Round 1: Desktop sync
The most important part of these storage systems is how well the desktop applications let you completely forget about synchronization. You shouldn’t have to manage desktop sync, and both Google and Dropbox achieve this goal.
Both services set up a folder named after the service which is a duplicate of your storage on their central cloud-based systems, and which you can also view via their Web apps (see Round 2: Web Access). On every computer with which you have registered the same account, all files constantly update to the latest available version in the same folder hierarchy. Both Google and Dropbox let you selectively sync on each computer, too, choosing specific files to keep up to date.
In testing, Google and Dropbox seem to handle sync equally well. Both show the status of copying to let you know both on a file and folder level (via tiny symbols attached to icons) and through a system menu bar item whether copying is under way. Google’s only funny tic is that it uses its own horsey icons for native Google Docs formats, such as .gdoc for a word-processing file and .gsheet for spreadsheets. (Those files may only be edited in the Web app; they can be viewed but not edited offline in the Chrome browser.)
Dropbox offers contextual menu support that seems better than it is. Control-click any file or folder in the Dropbox folder, and (except in special Photos and Public folders) three items appear: Browse on Dropbox Website, Get Link, and Share This Folder (for folders) or View Previous Versions (for files). However, all of those links merely take you to the correct spot on Dropbox’s site, rather than carrying out an action on the Desktop. Google avoids that by omitting a contextual menu altogether.
If you have the need to sync exceedingly large files, Google caps files to 1GB, while Dropbox lets you fill your folder entirely with a single file up to your maximum storage size.
After the bell: Evenly matched, neither service even worked up much of a sweat at core competencies.
Round 2: Web access
Google should come out swinging in this round, because Google Drive is an evolution of its Google Docs Web apps, which set the standard for Web-based interaction. And, in fact, once Google Drive is available for your Google account and you enable it, the Docs tab disappears and is replaced with Drive. The approach remains generally the same, with a file list in the center, folders at left, and settings in the upper right.
You can preview several types of files in Google Drive’s Web app, including images, PDF files, Microsoft Office formats, plain text, and HTML, and edit any Google Docs files. Dropbox doesn’t preview or allow editing any file types. (You can preview publicly shared files, but not yet files you’re browsing in your own account; see Round 3: Sharing.)
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.