Google must have been running up some steep hills to get its cloud storage service live, as it arrives without the essential iOS mobile apps, which are tagged as "coming soon." Instead, it favors Android-powered devices at launch, which seems rather peculiar given the aim must be to spread the service as far and wide as possible, as Microsoft is doing with Skype.
That oddity aside, here it is, after much speculation. It offers storage and collaboration opportunities, with instant access to Google Docs (suggesting the service is really an extension of the company's existing infrastructure).
The product page is live, but the service is being rolled out gradually so Google users may see a message saying "Your Google Drive is not ready yet" and an option to be notified when it does. New users (as in, those few without any form of Google service) will need to create a Google account. There's a brief video, showing off the features, but you should know the drill by now.
UPDATE: Google Live has rolled out for increasing numbers of U.K. and South African users in recent hours. At first sight of my account are a lot of Google Docs files that I'd long since forgotten about and an offer to download the PC application.
Here's the Monetization Bit
Naturally, Google would like some revenue for this service, so there are two current tiers, with 25GB of storage for US$ 2.49 or 100GB for US$ 4.99 a month. That compares with yesterday's SkyDrive announcement from Microsoft that offers more value with its 100GB for US$ 50 a year. If you're really in need of mega-space, you can get up to 16TB of storage, with an enterprise-level agreement -- wow!
The best response to the launch came from Dropbox's CEO Drew Houston, who Tweeted, "In other news, @Dropbox is launching a search engine. :)" As a specialist vendor, it has more to fear than the likes of Microsoft, which has fingers in many pies, but with no killer feature, he can breathe easy for now.
With easy access (when it gets the iOS apps out) and sharing with colleagues or friends, Google Drive will move the cloud storage market on, and probably encourage more users to take advantage, as Gmail did with web-based email. But just remember to keep local and other backups before committing your digital valuables to the cloud.
Will Google Drive really tempt users from existing services? It is hard to see it winning converts, being similar with no instant killer feature. And, unlike Gmail, it wasn't among the early contenders, being positively late to market.
You can also expect Drive to tie in deeply with Google+ and its other services, as in Google's recent tying-up between its social site and Gmail. Note that any existing Google storage you use in the likes of Picasa or Docs won't count to your Drive usage.
UPDATE: Word is out that Drive will become an essential part of Chrome OS, providing the critical link between storage and accessibility that the OS has been lacking. Wired reports that Drive will fit into Chrome 20, which is a little way down the line, but a key feature in the future of that OS.