It was mysterious and kind of cool a few years ago.
When bloggers started reporting about the Google Gdrive, an online storage service that would house all of its users' data, it sparked discussion about a number of possibilities.
What if Google began offering its millions of users of search, Google Apps and other Web services a place to store their online data, the virtual equivalent of a place to eat, breathe and sleep data? According to an analyst day report from Googlers:
"With infinite storage, we can house all user files, including: e-mails, web history, pictures, bookmarks, etc and make it accessible from anywhere (any device, any platform, etc) ... As we move toward the "Store 100%" reality, the online copy of your data will become your Golden Copy and your local-machine copy serves more like a cache. An important implication of this theme is that we can make your online copy more secure than it would be on your own machine ... Another important implication of this theme is that storing 100% of a user's data makes each piece of data more valuable because it can be access across applications."
This would hardly be out of reach given Google's well-known glut of infrastructure, including a reported 1 million servers, and sophisticated parallel programming platform and file system.
In 2006, the idea seemed magical. Today, not so much. See, what Gdrive seems to be is an online storage service like any other at a time when cloud computing has become commoditized, showing up in everyday high-tech parlance rather than just as a fringe buzzword.
As Om Malik notes, we're even calling cheaper PCs that don't come with Microsoft Office bundles "netbooks," short for cloud client machines.
Tony Ruscoe, who puts together the latest pieces of the Gdrive (with code names like Cosmo and Amethyst replacing or augmenting "Platypus") puzzle here at Google Blogoscoped notes:
"Everything seems to suggest Cosmo is some kind of update to Google Docs which integrates with this new version of Gdrive, perhaps a shared storage solution or user interface for all your online files."
"Apparently, Google Docs will be the web interface for GDrive, while a Windows/Mac client will integrate the service with the operating system and make it easy to synchronize files."
Assuming the sleuthing of my intrepid blogger peers is true, Gdrive appears to be one part online storage service, not unlike EMC's Mozy or Box.net. In the second part, Gdrive appears to be an online workspace; with Google Docs as the front end, Gdrive has the feel of Microsoft Live Workspace or Symantec's new GoEverywhere online workspace.
Instead of just offering the productivity suite without a back end or a storage depot without a front door like most solution providers, Google has in Google Docs and Gdrive a potentially nice one-two punch: a complete cloud computing collaboration platform.
But as I alluded to earlier, this wouldn't be novel or game-changing, it would just join the hundreds of other Web-based productivity suites and online file repositories out there in the cloud computing-ruled universe. Google's Google Chrome Web browser has much more significant potential for market ramifications. So, let's just relax and take a deep breath.
The question is, first, whether people are willing to pay for this service (assuming Google charges) and, second, whether people are willing to trust even more data from their personal lives to one aggregated online well.
Think about all the data Google already has about us from our use of its Web search. Now think about how much data Google can gather on us through Gmail. So Google knows what we search for and (don't give me the anonymity malarkey, I realize Google claims it doesn't officially tie our searches and identities together) what we look at while we're in Gmail as consumers.
Gdrive, if it is what it's cracked up to be, could be the new place where Google gathers info on what we like to do from a productivity standpoint -- what Flickr photos, YouTube videos and Docs files we like to play with or share. That's another avenue Google could use in its pursuit of ways to harvest data to provide better ads.
Some of our journalist and blogger peers are predicting a more audacious stroke for Gdrive. For example, this piece in the Guardian projects that Gdrive will be the product that will kill PCs.
Well, no. You still need some sort of client device from which to access your Google-held files, so a desktop, laptop, netbook or smartphone is a prerequisite.
So the Gdrive issue seems to be less about killing client devices and hard drives than it is about shredding user privacy. Would you use Gdrive?
Before you answer, consider this point: If you're reading this, you probably already use Google search and Gmail. Would letting Google store all of your Web data make you nervous? More here, on TechMeme.