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Inklings of online storage: Google Web Drive

A fleeting mention of Google Web Drive in the new Picasa beta for the Mac has rekindled thoughts about Google's long-rumored online storage project.

For quite some time there have been rumblings about "GDrive," some kind of online storage site. Despite the demise of AOL's XDrive storage service and the closure of various not-so-great-after-all Google projects, including Google's Palimpsest project for storing research data, the possibility remains that the company could offer some sort of online storage system. Google is after all a big fan of cloud computing, and data storage is an important piece of the possible architecture.

A project called Platypus in 2006 indicated that Google employees get internal storage, which makes sense even from a backup and corporate IT perspective. There were some new noises on Sunday at Google Blogoscoped that sniffed out references to another possibility, though, called Google Web Drive.

The new Picasa for Mac beta version included a "Move to Collection" command for handling folders, and one option is "Google Web Drive," according to the post. Google confirmed that the menu item was present in the software but was removed a day after release in an update, but the company wouldn't comment further.

And a further Blogoscoped posting Tuesday referred to a now-deleted online document that mentioned not just Platypus, but also Google Web Drive.

Google already offers online storage, of course, with Gmail, Google Docs, Picasa Web Albums, YouTube and any number of other services. The question is whether the company sees merit to a general-purpose file repository. Microsoft offers such a beast with its free 25GB storage through SkyDrive--helpfully synchronizing local and cloud-based files through Live Mesh, and Yahoo has its Briefcase, so there are precedents among competitors.

But here's the catch. The more useful an online storage system is, the harder it is to build and the more expensive it is to run.

A password-protected general-purpose online file system is easier to do with a basic Web site for uploading or downloading files. But what about tighter integration with computers, so for example you could set up Quicken to back up records to an Internet-based service the same way it can with, for example, a USB drive? How about natively supporting different operating systems, each with different file systems? How about automated backup of your entire hard drive?

The technology quickly gets more complicated, and storage is something you don't want to mess up. People get angry when their data disappears.

But it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Google could offer it to paying Google Apps corporate customers, either included in their subscriptions or as a premium option. That would defray the expense of operating at scale and limit it to a more manageable size of users while potentially making Google Apps more appealing.