So, why all the fuss about Google Drive? Well, for one thing, it fulfills a long-ago promised move by Google towards a "cloud drive" file management service that could be a direct extension of our desktops. "GDrive" never surfaced, though, perhaps in part because at the time it wasn't really advancing the interests of other Google products in any significant way. Storage is a commodity business, after all, and when the GDrive concept first surfaced, Google's Android and Chrome OS operating systems for mobile, in-home and desktop computers weren't even on the drawing boards. For that matter, even Google's Chrome browser wasn't around when GDrive was first rumored in 2004.
With an initial 5 gigabytes of free storage, it's designed to attract Dropbox customers who get a 2GB allocation for free up front. But while the short term bogies for Google Drive are services like Dropbox, Google has much larger fish to fry via cloud storage - namely, revenues and strategic market share. First, on the revenues side, the fees for storage will be relatively tiny, but the real opportunity is to place ads and other materials related to content stored on Google Drive. It's all part of understanding what make us tick, to be sure, though one imagines that this will be done carefully and discretely - and probably not even as a part of Google Drive itself, necessarily. Information gathered one place can be used in another, after all, and with its mobile services Google has a lot of places to apply those insights.
This desktop view for Chrome OS is not available in browsers that are used on other devices like PCs - it's only seen on Chromebook laptop computers sold by Samsung, Acer, and, soon, Sony and others. , as well as those who install the Chromium open source version Chrome OS on other devices. But one wonders how long that will be true. It seems highly likely that Google may make available its desktop view to people using the Chrome browser on other devices such as Windows PCs and Macs. In other words, once you've captured everyone's file system in the cloud for seamless integration with cloud services, the desire to use platform-specific software becomes increasingly dimmer.
The special twist to this story may come over time as Google begins to integrate Chrome with its Android operating system. Today, Chrome OS launches only Web-based apps; if you want to launch Android apps, well, you'll have to use a device running Android to access them. But how much longer will it be before we'll be able to integrate and launch Android apps on devices equipped with Chrome and Chrome OS? Already Chrome supports Native Client, a capability that enables programs written in non-Web programming languages to be launched from Chrome browsers. A well-"sandboxed" approach to launching Android apps in Chrome may lead to the Chrome desktop integrating both Web and Android apps for people's use.
Conversely, though, it could be that increasingly Web apps begin to take over many functions previously reserved for platform-specific apps such as Android apps. As HTML 5 gets more "hooks" into devices living beyond the Web cloud, the interfaces to drive touch screens, sensors, cameras and other equipment will make native Web apps development and launching look more appealing.
The long and the short of all of this is that Google Drive is far more than just a place to store your files. It's a critical piece in Google's rapidly evolving puzzle to deliver Web-centric services that are intended virtually every computing platform available today. If you're developing software and information services and you're not looking more seriously at exploiting the leading edge of what's possible in Web apps, then you're likely to miss the peak of this wave. Platform-specific software will be with us for many years to come, but with Google Drive the stage has been set for the traditional device desktop to disappear into the cloud in a bigger way than ever before.