Google to offer schools, students unlimited storage for free

Currying favor with educators and the next generation of workers, Google lifts the 30GB limit on its free Google Apps service for education customers.

Google Apps includes tools for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations.
Google Apps includes tools for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. Google

Google will soon offer a big perk -- unlimited data storage -- to lure schools and their students to its Google Apps suite of online services.

The Google Drive for Education is an upgrade from the earlier Google Apps for Education service, and like the predecessor, it's free. It will launch "in coming weeks," Ben Schrom, a Google product manager, said in a blog post Tuesday.

Google Apps combines Gmail and Google Calendar with productivity tools including Docs, Slides and Sheets. Files are synchronized across devices with Google Drive, a brand name that seems to be subsuming Google Apps itself. The products are reached via the Web or apps for iOS and Android, and they're closely linked to Chromebook laptops that run Google's Chrome OS operating system.

Currying favor with schools and their students by offering free or discounted products is an age-old practice for technology companies. Today's students become tomorrow's corporate employees, executives, and IT administrators.

Under the current Google Apps for Education, each user gets 30GB of space, with an upgrade to 100GB costing $5 per month per user. Now Google is waiving both the fee and the storage limit.

This matches the unlimited storage in Google Drive for Work, announced in June, which -- by contrast -- isn't free at $10 per user per month.

Offering the free, unlimited storage for students through their schools is a good deal for those students. It's also not a bad idea for Google: since those students eventually will graduate, the unlimited storage isn't something Google has to offer forever.

Google Apps' biggest competitor is Microsoft's Office, which grew to power in the 1990s and still maintains a powerful presence in the market. Google is trying to get along better with the incumbent by letting people open and edit Office-format documents -- something that eases sharing with people who aren't Google Docs users.

It's hard to compare Google Apps' success to that of Microsoft Office since Google doesn't release revenue or user figures. Microsoft has had a bit more to say. Its closest competitor to Google Apps, the Office 365 subscription that includes PC apps and online versions, had more than 5.6 million subscribers for consumer segments in the second quarter. That was an increase of 1 million subscribers from the previous quarter. Microsoft didn't release figures for traditional licensed software sales or for business subscriptions.

Annual subscriptions cost between $70 for Office 365 Personal and $180 for Office 365 Business Premium.

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