Google is hoping to build the world's largest digital filing cabinet in the latest attempt to deepen people's dependence on its services.
The internet search leader's latest product stores personal documents, photos, videos and a wide range of other digital content on Google's computers. By keeping files in massive data centres, users will be able to call up the information on their smartphones, tablet computers, laptops and just about any other internet-connected device.
Google announced the long-rumoured service, Google Drive, which is offering the first five gigabytes of storage per account for free. Additional storage will be sold for prices starting at 2.49 dollars (£1.54) per month for 25 gigabytes up to 49.99 dollars (£31) per month for one terabyte, equivalent to five laptops with 200-gigabyte drives.
Google Drive is initially available for installation on Window-based computers, Mac computers, laptops running on Google's Chrome operating system and smartphones powered by Google's Android software. A version compatible with Apple's iPhone and iPad is due in the next few weeks.
It may be several weeks before Google Drive is available throughout the world.
The new service represents Google's attempt to muscle into a market that is turning into the internet's version of storage wars. It comes nearly five years after word first leaked out that the company was developing an online file storage service, then called Gdrive, that never came to fruition. Google made light of those rumours in comparing Google Drive's announcement to the sighting of the Loch Ness Monster.
The early leader in the battle so far has been the San Francisco start-up, Dropbox, which raised 257 million dollars (£159 million) in venture capital and attracted more than 50 million users since it was founded in 2007 by two graduates from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dropbox says its users collectively store about 1 billion files every two days.
While Dropbox has emerged as the early favourite among consumers, another start-up called Box has carved a niche offering online storage for businesses. Founded in 2005, Box has raised 162 million dollars (£100 million) in venture capital and says about 120,000 companies, including most of the Fortune 500, have set up accounts.
Google is also trying to catch up to Apple, which last year introduced a storage service called iCloud that primarily caters to iPhone and iPad owners, and Microsoft, which gives away seven gigabytes of free storage on its SkyDrive service.
Google is hoping to differentiate its storage service by equipping it with more convenient and powerful tools. The service will draw upon the company's expertise in internet technology for text and images to make it easier to find data quickly. It also includes optical character recognition that can search for specific words contained in scanned newspapers or other sources.
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