April 24, 2012 -- Google wants you to think of it as your new hard drive. The Internet giant is launching its Google Drive Cloud storage service today, which will offer any Google user 5 gigabytes of free online storage -- enough space to store about 1,000 songs or thousands of documents. You will be able to access your files anywhere and store them in the so-called cloud -- Google's vast banks of Internet servers -- for free.
Google has long been rumored to be working on such a service, and today the company is releasing it to the masses. It will begin rolling out to all later this afternoon, Google Drive's product manager, Scott Johnston, told ABC News.
"The best way to understand Google Drive is to look at it as an evolution of letting people work successfully in the cloud. We have focused a lot on collaboration with Google Docs and we are doing the same thing now with Google Drive," Johnston said.
Like many of Google's online services, it is very simple to use. Google will offer both Mac and Windows Google Drive programs. Once you have downloaded those, you will be able to drag your files into the Google Drive folders created on your Mac or Windows computer and they will automatically be uploaded to your Google Drive.
You can access your Google Drive on any web browser right through your Google account (the same one you'd use for Gmail, Google+ or Google Docs). There you will have control over who you can share files with.
Google will also offer an Android app starting today which will let you access your Drive files on a phone and upload files to the Drive. It is working on iPhone and iPad apps, which should be out soon, said Johnston.
"We want to make sure your files are available wherever you are. And beyond that storage, make sure you can work with people on those files," Johnston said.
And that's where Google is doing something a bit different from its competitors, like DropBox, Microsoft's SkyDrive, and Apple's iCloud. Not only has it built in its robust search functions, which allow you to search within documents via the web interface, but you can also start discussions with people about files. For instance, if someone shares a PDF file with you, you can comment right on the file that you have read it and approved it.
And there's another way Google's about to one-up the established cloud storage players: competitive pricing. While Dropbox offers 2GB of free storage, Google is offering 5GB. If you run out of that space, you can upgrade to 25GB for $2.49 a month, 100GB for $4.99 a month, and 200GB for $9.99 a month. Apple, for instance, offers 5GB for free as well, but 10GB for $20 a year. And in an preemptive move, Microsoft adjusted its SkyDrive rates yesterday -- it now offers 7GB for free and 20GB for $10 a year. Google will offer plans up to 16 terabytes, which will cost $799.99 a month. It will also offer business plans.
However, long-standing competitors don't seem to be shaking in their boots at the thought of Google entering the space. "I'm really excited about how huge this market has become. It wasn't always seen that way," Laura Yecies, CEO of SugarSync, told ABC News. "We are really excited about it being such a big market opportunity. I'd rather be in a market where there are big players."
Yecies also points out that the big players also have different interests than her firm does. "Google is an advertising company, SugarSync is a cloud syncing company. Also, I think they are likely to do something that heavily favors its platform, which is Android, and less integrated with others."
Google is striking while the iron is hot. Microsoft and Apple have both been pushing their respective Cloud offerings within their operating systems -- SkyDrive is integrated right into Windows 8 and iCloud is core to the iPhone and iPad functionality.
But Google's hoping its array of products can help it take on not only the big players but also the small ones. "There is a whole suite of applications that are important for this kind of productivity and we already offer many of them," Johnston said. "For example, in Google+ you can select from your drive no matter where you are and Gmail sharing will come later. We have big plans for this."