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May 21, 2011

How Google Docs Killed GDrive

"In The Plex", Steven Levy's recently launched book about Google, has an interesting story about GDrive, an online storage service developed by Google. People first found about GDrive from a leaked Google document, back in 2006. GDrive (or Platypus) turned out to be a service used by Google employees that offered many impressive features: syncing files, viewing files on the Web, shared spaces for collaborating on a document, offline access, local IO speeds. But Google wanted to launch GDrive for everyone.

At the time [2008], Google was about to launch a project it had been developing for more than a year, a free cloud-based storage service called GDrive. But Sundar [Pichai] had concluded that it was an artifact of the style of computing that Google was about to usher out the door. He went to Bradley Horowitz, the executive in charge of the project, and said, "I don't think we need GDrive anymore." Horowitz asked why not. "Files are so 1990," said Pichai. "I don't think we need files anymore."

Horowitz was stunned. "Not need files anymore?"

"Think about it," said Pichai. "You just want to get information into the cloud. When people use our Google Docs, there are no more files. You just start editing in the cloud, and there's never a file."

When Pichai first proposed this concept to Google's top executives at a GPS—no files!—the reaction was, he says, "skeptical." [Linus] Upson had another characterization: "It was a withering assault." But eventually they won people over by a logical argument—that it could be done, that it was the cloudlike thing to do, that it was the Google thing to do. That was the end of GDrive: shuttered as a relic of antiquated thinking even before Google released it. The engineers working on it went to the Chrome team.

In 2009, Google Docs started to store PDF files and one year later you could store any type of file in Google Docs. The service still doesn't offer a way to sync files. Even if GDrive was never released, Google Docs inherits most of its features. The main difference is that you no longer have to worry about file formats because you can open and edit documents in Google Docs.

{ Thanks, Kristian. }

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