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Online storage Face-off: Google Drive vs. Dropbox

Glenn Fleishman | July 4, 2012
When these online storage sluggers come out fighting, will there be a knockout, or just a bloody match?

After the bell: Google landed body blows in this round, and Dropbox is staggering, but still on its feet.

Round 4: Old versions and deleted files

Another advantage of saving to a folder that syncs all changes back to a central warehouse is that such a service can keep every update as a separately retrievable version. Such “version control” or “version tracking” can be useful when you need to scroll back through time and recover lost changes or even a lost file.

Right-click on a file (not a folder) in Dropbox, and choose Previous Versions. A list of versions in reverse chronological order, with the name of the person who edited a file (useful for shared files) as well as the ID of the computer on which that revision was made. You can click a Preview icon (magnifying glass) to download an earlier version, or click the radio button and then the Restore button to have the item in all sync folders replaced by the selected version.

Dropbox starts doing a little close work here, chopping away at Google’s defense, in that Google Drive stores revisions, but has two separate ways to access them based on file type, and doesn’t allow a simple restore. Control-click a file and select Manage Revisions for a file that’s not using Google Docs. A display shows revisions, but you have to click an earlier version to download it: you can’t automatically replace the version in your sync folder with a previous revision. For a Google Docs file, click the file, and then from the menu, choose See Reversion History, which allows you to compare visually different revisions in the document window.

Google stores 30 days of versions and up to 100 revisions per file, counting storage against your quota, while Dropbox keeps unlimited revisions for up to 30 days and doesn’t calculate their size. (Revisions are only the incremental differences between two files, and may be tiny for text files and other documents.) Dropbox also offers Pack Rat, which stores unlimited versions forever, but only for paid individual (must be turned on) and business accounts (always on).

Oh, and Dropbox snuck in under Google’s guard, and got in two uppercuts over deleted files. First blow is that Google uses a Trash folder to manage deleted files, and counts them against your storage quota. And another to the chin: when the trash is emptied in Google Drive, the file is gone for good. Dropbox doesn’t count deleted files, and you can restore any deleted file from the previous 30 days with a free account. Pack Rat for paid accounts allows permanent retention of deleted files. (There's no way to delete a file from Dropbox forever, which is a separate concern.)


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