An unofficial blog that watches Google's attempts to move your operating system online since 2005. Not affiliated with Google.

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January 28, 2007

Closer to GDrive and Google Lighthouse

Almost one year ago, some interesting details were accidentally revealed in a Google presentation:
With infinite storage, we can house all user files, including: emails, web history, pictures, bookmarks, etc and make it accessible from anywhere (any device, any platform, etc).

We already have efforts in this direction in terms of GDrive, GDS, Lighthouse, but all of them face bandwidth and storage constraints today. For example: Firefox team is working on server side stored state but they want to store only URLs rather than complete web pages for storage reasons. This theme will help us make the client less important (thin client, thick server model) which suits our strength vis-a-vis Microsoft and is also of great value to the user.

As we move toward the "Store 100%" reality, the online copy of your data will become your Golden Copy and your local-machine copy serves more like a cache. An important implication of this theme is that we can make your online copy more secure than it would be on your own machine.

Another important implication of this theme is that storing 100% of a user's data makes each piece of data more valuable because it can be access across applications. For example: a user's Orkut profile has more value when it's accessible from Gmail (as addressbook), Lighthouse (as access list).

At that time we didn't know too much about GDrive or Lighthouse. But in one year, a lot of interesting things have happened:

In July we found about GDrive, an internal Google product that gives Google employees:

* Backup. If you lose your computer, grab a new one and reinstall Platypus. Your files will be on your new machine in minutes.
* Sync. Keep all your machines synchronized, even if they run different operating systems.
* VPN-less access. Not at a Google computer? View your files on the web at
* Collaborate. Create shared spaces to which multiple Googlers can write.
* Disconnected access. On the plane? VPN broken? All your files are still accessible.
* Publish. All of the files you store on Platypus are automatically accessible from the (corporate) web.
* Share. Other Googlers can mount your Platypus folders and open your files in read-only mode.
* Local IO speeds. Open and save as quickly as you could if you were accessing them from your C: drive.

While the service is available only for Google employees, we can assume it will be publicly available when it will be ready. It's also interesting to note the storage is far from being unlimited (500 MB).

If GDrive lets you store files, Lighthouse lets you edit them. A few days after showing the presentation, Google bought Writely. In June, it launched Google Spreadsheets and then merged the two products, which are now known as Google Docs & Spreadsheets. The product didn't intend to be a Microsoft Office replacement, just a usable tool that lets you edit documents collaboratively. The new Google Toolbar for Firefox lets you associate Office documents with Google Docs, and also open any Word or Excel document from the web directly in Google Docs. Gmail also added options to open attachments in Google Docs. Unfortunately, there's no way to synchronize local files with their online versions or use Google Docs offline (these seem perfect additions for a new version of Google Desktop).

Picasa Web Albums, launched in June last year, was another step towards Lighthouse. This time, you could store your photos and create simple albums easy to share with your friends. The client (Picasa) was already available, so Picasa Web Albums came naturally. Unfortunately, the free storage (250 MB) seemed too little and the storage was pretty expensive, while the service lacked a lot of features (tags and search were added at the end of the year).

Google Desktop
Google Desktop didn't evolve too much last year. The only interesting new feature ("search across your computers") could be expanded to actually sync your local data with the data stored on Google's servers. Google Desktop could be the bridge that connects your computer with different Google services and makes them more useful. Of course, there's a trade-off here: your privacy.

If you connect all these pieces, you'll notice we're not very far from a better integration of Google services, that will result in a diminishing role of the computer. "Today we live in the clouds. We're moving into the era of "cloud" computing, with information and applications hosted in the diffuse atmosphere of cyberspace rather than on specific processors and silicon racks. The network will truly be the computer," said Google's CEO in The Economist.

This blog is not affiliated with Google.