 5GB of space, and DropBox offers 2GB.)
For users who need more room for their digital content, Google allows an upgrade to 25GB for $2.49 a month, 100GB for $4.99 a month or 1TB for $49.99 a month. When you upgrade to a paid account, your Gmail account storage will also expand to 25GB.
"At those prices points, for the cost of cup of coffee a month you can get 100GB of online storage and synchronization from Google and have it work on your Mac and PC and on your iPhone and your Android device," Gartenberg said. "This is where they're pretty disruptive in terms of price compared to competitors."
Google Drive can be installed on a Mac or PC; users can also download the Drive application to an Android phone or tablet. Google already has an API for developers and said it's "working hard" on an app for iOS devices.
"And regardless of platform, blind users can access Drive with a screen reader," Google said.
Just yesterday, Microsoft announced it had done away with its convoluted Live Mesh system and adopted a consumer-friendly service -- SkyDrive -- that's closer to what Dropbox offers. The company also announced an app for Windows and for Mac OS X that integrates SkyDrive with the local OS.
Just as with Dropbox, files can be stored in the SkyDrive folder, and they will be uploaded to the cloud storage service as well as synchronized to a user's other mobile and desktop devices.
While other pundits have said that Google was "out to lunch" when it came to offering a comprehensive cloud storage service, Gartenberg said it was worth the wait as the company has hit the mark on every important feature.
Google Drive enables ubiquitous search
Frank Gillett, an analyst with Forrester Research, agreed. "What's very interesting is having such a capability tied to one of the largest email offerings on the planet," he said. "Microsoft's SkyDrive [has] been around for a while and linked to Hotmail, but this more significant than that."
Unique to Google Drive is its ability to search email, access Google Docs, and use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for scanned documents and image recognition through Google Goggles.