Windows only: Free utility Gladinet Cloud Desktop removes the web interfaces from Google Docs, Picasa Web Albums, Windows Live SkyDrive and Amazon S3 Storage, mounting them instead as folders you can add, remove, or open documents from. Gladinet hides most of the back-end technology that pulls it off, asking you only for a username and password. Once mounted, it's easy to, say, open a Google Docs file in your local copy of Microsoft Word, or directly add pictures to folders in your Picasa or SkyDrive accounts. Read on for a look at how Gladinet works, along with a 10-minute video that explains more of its features.
After grabbing the beta download, installing and launching Gladinet Cloud Desktop, you'll see a fairly simple "start page," which either opens Windows Explorer directly to your virtual webapp drives ("Explore My Gladinet Drive") or mounts a new one ("Mount Disk Storage or Web Storage As Virtual Directory").
Choose to mount a new drive, and you'll be asked to choose a service, provide login details and give it a name.
Once you mount a web service for the first time, you won't need to type in usernames and passwords again, as your credentials are stored in a "Safe Card," which you can manage and delete in a separate dialog. It might take a minute or more for Gladinet to make the connection and mount your virtual drive, and the app doesn't make it clear that it's gone through successfully.
If everything does go through, however, you can head to your "Computer" section, or hit the "Explore" choice on the Gladinet start page, and see your pictures, documents, and other files listed under a new shared drive, labelled "Z:" and named "resources." Opening a word document might fail at first—it did for me with Word 2007—but the files are otherwise there for you to move and manage. Some services, like Picasa, are finicky about what you can put where, but Gladinet shows an explanatory progress dialog that details what went wrong.
Uploading a picture to the Picasa drive, for example, doesn't fly, unless you create a new folder and leave it there—which makes sense, because Picasa Web Albums is organized by, well, albums. But creating a new "Just a Test" folder and dropping a screenshot there worked, as evidenced by the Picasa Web Albums screenshot here. SkyDrive and Google Docs worked similarly; I don't, unfortunately, have an S3 account to check out, but I'd presume it has fewer restrictions than any of the others, being a storage-based app.
Gladinet keeps itself in your system tray while running, and closing it un-mounts your "resources" drive with all your app connections. From its right-click system tray menu, you can add and delete app-drives and Safe Card credentials, and create logins that allow you to run Google Calendar, Gmail, the ThinkFree suite and other webapps in stand-alone windows—nothing you can't do with Prism or Google Gears, though.
All in all, Gladinet seems like a pretty handy utility for someone who trades a lot of files between their cloud and desktop spaces. I'd assume Gladinet intends to expand its coverage of webapps, though they could limit this free version to the four listed here and keep others for its "Standard" version, which adds remote desktop and file-grabbing tools.
For those looking for a more in-depth tour around Gladinet, the makers have released this 10-minute introductory tour video:
What do you think of Gladinet's spin on web-as-desktop? Share your take in the comments.