Google on Tuesday is making a big move with its Docs service, opening it up to all types of file uploads. This includes photos, movies, music, and ZIP archives, all of which will be stored on Google's servers.
Along with opening up Docs to additional file types, Google is also dramatically increasing the size of individual uploads. Where the company will still limit users to 500KB for Microsoft Word documents, and 10MB for PowerPoint presentations and PDFs, the new limit for all other files that cannot be converted into a Google Docs format is 250MB. This is 10 times the size of what's allowed as an attachment in the company's Web mail service Gmail.
In a post on the company's blog, Google Docs' product manager Vijay Bangaru said that the new size and file type allowances serve to make Docs a replacement for USB drives, allowing users to access their files between computers. The company is also applying the same permissions-based sharing system it has for documents that it hosts, allowing users to share files with one another.
That said, the amount of space for non-Google Docs files that are stored within Docs will only be 1GB. Users can upgrade though, and Google is planning on that.
Just like users can purchase additional space for other Google services like Picasa Web Albums and Gmail, users will soon be able to rent space from Google. For standard Google Docs users this will be 25 cents per gigabyte, per year, while Google Apps enterprise users have to pay $3.50 per gigabyte, per year. That's a hefty price difference, but customer support, and a service level agreement that guarantees uptime add costs.
Bangaru says the new file storage features will be rolling out to users within the "next couple of weeks." In the meantime, Google has been busy readying a new documents API that will take advantage of the storage, giving third-party programs read and write access. This turns Google into more of a traditional storage provider than it's ever been, completely cutting out the need to visit the Docs site itself to add or remove files. The only caveat here--and it's a big one--is that users will need to Google Apps premier edition customers to access the API, leaving free users of Docs and lesser Apps subscribers out in the cold.
Three companies that are coming out of the gate with support for this new API are Syncplicity, Manymoon, and Memeo Connect. All three will be tapping into it to do things like file sync, upload, and backup.
So is this the GDrive?
Signs that Google was readying Docs for file storage came in late July of last year, which is when the company quietly added the "files" menu to the Docs interface. It's since been under-utilized as a place for users to store PDFs that could be read within Google's document viewer. Attempts to upload other files that could not be converted into Google's own formats simply did not go through.
But do these changes make Google Docs the long-awaited GDrive? In a way yes, but it's far from the game-changing storage service that many thought would come by now. The expectation has always been that if Google came out with its own storage service, it would be deeply tied into its properties. And more importantly, that it would be something readily available to all users.
This time last year the company had alluded to as much, almost by accident. Bundled deep within the code of the company's "Google Pack" software (which includes a handful of Google, and non-Google software installers), was mention of a service called "GDrive." It was billed simply as a tool for online file backup and storage. That included "photos, music, and documents." The software also promised to let users access these files from a variety of locations--including the operating system and mobile phones.
Sound familiar? Google Docs now does all those things, at least with the help of some third-party programs. However, the one remaining hurdle is getting the sync to non-enterprise users, which for the time being is not happening.
There is light at the end of the tunnel though. This year, Google brings its cloud-centric Chrome OS to Netbooks, and you can be sure that storage will be an important part of the equation. It's much easier to sell the idea of a cloud-based lifestyle when you can give people a place to dump their existing files. This is especially true given what could be a very limited amount of storage in the first crop of Chrome OS hardware that will be sporting solid state drives--a technology that costs considerably more per gigabyte than platter-based hard drives.
Suddenly 25 cents a gigabyte doesn't sound so bad, does it?
Where Google still has a lot of work to do is unifying its storage offerings into one big drive that's shared across all of its services. As it stands, depending on what type of media you're giving to Google, and from what service you're uploading it to, there's a different bucket with a different limit. This is further complicated by the fact that many of the services have trouble talking to one another. If they did, it would allow Google to group search indexes into one place where users could sift through content they had stored across all of Google's properties.
While Google may get there by the launch of Chrome OS, it doesn't have to. Just consider Tuesday's news proof enough that Google, at the very least, has the ball rolling.
By Josh Lowensohn