After years of rumors and whispers, Google finally released its long-awaited Google Drive cloud storage service in April, combining Dropbox-like synching abilities and a PC client with the company’s Google Docs service. Microsoft could have waved the white flag; instead, it released an excellent update for its own SkyDrive service, adding many of the features found in Google Drive. The chips are on the table and there’s only one question left: Which cloud storage service is better?
Note: This article appeared in the August issue of the magazine. See author's note at end.
Round 1: Interface
Microsoft and Google must’ve done their homework before launching GDrive and SkyDrive, because the PC and Mac clients for the respective services look and feel an awful lot like Dropbox’s. Basically, each appears as just another folder on your computer, albeit a folder that seamlessly syncs with the cloud whenever something inside of it changes. The synched folders even appear in Windows Explorer’s Favorites sidebar just like Dropbox’s client. It’s painless and wonderful.
It’s a toss-up on the web interfaces, too. Both have simple, flexible, and functional UIs that deliver all the information you need without being overly busy. Both also feature list- and thumbnail-style viewing options. We prefer SkyDrive’s colorful look to Google Drive’s drab hues, but that’s just a matter of personal taste.
Round 2: Storage/Price
New SkyDrive sign-ups receive 7GB gratis—compared to the free 5GB offered by Google Drive—and veteran users can opt to grandfather in their full 25GB of free space. Plus, SkyDrive’s upgrade options are cheaper than Google Drive’s, and unlike Google, Microsoft offers a 50GB plan.
Google Drive outshines SkyDrive in the total amount of upgradable space available, however. SkyDrive tops out at 100GB, while Google Drive goes all the way up to a whopping 16 terabytes (for a similarly whopping $800/month). Also, Google Drive caps file uploads at 10GB, compared to SkyDrive’s 2GB max.
We think 100GB of cloud storage is more than enough for most people, though. SkyDrive’s cheaper prices and more generous free storage earn it the win.
Round 3: Platform Support
Part of the allure of synching-style cloud storage solutions is the ability to access your files from virtually anywhere. Both services have Windows and Mac desktop clients while neglecting Linux lovers (who’ll have to stick to Dropbox). The real difference lies in mobile support: SkyDrive offers dedicated iOS and Windows Phone apps, while Google Drive only has an Android app. (Both now offer iOS and Android apps. See note at end - Brad) Neither has announced plans for BlackBerry support.
As it stands, SkyDrive gets the nod for supporting two mobile platforms, including the über-popular iOS, and for its deep-rooted Windows 8 integration. An Apple-compatible app—which Google says is in development—will add a lot of appeal to Google Drive, though both services pale compared to Dropbox and SugarSync’s widespread mobile support.
To see which cloud storage service is better at file protection, click on the next page to read the conclusion.
Round 4: Collaboration
Both services offer basic in-browser editing for documents, spreadsheets, slide shows, and more, and users can collaborate with others to tinker with files in real time. The superb feature sets SkyDrive and Google Drive apart from their competitors.
Giving others permission to read or edit files is a snap in both services, and each gives you the ability to email direct links to specific files. SkyDrive goes the extra mile and includes a Public folder that anybody can access, as well as support for sending links to over 30 social networks (but not Google+).
Once you’re actually collaboratively editing a document, though, Google Docs presents changes in real time, while SkyDrive’s Office Web Apps forces all users to save and refresh documents before showing others’ edits. Google’s approach is vastly superior.
Winner: Google Drive
SkyDrive’s Office Web Apps mimic the look and feel of the stand-alone Microsoft Office productivity programs—right down to the controversial Ribbon interface…
… while Google Docs lovers will feel right at home in Google Drive’s stark, black-and-white digs. The two services’ PC clients, on the other hand, look virtually identical.
Round 5: File Protection
What if, in the midst of a hot-and-heavy collaborative editing session, a clueless co-worker accidentally deletes an important chunk of text and saves the change? Fear not: Both Google Drive and SkyDrive contain handy-dandy version history tools that can restore files to previous iterations. SkyDrive tracks the last 25 versions of a file, while Google Drive maintains file histories for 30 days or up to 100 revisions.
The big difference lies in what happens when you accidentally delete a file completely. In SkyDrive, deleted files are simply gone, never to be seen again. (See note at end - Brad) Google Drive, however, moves deleted files into a Trash folder, where you can then choose to delete the file permanently or restore it to its original location, complete with its version history intact if it’s a document.
Winner: Google Drive
And the Winner Is…
Sigh. Ties satisfy no one, but individual needs really do determine which of these closely matched cloud-based services is right for you. Google Drive, basically being Google Docs on steroids, holds the slight edge in productivity tasks; SkyDrive is slightly cheaper, offers slightly more free storage, and is available on more mobile platforms. Sign up for the service that supports your mobile platform of choice, or heck, give ’em each a whirl if you’re on the fence. Yay freemium!
Author's note: This article first appeared in the August issue of the magazine, and it was actually written shortly after the launch of Google Drive, all the way back on May 8th. Both services have seen a bunch of changes since then; SkyDrive now supports file recovery, while both services offer apps for Android and iOS. If anything, the recent alterations to the services only serve to cement the fact that this is a closely fought battle with no clear winner.