Tuesday, May 15, 2012

To the Clouds! - An Educator's Guide to the New G-drive and Associated Apps

Normally, I am not a person to do product reviews, but enough buzz was being generated and enough people have been asking about how we are looking at it, that I decided it was time to lock myself away for a few days and play with the new Google Drive...

To be fair, it was also an excuse to geek out and avoid thinking about a "long range plan for technology" which in my world is the equivalent of tossing a 20-sided die into a cup full of tea leaves and hoping that the result looks plausible.

The Google Drive:

What is it?
How does it compare?
Why use it?

What it is:

The Google Drive is the long-rumored (it was in secret beta a few years ago and caused quite a bit of excitement) cloud-based storage provided by Google. For the last few months, we have known that it would be similar to other cloud based systems -- a certain amount of storage for free, additional storage available for more money. We assumed (correctly) that it would have some way to easily move any type of file from a traditional desktop to the cloud and back. We assumed (also correct) that it would be linked to Google Docs, the cloud based productivity software (word processing, spreadsheets, etc).

The details are these: it is 5 GB of free space that can be tied to you gmail account. If you are an Apps-for-Education partner, your administrator has to flip a switch (for now) to allow the service to activate, although this should become part of the regular service as the drive is phased in.

Gdocs meets Gdrive
It is a replacement for Google Docs, in that all of your "Docs" are now stored in the Drive which looks very similar. There is more of a traditional drive feel to it with folders at the top (when sorted by Title), and the traditional "Create" and "Upload" buttons to the left, along with a folder tree, some quicksorts and the "DOWNLOAD GOOGLE DRIVE" Button.

The Google Drive download puts a file folder on your Mac or PC that allows you to treat your G-Drive in the same way that you do with traditional file folders. It becomes a quick way to save in the file system and docs that you click on from the traditional folder open in native applications or their Gdoc-in-the-browser window. Syncing happens in the background and is relatively seamless. (note: if you are a Google Cloud Connect user, documents that are synced using THAT product are ignored by G-Drive syncing. I actually uninstalled the cloud connect so that G-Drive could take over completely). There is also an app for Android (it is the replacement of the Gdocs app if you have it installed already and one is in the works for iOS, giving you syncing in all the ways you would need except one (more later).

(comparisons and google apps after the break)

How it compares:
It should be noted that there are two very different philosophies about the cloud being touted right now. The classic idea of a cloud drive (folder, files, share-able and syncable to varying degrees and complexity) is the one used by Box, Dropbox, Amazon, and  the Google Drive. Each of these have advantages and disadvantages, but they have the same feel. 

Apple's implementation of iCloud is quite a departure from this. Apple wants users to have an intuitive "app" based experience managed by the iCloud service. Docs are in pages, Presentation in Keynote, Photos in iPhoto. You don't need to know about files or folders or sync or location...open the App and the files are there. This makes it easy to use (magic/it-just-works/#shinypretty), but is limiting for those who want a bit more control of their stuff. This is a completely different worldview, so i won't spend a lot of time referencing it...you like it or you don't. 

My primary reference point is going to be Dropbox. I like Box: I have 50 GB of storage and the app that I haven't used because I haven't found a use case yet. I only use my Amazon Cloud drive to store my music (but I store a lot of music and am very happy with that service :) ).


Folder Sync: Both systems have a folder-sync that allows me to drag-and-drop.

Sharing: Both systems have the ability to share folders or files. I will give a slight leg-up to google on this one, since I have always found sharing on Dropbox to be a little cumbersome, but that could be a short lived advantage, since Dropbox upgraded its share feature within days of the G-Drive release and I haven't played with it much, except for DropQuest (got to chapter 17 before I had to go play Daddy).

Mobile App: Advantage Dropbox. The mobile app on Android allows me to choose the folder to drop into when sharing from a different application. Both Apps do a great job of uploading from the native app, but as most Android users know, we love being able to share from an app to, well, everything. When you do this in Dropbox, it gives you a folder choice. GDrive just upload it to the main folder.

Integration and the Cloud (or WHY YOU WILL WANT TO USE IT)


As most of you who read this blog regularly (btw, thank you for that. we are averaging over lots o' page views a month and seeing it pop up as a reference is just flattering and cool), I am constantly looking for ways to live in the clouds, particularly on my mobile-device of choice, my chromebook.

So, when the G-Drive came out, I was absolutely expecting a seamless integration with my apps. What I was not expecting was seamless integration with a variety of other Apps. Some of these have been out for awhile and some of them debuted with the drive.

Let me use an example as my overview: Aviary for Google Drive

As many of you know, @40ishoracle and I have been working on a marketing series for BYOT called "What BYOT Looks Like". Last week, while sitting through an electronic-textbook presentation, I decided to pull one together using photos that I had taken with my students working on computer hardware picture dictionaries to show what a BYOT workflow could be like. The problem was that i needed to crop, rotate, and adjust the photos before adding them to gDraw.

Aviary has had a web-based photo editor for awhile. This extension is specifically an editor for the Google drive. Click on the photo that is in your gdrive and another browser window opens up. Make the adjustments using simple tools and the original photo is edited (one BIG difference from Dropbox: you do not have version backup: once its changed, the files is changed!).

I like the convenience of this program and it gives a cloud-based system a very traditional computer feel (click the file and the program opens). There is a slight delay as the information is transferred from Big G's servers to the one's at Aviary, but once you are in, its seamless.

But, this wouldn't be emerging technology if there were not muliple companies fighting for the space. I tried another tool called Pixlr and got some good "instagram" like results:

Trustees Signing Jesuit Sustaining Agreement -
Effects Added with Pixlr
Ultimately, the combination of cloud-based apps that are tied into G-Drive storage for both the original source files and a location for the finished product, makes the potential for a cloud-based system of education even more powerful than we had with the original G-Docs products.

What's Next?

Tighter Chromebook Integration: One of the features I am looking forward to is making its way (I think) though the chromium developer's pipe right now -- and if it isn't, it should be: I want access to my G-Drive in the same way that I have access to the temporary flash-storage on a Chromebook. Too many programs, even cloud based, are built on that original "Browse-for-file" model. Giving me a link to my drive through that type of dialogue box will makes the Chromebook even better.

You Get what you Don't Pay for: A number of these integrated apps are in that awkward development stage of building an audience without making money. There are a number of these apps that have a free version and a pay model that adds extra features, storage, processing power, etc. Ultimately, developing models that work for schools involves three things:
  • Access to the functionality at an affordable price
  • Reliability over the long term, which means being profitable
  • Access by students to the same tools without costing families significantly more
The cloud will have to figure out how to address this system in the next few years or we could be looking at frustrated users in and out of the classroom.

Other Apps available (This is not a comprehensive list -- just ones i have played with)

MindMeister -- Idea Mapping Software. This one has been around and has nice keyboard shortcuts. The gDrive version was crashing on me like mad yesterday, but I have had good luck before and kids brought up on Inspiration will be on solid ground.

Diagram.ly - a wicked fast diagramming program with a lot of built in libraries.

Lucid Chart - I had a lot of fun with this one. Flow chart and diagramming.
The following was made in the G-Drive app LucidChart -- Click for the App Link

InstallFree Nexus with Microsoft Office: I am pretty excited about this one. Like OnLive desktop for Android, this program opens MS Office documents in a native virutal window of Microsoft Office, complete with Comments and Reviewing features intact. This type of program is being reviewed by the powers-that-be, so eventually someone is going to want some money.
All the MS office with none of the software

Nivio - Same as above, but couldn't test it for crashing.

Sliderocket -- A robust cloud-based presentation software. I like some of the features described and it can import a gdoc (albeit a little clunky -- see my "browse-for-file" comment above). This one seems to have a lot of interaction and is certainly being used in the same conversation with Prezi and Voicethread on educational twitter chats. I have flagged this one for further review since there are a lot of sharing features that require additional expense and an educational model that may have some of those features at a lower cost.

WeVideo and Pixorial Video are two cloud-based video applications that sync into your Google Drive. I have been happy with the ability to take video on my Android phone (#galaxynote) and upload it quickly to the Gdrive. Will have a comparison of these on Twitter and will blog about it if the demand is there.

HelloFax: For the administrators and IT Crowd. The free version allows you to send docs out of gDrive to fax machines (limited numbers per month). The premium model lets you associate your G-Drive Hellofax folder with a local phone number so that you can receive Faxes as well. For school's without unified messaging, this might be the next best thing. Includes signing as well.

Questions? Comments? Your own reviews or thoughts? Something for me to look at? Let me know below.

Prep Sources: