Live Drive and online storage

Fortune magazine mentioned an upcoming product from Microsoft named Live Drive in its story on Ray Ozzie this week. It’s compared to Google’s ambitions in online storage and other large Internet companies are starting to think of different ways to search more content online. I think Google’s potential offering (GDrive) is totally different from what a company such as Yahoo, Microsoft, or even Apple might offer in terms of online storage because these large companies sell and help users create large media files. I’ll use Microsoft and its Live products, both announced and speculated, as an example but similar ideas can be applied to other companies.

I start at Microsoft on Monday and have no inside info on Live Drive or some of the other concepts and hypotheticals I’ll discuss. It’s all purely speculative.

Different types of storage

I believe online storage for large Internet companies will be introduced in stages and tied to applications developed by companies such as Microsoft. Each type of content stored requires a little different approach and different levels of involvement from teams of lawyers.

Purchased digital assets

You might buy a song, video, or image from a Windows Live product. Napster and other companies have provided access to multiple downloads of your purchased media across multiple computers and I’m sure Microsoft will offer similar features in the Urge music product or video offerings.

This media already exists online, and may even be in the same data center as Live Drive accounts. You could connect the front-end of your personal Live Drive with the appropriate storefront but instead of a 30 second preview you now have access to the complete file with some DRM limiting your personal use.

In this use case your Live Drive is a digital locker containing things you have purchased from stores owned by Microsoft. They know where the content came from, have a record of the purchase, and there is no need to duplicate the actual file. The service would be authenticated using Windows Live ID to make sure you are the only one to access that data.

Digital content you create

Microsoft has a few applications that create data you may want to backup to a secure location for later use. Your chat logs from Messenger, an audio or video chat, a Microsoft Money data file, or maybe the current health status of your PC. You could backup this content to your Live Drive and there might be an application-specific personal storage area available.

You created the content and storage it online helps make sure it persists throughout time and across machines. You own the copyright responsibilities.

Personal storage for anything

What if you could have an L: or G: drive mounted inside Windows Explorer that was really an online storage service? The concept is not that new, we’ve seen it before with MSN Groups and Xdrive, but the free storage options were fairly limited compared to the gigabytes we are now used to receiving for free in e-mail and other online applications.

You could store a Word document, a PDF, or your entire music and photo or anything you want as long as it’s under your allotted storage amount.

Desktop storage bloat is one of the reasons people hold off buying a new computer. With 40 GB or more of saved music files, photographs, and more, families are paralyzed at the thought of losing all that data when they buy a new computer. Microsoft has a little motivation to get the online backup experience right because it’s likely to lead to more purchases of new PCs to match the new digital lifestyle.

Storage others can access

So far I’ve described storage types only visible to one account holder and hidden from the rest of the world. There is also a need for online storage space you can write to and share with others. Attachments too big for e-mail or the latest acoustic performance of your band in a garage are two examples.

Sharing any file with anyone online gets a bit tricky and this is where lots of lawyers get involved. Are you sharing a Metallica song? A file with a virus? The latest hit movie?

I think smaller companies will offer this type of storage while turning a blind eye to copyright and international concerns while bigger companies work on ways to make everybody happy.

Other online storage concepts

A new company called Fabrik wants to connect a stand-alone hard drive on your home network with secure online storage. Gordon Bell and other researchers at Microsoft are working on MyLifeBits, a lifetime store of everything you do every day including a camera you wear everywhere.