2013-09-28 Criticism of Google Drive

Update 2013-12-12

There have been some improvements to Google Sheets, including offline editing in Chrome.

Update 2013-11-16

The release notes mention that since Google Drive version 1.9, "you’ll be able to access your most recent Google documents on drive.google.com, even while offline. Simply open any Google document from your local Google Drive folder and Chrome will display the file for you to edit".

Note that this goes for documents, not for slides or sheets.

Original text follows

Here's a couple of problems I encountered with Google Drive.

The major problem I have is the offline feature of Google Drive. The obvious problem is that although Google drive seems to sync everything to your computer, that's not the case for the Google Apps documents (docs, drawings, sheets and slides). These are just links to their online version. Thus Google Drive is two things: it syncs normal files to between Google and local storage. And it lists all Google Apps documents. In that last instance, no real two-way syncing there. You can't create a local Google Apps document or something.

You can, however, use Google Chrome (not any other browser), and say that you want to be able to work offline. You can then go to http://drive.google.com/offline.

This feature doesn't come with Google Drive, nor is it enabled by it. It's a completely separate thing, and it will download your complete document storage again on your local drive, in your browser's cache. Being able to work offline means that you've got everything replicated twice on your local harddrive.

The second major problem is related to usage of this offline feature. I have tried to use the offline feature in three scenarios:
- Via a severely limited EDGE connection (i.e. not 3G or HSDPA, just plain old EDGE) with a maximum speed of 80 Kbit/s
- Via a crowded wireless network, which my MacBook kept dropping
- Via a wireless network in the train, which in its turn was routed through a 3G connection

In neither of these instances, Google Docs was able to keep up. Sometimes, the interface doesn't load. Sometimes, it thinks it loses connection because the speed is in the range of 8 to 40 Kbit/s. Often, it fails to save the last typed lines and says I should reload the document (which then loses the last sentences entered). All the time, it displays errors about not being able to connect, a vague error about server error, or about reconnecting.

All in all, it works when you have a steady net connection. But the technology isn't there yet.


Small update. Google introduced QuickOffice back into the App Store. It allows you to edit Microsoft Office documents. This sounds great in principle. There's a couple of things I find weird with this. Firstly, this app is separate from the Google Drive app and I can't seem to find a good reason why. Secondly, the iPad now offers something that Google Docs (in your browser) does not offer. Thirdly, the QuickOffice app has a weird 'file cache', a storage area on the iPad itself, where you can create and edit documents. You can mail and print them, but you can't copy them to Google Drive.

Device & software Docs Sheets Slides Drawings MS Office Editable offline
iPad Google Drive app Edit Edit Edit View View Per document
iPad QuickOffice app View View View View Edit No
Browser Edit Edit Edit Edit View Only in Chrome
PC with MS Office --------Edit Always

In my opinion, this is too complicated.


In my opinion, it would be much better when you could simply say: "In your browser as well as on your iPad, Google Drive can edit all sorts of files in your browser, including MS Office".

We're not there yet. And I wonder if we'll ever see a full-fledged offline editing solution for Google Docs. After all, why would they? Then Google has to open their file format, just like Microsoft was forced by law to do with the Office file formats. Now you can say that Google is a lot more open, because you can easily download the documents in other formats. But you can't really -- they're not natively editable anymore after exporting. You could export, then import them again, but that is a bit strange for a document that's yours, and you'll lose lots of markup in the process.

I think Google sees the complex and weird situation that now exists, and I am very curious about the future.