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Google to launch online hard drive: reports


Google Inc. may own all your online search queries today but it appears the company has larger ambitions to own your hard drive as well.

A Google-based online hard drive is expected to be launched this year, the first steps towards making the desktop computer obsolete and further advancing the battle for online supremacy against software maker Microsoft Corp.

Google's answer for online file storage -- tentatively dubbed the "Web Drive" or "GDrive" -- roughly would allow users to create a local backup of all their documents to be accessed anywhere there is an Internet connection.

Although there are several services providing cheap online storage -- including one by Microsoft -- a Google GDrive would effectively push an end to physical hard- drive devices and towards manufacturers of so-called "netbooks" -- smaller, inexpensive versions of laptops with stripped down components.

In its fourth-quarter results last week, Google reported revenues of US$5.7-billion, an increase of 18% compared with the same quarter one year earlier.

While the company derives the bulk of its revenue from online advertising, its services revenue stream tripled to US$196-million in the quarter compared to the year-earlier period.

"It's a way to diversify the company's revenue from advertising to other services but it's also a way to defend itself from Microsoft by addressing their primary market," said Clayton Moran, an Internet analyst with Stanford Eagles Co.

Online sleuths at a number of Google-centric blogs have discovered references to Google's online storage service with lines of programming code as well as an internal company document that indicated Google Docs program will be the Web interface for the GDrive along with a dedicated desktop client.

The news helped fuel long-standing rumours the company would eventually launch such an application.

An application could also drive sales away from Microsoft's Windows operating system, which used to represent the majority of the company's revenue, but which has seen performance slide as a result of weakness in the computer market and a continued shift to lower-priced netbooks.

"Microsoft is obviously spending a huge amount of resources attacking Google's search business," Mr. Moran said, who maintains a "buy" rating on Google stock with a US$390 price target.

"It looks more like a strategic plan to attack Microsoft's core business in an effort to defend itself."

However, predictions a Google-based Web drive could eliminate the physical hard drive may be premature, said Info-Tech senior research analyst John Sloan.

"What we've seen with small business using Amazon S3 [a similar Web-based storage facility] is that it adds another layer of storage at a relatively low cost," Mr. Sloan said.

"With a Google offering, it would likely be a similar thing."

One benefit of a potential GDrive would be the amount of synchronization it would bring with the rest of the company's Web offerings, Mr. Sloan said.

Google representatives could not be reached for comment.




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