February 10, 2013

Google Just Created An Operating System In The Cloud

Many have reported on the recent update to Google Drive. Bloggers are calling it a new "App Store" within Drive and praising the added simplicity of being able to create and edit new file types courtesy of third-party app integration. In essence, any developer who makes web apps can now enable his apps to play nice with Google Drive. Once you install such a Drive-enabled app (like Ujam of Pixlr), you can create new files using that app right from Drive's "CREATE" menu. In other words, any developer can create web apps that, when installed, will be given the same treatment in Drive as Docs, Drawings, Spreadsheets, and Presentations. Any file created this way will be saved directly into Drive. To top things off, this update allows users to open files from Drive using any web app they have installed. And that's the story everybody's sticking to.

What most people have missed is that this seemingly trivial update means Google has effectively created an operating system in the cloud (and no, I'm not talking about Chrome OS, which is a standard operating system that relies heavily on cloud services). Think about it. What does an operating system do? What do Windows, Mac OS, Android, Linux, or iOS do? How do most people interact with an operating system? They put files on it. They create new ones and they view and edit existing ones. Some files open using OS-native (aka "built-in") apps, like Microsoft Word, Picture Viewer, Notepad, etc. Other files open through third party apps that the user installed himself, like Adobe Reader, Photoshop, uTorrent, and so on. People access these files through the file manager, which is the Google Drive interface. People create new files using the Start Menu or App Dock, which is Google Drive's "CREATE" menu.

That's your operating system in a nutshell. Google Drive is more than cloud storage. It is now a gateway to a world of web apps which can do almost everything desktop apps can do. Except, everything will be stored in the cloud and accessible from anywhere and on any device. This turns traditional operating systems into mere tools that let hardware interact with software so that you can get on the internet and access the files you care about. The last obstacle holding Drive back from making standard operating systems nothing more than a necessary evil is the arbitrary 5 GB storage limit. Since Google really wants you to create, store, access, and edit files of all types using Drive, they will inevitably increase that storage to at least 10 GB before the end of 2013 and steadily continue increasing it afterwards. You can take that prediction to the bank!