Google Drive: Not reliable yet, but potential.

I’ve been a Dropbox Pro (50G) user for more than two years now, and in this time it has never let me down, not even by a little bit. Still, when Google announced its new Google Drive syncing service, I had to take it for a spin.

For those of you with short attention spans, my conclusion is: Google Drive has great promise due to its price-point, Google’s great infrastructure and the integration with Google Docs, but you shouldn’t yet trust this service with your critical files.

To summarise: Google Drive is Google’s answer to Dropbox (and 50 other inferior syncing services). You install a small app on your Windows or Mac (no Linux yet, although it has been promised), and then it’ll keep a folder of your choosing in sync with Google Drive in the cloud. You can access your files via the website drive.google.com (google docs, but slightly updated), any computer with the Google Drive software, or via the Google Drive mobile apps.  You can also share files through authorizing the relevant google accounts, or via URL. Google Drive has a number of built-in viewers, meaning that users will not have to install PowerPoint to view your PowerPoint presentation for example.

Things start to deviate from Dropbox when we look at the storage plans and prices the big G is offering:

You get 5G for free. For a measly $2.49 per month, you get 25G of storage, and 30G of GMail storage as a bonus, and for $5 per month you get 100G! Compare this with the $10 / month Dropbox wants for 50G. This, together with the fact that you could go up to 16 TERABYTES if you would want to, makes you at least think for a bit.

I installed the client on this Windows laptop. For you screenshot-freaks, here’s the context menu for the systray icon:

Google Drive systray context menu.

Note that because I pay a measly $5 / year for 25G of extra GMail space, I’ve been grandfathered into 25G of Google Drive space. Heh, I also only just learnt the term grandfathered. It means I could get this because of my previous price plan that doesn’t exist anymore.

Here’s the preferences dialog, nothing special really, unless you have a screenshot fetish:

Google Drive preferences dialog.

For me also an important functionality: You can easily recover deleted files. If you delete a file on your client computer, it gets synced to the trash folder on the google drive website, from where undeletion is an easy click on the “Recover” button away. Under the File | Manage Revisions you can retrieve file versions up to 30 days ago, or 100 revisions, whichever comes earlier.

Another important difference is that Google Drive, as far as I could find out, does not do something similar to Dropbox’s LAN sync, a pretty cool function that will grab files from the computers on the local LAN if they’re available, instead of from the cloud.

So I set out to do some tests. Before I could really get started, I ran into the first problems. I created a text file in my Google Drive folder with Vim (yes, I use Vim. deal.), as I wanted to test the file revisions. As you know, when Vim saves a file, it first writes to a temporary file, then deletes the original file and finally renames the new file to the original file. This confused Google Drive to no end. For each save, Google Drive created a new file with exactly the same name in the web interface, whilst on the client side, there was only one file.

I then proceeded to delete the text file on the client, leaving me with the following situation, even after Google Drive was done syncing:

Huh?! You call this syncing?

As you can see, on the server is my text file, on the client nothing. I expect of a syncing solution to actually, uhm, synchronise my files. I did notice a sync error message in the systray context menu. After clicking, I got this dialog:

Informative error message. NOT.

Yes, thank you Google Drive, you have an unknown issue. That’s just great.

So, in spite of the really attractive offering, this type of wonkiness (multiple files due to stupid create-new-rename saves, sync errors soon after), even after a few minutes of playing around, does not instil confidence or trust. If there’s one thing a good sync service should do, it’s instil confidence and trust. Dropbox has never failed me, and I’ve thrown some pretty strange things at it. Until Google Drive is able to do the same, I’ll continue coughing up 10 bucks a month for Dropbox.

12 Comments

  • Pity you missed PyCon, where Dropbox handed out 10GB-for-life happy-candy.

  • Great review! (saved me the trouble ;) Thanks

  • Thanks Charl! Saves me some time to explore the dungeons of Google Drive. I’ll remain a happy Dropbox owner for now. It has treated my precious thesis, and all intermediate versions, with great respect. The file recovery truly is a life saver ;-)

  • Thanks for the review. I’ve also had problems with the reliability of Google Drive too – particularly with large number of folders (it is difficult to imagine successfully using 16 terrabytes until the client improves). I guess Dropbox has fixed all these edge cases over the years – hopefully GDrive will soon. Until then, like you, I’ll keep forking out for Dropbox.

  • I can’t stand google drive. It crashes now every time I run it. Then it tells me to disconnect then reconnect, BUT when I reconnect it says I will have to download ALL of my files again…. If I’m forced to download all of my files they will definitely be going to drop box!

  • I can only agree with disappointment. I think Google rushed to release this software as it is totally unreliable. With all their power/money/infrastructure, you’d think this would be a breeze for Google to produce. Especially as they could cherry pick the best functions of Dropbox and others, and add their huge storage capacity behind it.

    I’m totally frustrated as I’ve tried syncing all 45gb of my Dropbox across to Google drive and its failed, crashed, quit and duplicated files and folders instead of updating them. Granted I am doing this over three machines, but this is not an issue for Dropbox. Makes you realise how good Dropbox is and while more expensive, they have got it right. Just fear Google may end up winning in the long run.

  • So far, GDrive bites the big one for me. Sync failure and format changes on common files like excel, even when downloaded and opened with the native application (yes, i told it NOT to convert to gdocs.) I can’t trust it. Sugarsync, on the other hand, is working like a charm. Too bad, I was hoping for more integration, but, ah well…the wait goes on.

  • I am also having some problems with Google Drive. It simply stops syncing. Last week I updated some files at home, walked out the door with my laptop and headed off to lunch with the intention of doing a little work while eating. When I fired up my laptop nothing synced locally. I check the GDrive site, and the updated file were not there. They did not sync until I went home and rebooted the PC they were created on. This cost me time, and ultimately money, not impressed.

  • Anyone hoping to use Google Cloud for business purposes should know that it is wholly unreliable, especially when it comes to file versions. For instance, I have the Google Cloud Sync plugin installed in Microsoft Excel, and every time I save a spreadsheet it uploads it to the cloud. However, when I go to view the uploaded document in Google Drive, even though it is there and has the correct “last modified” date on it, what I’m shown when I load it is the previous uploaded version.

    For instance, I have a spreadsheet in the Drive which was modified and uploaded on November 11. When I look in the Drive, it’s listed as having been modified on Nov 11, but when I load it, I get the version that I uploaded on October 29.

    As you can imagine this is a disaster. I need to be able to view up to date spreadsheets on my phone when I’m on the move, and this is unusable. It’s not reliable in the slightest. Like most Google products, it’s forever in the “beta” stage and will always feel like an unfinished experiment. They never fix problems like this and never respond to any complaints or bug reports.

  • I have 30 GB gdrive space. I use almost 7GB, lot of files and folders, and the sync is a mess. I tried everything, but there are still unsynced files and folders, no error message at all. Definitely not recommended for storing important files.

  • More then 1 year after this blog post and Google Drive is still as unreliable as a Lucas electrical system.

    Having used Dropbox without problems for years, Google Drive worked for about 3 days before crashing with a “Primary key must be unique” error message.

    As of August 2013, Google Drive is still a buggy pice junk.

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