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Dropbox vs. Google Drive: Which is better for business?

If you'd like to provide end users more storage capacity or take advantage of cloud file sharing, then you need to think about standardizing on a specific service.

There are dozens of players looking to be the go-to storage provider in the cloud, and two of the biggest names are Dropbox and Google. When considering Dropbox vs. Google Drive for your organization, compare the pros and cons of each for enterprise use.

Dropbox has been the king of the hill since the early days and now has 100 million users who save 1 billion files every day. It offers up to 18 GB of free storage to anyone and has inexpensive paid options for up to 500 GB of storage. Dropbox Pro and Dropbox for Teams accounts offer even more storage and control options for IT administrators. Dropbox maintains version control of documents and has easy options to share files or folders.

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Google Drive is a relative newcomer, but it isn't just a storage service. It also includes what used to be called Google Docs. The integration of these Software as a Service (SaaS) productivity applications and Gmail lets Google offer a complete service for anyone who wants to store, share and collaborate on files. Drive offers 5 GB of free storage space with paid options that offer as much as 16 TB for a single account. Sharing is very easy, especially if users have contacts set up in Gmail. Using drop-down menus that are similar to the sharing mechanisms on Google Plus, Drive subscribers can set ownership (either "Owned by me" or "Not owned by me"), collaborators and visibility.

The problem is that Google's platform can be a one-way street. If you live with Microsoft Office and users need to keep files intact, then you can kiss the Google Docs integration goodbye. Docs can import Word and Excel files, but it will not put them back to their original format if users edit in Docs. Switching back and forth between Docs and Office and dealing with the font incompatibilities and complex styles of the Microsoft Office suite could drive employees crazy.

On the other hand, if ease of use is what you're looking for, Docs is a good storage option for your company. Google continues to add more integration across its products as well. Google supports 10 GB attachments from Gmail using Drive, plus website publishing straight from Drive.

Dropbox's file-sharing core competency remains a dominant draw for many who still attach files to locally running applications. Dropbox also maintains a healthy third-party compatibility, which makes it popular as a storage utility for many Web and mobile apps. Browser add-ons such as Dropbox Folder Sync, the JotForm Web front end for file upload via a website, and the ability to request files easily with FileStork are examples of Dropbox's easy-access application program interfaces (APIs).

That's not to say Google is devoid of third-party options, but the APIs are only available to Web apps published to the Chrome Store. Popular Web options such as SlideRocket can use Drive, but the integration is limited to specific use cases.

Both services offer Web access via a browser, plus a full complement of clients. The desktop clients for Windows and Macintosh integrate directly with your file system, which synchronizes files to and from your local hard drive. They both also have easy-to-use mobile apps. Google Drive is available for Android and Apple iOS (with iPhone and iPad-specific versions) and Dropbox covers Android, iOS and BlackBerry. Drive lets users make files local for offline availability and Dropbox offers users the ability to auto-upload photos from a mobile device.

Dropbox vs. Google Drive security

One major concern of any cloud service is security, and file services are often a vector for hacking. Dropbox has been a victim of attack, most notably in 2011 when a Dropbox change caused any account to become accessible using any password. This hole was open for 4 hours, and although the issue was closed fairly quickly, the incident brought to light the fact that Dropbox, not the client, held security encryption keys.

In another incident, a hacker gained a list of user email addresses via a hacked Dropbox employee account. No other Dropbox accounts were hacked, but the users on that email list became victims of email spamming. Dropbox reset every user's password and enabled a new two-factor authentication. The service, launched in August 2012, texts users a code that they must enter in addition to their password. Instead of the text option, Dropbox subscribers can use a time-based, one-time password generator, such as Google Authenticator or Amazon Web Services' Multi-Factor Authentication apps to generate the code.

There haven't been reports of hacks for Google Drive, but Drive uses a central Google account that employees likely use for Gmail, Google Plus and other Google services, which makes Drive an easy hacking target. Gmail accounts get hacked because people use weak passwords or they use the same password across sites tied to the email account. Google Drive subscribers can use Google Authenticator for two-factor authentication as well.

Both providers offer business-specific versions. Google has Google Docs for Business, which includes all the features of Drive but allows teams using the same email domain to easily share documents and collaborate. Dropbox has a group version called "Dropbox for Teams" that gives you more control with Active Directory integration, access control for links and easy device security management.

Both services have strong but different feature strengths. If you'll be moving toward a Google world with Docs and Gmail, heavy Chrome OS and/or Android use, then Drive is a contender for your cloud storage. If yours is a more heterogeneous computer environment where you still use plenty of local applications and don't want to rely on one-way Docs integration, then you'll see Dropbox as a better fit. Just remember to take every security option the service you choose offers.

This was first published in December 2012

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