- Google rolls out 'Google Drive' cloud service Tuesday
- Users will get 5GB of storage for free, more for a monthly fee
- The service will compete with Apple, Microsoft and services like Dropbox
Google expanded the digital world of cloud computing on Tuesday, announcing the rollout of "Google Drive."
The service, which will give users 5GB of free remote storage and additional space for a monthly fee, puts the Web giant in competition with Apple and Microsoft, as well as specialized services like Box and Dropbox, in a space that increasingly looks like the future of computing.
"This is really just the next step in the evolution of Google Cloud," Scott Johnston, group product manager for Google Drive, told CNN. "It's really letting people live more in the cloud by connecting them more easily with all the devices they have."
Google Cloud already lets users store e-mail and other documents.
Cloud computing allows users to store documents and files, even large ones, on remote servers. Its promise is to make storage space on physical hard drives less important, as well as making it easier to seamlessly share, either with others or between multiple devices like laptops, phones and tablets.
"Google Drive is everywhere you are -- on the web, in your home, at the office and on the go," reads Google's promotional page for the service. "So wherever you are, your stuff is just ... there. Ready to go, ready to share."
Google Drive will launch with an Android app for smartphones and tablets running Google's mobile operating system and in conjunction with 20 third-party apps.
As one might expect with a Google product, a big feature of Google Drive is a search feature that will allow users to comb through more than 30 types of files, such as Google docs or PDFs. There's also a limited image-search feature, driven by Google Goggles technology, that can recognize famous faces and landmarks, such as Mount Everest.
The service will immediately be available for PCs and Macs, as well as Android. iPhone and iPad availability is promised soon.
Users may upgrade to 25GB of storage for as little as $2.50 a month, Google says.
As more computer users are accessing the Web or doing work on multiple devices, cloud storage has rapidly evolved as a popular alternative to hard drives.
Just this week, Microsoft expanded its SkyDrive product, offering up to 100GB of storage and adding access for the iPhone, iPad and Windows phones.
Apple's iCloud service has been available since last June and, according to Apple, has more than 100 million users. And Dropbox, the leading independent cloud-storage service, reportedly has racked up another 50 million.
Some observers are dinging Google for being late to expand its cloud offerings.
"Google Drive is a late entrant to the file sharing space and is no doubt a direct response to the success and popularity that consumer file sync services are experiencing," said Jesse Lipson, vice-president of data-sharing at Citrix.
"The addition of Google Drive to the cloud storage landscape will make it even more competitive but with Apple, Amazon and Microsoft having offered services for some time, most providers have already got used to swimming with sharks and not getting eaten."
But others say that with a player as major as Google, even a late entrance in the market will have an impact.
"Google Drive is significant because now all Google account holders have one click signup to free file storage, sync and sharing, which has the potential to quickly build a large volume of users," said Forrester Research analyst Frank Gillett.
"Integration with Google Docs/Apps and eventually with Gmail will make it more natural and seamless than managing from a separate account ... so, Google Drive will cause more individuals to begin using personal cloud services and more companies, those that use Google Apps, to use cloud-based file sync and sharing."