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Choose Your Own Misadventure: The Problem with Google Drive for Businesses

Posted on 26 Apr, 2012 by in Huddle news | 2 comments

This week Google finally announced Google Drive—a product under development for nearly five years—and we finally got to check out what all the hype has been about.

As our CEO Alastair Mitchell has said, “Consumers not knowledgeable about Dropbox are sure to be ecstatic in regards to the launch of Google Drive.”  It’s true: there’s no denying that these services make personal file sharing simple and cheap for millions of individuals but what about business file sharing?

It’s important to note the “consumer” in that statement because business users, whose needs are far more complex and directly tied to business operation and bottom lines, will be anything but ecstatic. So is Google Drive for Businesses?

If the following four reasons don’t send business users running (and personal users as well if you’re anything like Lucas Mearian at Computerworld), we’re not sure what will.

1.    Outrageous Terms of Service that give Google the (data) farm.

The tech blogosphere was on fire yesterday expressing outcry at Google Drive Terms of Service. It’s not hard to see why.

“Your Content in our Services: When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide licence to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes that we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.

The rights that you grant in this licence are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This licence continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing that you have added to Google Maps).”

As Zack Whittacker at ZDNet notes, “Simply put: there’s no definitive boundary that keeps Google from using what it likes from what you upload to its service.”

Ed Bott at ZDNet goes further: “Did no one in Mountain View look at that document and say, ‘I wonder what our users will think of this?’ Apparently not. Did anyone say, ‘Hey, remember when Dropbox did this and had to apologize for an entire week?’ I guess not.” He goes on to say, “It’s a perfect example of Google’s inability to pay even the slightest bit of attention to anything that happens outside the Googleplex.”

2.    Incredibly difficult to manage documents at scale.

If you have no problem with Google owning everything you upload and giving them the ability to do with it what they wish, you may find actually using the service a challenge.

Ian Paul at Computerworld shared his shock and frustration that “Drive wipes out Docs and then rearranges some of your stuff,” but it’s Preston Gralla at Computerworld who says that the real nightmare is document editing:

“When it comes to editing Google Drive files with Google Docs, the news is all bad; serious work still needs to be done. The biggest problem has to do with editing. If you create a file using Microsoft Office, you won’t be able to edit the file using Google Docs on Google Drive. First, you’ll have to open the file in Google Docs, then export it to the Google Docs format by selecting File –> Export to Google document; you can then edit that copy of the original document.

Even more confusing is that the copy that you’re editing won’t be saved to the folder from which you opened it (for example, \Google Drive\Budget), but instead to the main Google Drive folder at \Google Drive (and I couldn’t find a way to change the folder it would save to). More confusing still is that on the Web, the file name remains the same in both the original folder and the Google Drive folder (Budget.doc, for example), but when the new copy is synced back to your devices, a .gdoc extension is appended onto it. So Budget.doc becomes Budget.doc.gdoc, and it’s in the \Google Drive folder rather than the \Google Drive\Budget folder where the original document lives.

Confused by all this? You should be. It’s a kludge of monumental proportions, and shows that the Google Drive/Google Docs combination still isn’t even close to prime time when it comes to editing Office files.” So far Google Drive for Businesses doesn’t look like such a great idea. It gets worse:

Tony Bradley at PCWorld continues the thought in greater depth:

“Users can upload and store other file formats like Microsoft Word *.docx documents, or Microsoft Excel *.xlsx spreadsheets, or PDF files. If opened locally from the Google Drive folder on a Windows or Mac OS X computer, those files will open in their native applications. However, if accessed from the Google Drive website, the files are opened as read-only in an online viewer.

In order to edit a file from the Web, the file has to be exported to–or saved as–its equivalent Google Docs file format. That process results in having two of the same file in Google Drive–the original, and the Google Docs version.

You can tweak, edit, and otherwise modify the Google Docs version from the Web, and those changes will be saved to Google Drive in the cloud, and synced back to the Google Drive folder on the local system. This introduces two potential issues, though.

First, the file that is synced to the local drive that has the most recent updates and edits will be in Google Docs format. Google Docs files in Google Drive are actually links that open Google Docs for editing online. If you happen to be offline, those links in the Google Drive folder would be useless.

There are a couple of ways to work around this issue. First, you can configure your Google Docs for offline access, and you can use Google Chrome browser extensions to enable you to edit Google Docs files offline. Another solution would be to save the file back to its original format after editing it online so that it will open locally in its native application as mentioned above.

That brings us to the other potential issue–file fidelity. Google has gone to great lengths to maintain formatting when converting from Microsoft Office formats to Google Docs and back again, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. For basic documents that just have text, with maybe some bold, italics, and underlining, or simple bullets, it may not be an issue. However complex documents that include things like a table of contents, footers, headers, and footnotes are likely to get mangled and require a lot of manual repair when switched back to their native format.”

3.    Have iOS, BlackBerry or Windows Devices? No Google Drive for you!

As Ian Paul at PCWorld notes of lack of mobile support, “Only Android users can currently access Drive using a native mobile app, but the search giant says it is working hard to get an iOS version finished. If you’re a dedicated Google user who prefers a BlackBerry or Windows Phone, however, it’s not clear whether any Drive apps will be headed your way. For the time being, non-Android users can give the mobile site a try, but the experience is not as good as the Android Drive app. Opening an image on my Android phone, for example, was a real chore using the mobile Drive site, but was intuitive and easy using the smartphone app.”

As previously mentioned, if you access Office files from the website (which is the only way to do so on mobile devices), document are read-only. Goodbye mobile editing!

4.    Recent Google outages put reliability in question.

We recently discussed the Google blackout that affected some 35 million personal and business users for at least an hour. It’s not the first Google outage and it’s likely not the last. For business users that rely on constant content uptime, this represents a serious infrastructure hurdle: how can business get done if files are offline?

You may be saying, “Ok, I get it, you don’t like Google Drive”—and it’s true that Huddle has a stake in business file sharing and content management—but we do believe that Huddle is the best option for businesses. But don’t take our word for it.

As Rich Edwards from Ovum, an industry analyst firm says, “Ovum advocates the evaluation of business-grade cloud drive and collaboration solutions, such as Box and Huddle. These services deliver user friendly, device agnostic, content sharing features similar to Google Drive, Dropbox enterprise, and Microsoft SkyDrive, but they also feature management and administration capabilities that Ovum deems essential from a compliance and audit perspective.”

So is Google Drive for Businesses? I certainly wouldn’t risk it. Will you be using it? Let us know your thoughts on Google Drive for Businesses in the comments.


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2 Comments

  1. Domhnall O Suibhne

    December 20, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Its proving disasterous for multiple collaborators on the same excel spreadsheet. I have tried having the spreadsheet shared so that different users can use the same spreadsheet at the same time usually they will be editing different sheets. However the spreadsheet will not allow other users edit at the same time giving the message they can view as read only but not edit. then seconds later says you can now edit. But if you do you cant save the data without saving as a new file. This is disasterous for me as the file needs to remain as one. It always worked on a network as a shared file but it doesn’t on Google drive. Major drawback

  2. Rishi Chowdhury

    December 20, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    Oh no what a mess! We have lock & unlock features to ensure that collaborators don’t end up editing a file at the same time. Let us know if you want anymore info on how Huddle can help.

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