Google GDrive and desktop virtualization

Google is reportedly ready this year to roll out its fabled Gdrive, a service that would provide users with a free desktop in the cloud. According to The Observer's David Smith, the new service is the perfect PC killer in that it will let users store everything, from personal files, photos and even their operating system in the cloud. So rather than buying an expensive PC with a huge hard drive, users will be able to buy a cheap box with a browser to handle most computing needs. But while its PC-killing potential is real, it actually sounds more like Google may be trying to beat the rest of the marketplace to a workable desktop virtualization solution.

Before current desktop virtualization wares, like Citrix XenDesktop, VMWare ACE and Microsoft Virtual PC, can be more generally adopted, they need to provide both online and offline access, and that's been a stumbling block so far. Some products offer only online access to desktops, but strong overall PC management. Others focus on offline access, enabling users to run multiple desktop OSes on a single machine, but they can't be managed as easily. While all of the major vendors are addressing this shortcoming (see NW's New Data Center article that addresses the issue), none yet offer a true solution. But if the rumors about GDrive are true, it looks like Google just may have solved the problem.

As reported, Google's new GDrive service makes it easy to work on a traditional desktop and then seamlessly transition to the cloud service when out of the office. TG Daily describes the upcoming service this way:

Gdrive is basically a cloud-based storage that should have two faces: A desktop client that keeps local and online files and folders in two-directional sync via a web interface for accessing your desktop files anywhere and anytime, using any network-enabled computer. In addition, it will come tightly integrated with other Google services to enable editing of supported document types, like spreadsheets and presentations via Google Docs, email via Gmail, images via Picasa Web Albums, etc.

Last week, Google Blogoscoped's Phil Lenssen pieced together some intriguing tidbits about the new service from a "deleted" online Google file. Although he cautions that the info he gathered could have been created at any time and was taken out of context, he found some more details about Gdrive, such as:

* It may have a 10GB limit

* It will probably be available for both Mac and PC, and

* It works with an upcoming version of Google Docs (code-named Cosmo), as well as Picasa, at least.

Such a Web service won't be for everybody, as many users still don't want to trust their sensitive data to the Internet, especially if privacy-impaired Google is the online steward. Google would need some serious security measures in place (perhaps that's what's it's been doing with the technology it got along with the GreenBorder purchase last year, well, besides its integration in Chrome).

But it does make for some interesting computing possibilities. Put aside the idea of a low-end desktop for a minute. What if users could create spreadsheets or presentations on their current PC, taking advantage of its internal processing power and speed, but then finish it later using a different PC or laptop while at home or on the road--all without any storage or synchronization worries? Users could work on a plane via their laptop, and sync up the next time they log on to the cloud, without worrying about keeping file versions straight or missing the latest software patches. It would be cool.

What do you think--will the Gdrive make the PC as we know it obsolete, or will it just be a kind of mashup between local PC power and cloud-based storage and management?

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