Chinese search firm Baidu has launched a cloud storage service in the country, bringing it into competition with local rival Alibaba, as well as Dropbox, Microsoft and others in the space, according to Techweb [Chinese].

‘Baidu Wangpan’ — meaning ‘Web drive’ in Chinese — was launched at Baidu’s developer conference today. The service entitles users to 15GB of space for free which, for comparison, is more than a basic Dropbox account (2GB) but less than Microsoft’s SkyDrive’s (25GB), as TechInAsia notes.

wangpan 220x117 Chinas Baidu leaps into cloud storage with a beta service to rival Dropbox and Microsoft

The service is out in beta and rather short on confirmed details for now. It isn’t clear whether there will be premium storage options, thought Baidu did tell us that “they’ll be able to expand storage space for free to huge amounts” over time.

Baidu is aiming to stoke early interest in the service by releasing limited numbers of invites. Just 5,000 new users can join the service each day, those wanting in need to visit the sign-up site at 10:00 (China time), when fresh batches are released daily.

WangPan apps are available for PC and Android, and there are plans afoot to bring it to iOS and Mac. Baidu has also opened Wangpan up through three existing Android apps – ES File Explorer, File Expert, and Boat Browser – each of which have integrated the service, as Tech In Asia found.

Baidu cloud storage 02 520x232 Chinas Baidu leaps into cloud storage with a beta service to rival Dropbox and Microsoft

As well as serving Web-based users, Wangpan is the next phase of Baidu’s ‘box computing’ strategy for its Android-based operating system Baidu Yi.

The move to provide Apple iCloud-like options for Baidu users follows the launch of the company own app store – the Yi Store – in September. Speaking then, CEO Robin Li heralded the store as the first step in its “box computing” strategy, and it looks like WangPan will advance things further.

Web-based storage is touted as having huge growth potential for mobile, and Baidu is joining Apple, Microsoft and Alibaba by having both an operating system and cloud storage service.

The service is in Chinese only but, given Baidu’s colossal presence in the country, it is likely to gain significant exposure in the country. If it is well adopted, it could provide stiff competition for established international services looking to tap China’s 500 million Internet users.