Google Tips: Drive (and Docs, and Sheets, and…)

I think I’m about done with Chrome-specific tips for now, although if I see something that looks interesting I might put something together.

I’m going to finish up this short series with a quick look at some handy Google features that are designed with Chrome in mind (in that they’re all easy to get to and use in Chrome). Specifically I want to look at Google’s cloud storage feature, Drive, and some related applications.

GoogleDriveEtc

Drive

Drive is basically a place to store files in the cloud, where you can get to them easily. Think of it as a disk drive. You can create folders in much the same way, and organise things the way you want to. It’s great for keeping safe backup copies of important stuff from your machine. And all those files can be accessed from any machine you’re logged in from – so you can upload files from your laptop then get to them from a tablet, say. By default only you can see your files, but you can also share files and folders with anyone you choose to (and you can choose to give certain people read-only access if you like). Sharing brings with it the ability to collaborate on things with others – family, friends, clubs, work, and so on.

To get to Drive (and most of the related apps I’m coming to), open a new tab then click the app drawer symbol.

AppDrawer

Drive should be there…

Drive

That opens your Drive as a web page where you can see what you have, create folders, and so on. To upload a file, click the red New button and select File upload. Easy. There are a bunch more things on that page, but I could spend a week writing about them all. Just explore. You’ll get it.

You can save any kinds of files – Word documents, image files, plain text files, whatever. Google gives you 15 gigabytes of storage at no charge, and you can buy more if you need it. (To give you an idea, I use Drive for backups of all my writing files as well as a good number of spreadsheets and images, and in all the time I’ve been using it I’ve never used more than 10% of my 15Gb space.)

Now, before I go any further, I’d better explain that there’s a difference between Drive the feature, and Drive the application. The feature is just as I described – safe storage on Google’s servers, accessed through your web browser (or mobile apps), and “owned” by your gmail account (that is, the files are associated with you as owner through the gmail address that identifies your account – the one you’re signed into Chrome as).

The application builds on that. It’s an executable that you optionally download and install on your Windows PC or Mac, and it lets you link folders on your machine’s hard drive to your Google Drive storage. At that point, any changes you make to any files in those linked folders are kept in sync with the cloud. If you lose your Internet connection, you can continue to work with the local copies and they’ll get synced up when you’re connected again.

Docs, Sheets, Slides…

There are some related apps that let you create and edit files right there in your Drive folders, using Google’s own file formats.

Docs is basically a word processor. It’s not as fully-featured as Word or OpenOffice, but it’s great for basic stuff and perfectly adequate for letters and manuscripts. And you can download a local copy of the file in various file formats such as Word and HTML. Sheets is a spreadsheet application, and it’s surprisingly powerful. Slides lets you create presentations as a set of slides (think PowerPoint). There’s also Forms, which lets you create, duh, forms, for surveys or whatever.

What’s really cool about Docs and Sheets is the collaboration feature (and this probably applies to Slides and Forms, too – but I haven’t tried that – and it might very well be true in other apps such as Google Drawings). When you share a document with someone else (or several someone elses) and others have it open at the same time, you can see who else is working on it. You can see other people’s cursors, colour-coded. When one person makes a change, everyone else’s screen updates right away. You can demonstrate it yourself if you have two machines (a laptop and a tablet, say) logged into the same account. Create a document on one machine, then open it on the second machine too. Now as you change the document on one machine, the view on the other machine changes. IS THAT COOL, OR WHAT?

Not only that, but you can open a chat window so that you and your collaborators can talk to each other as you work. That means that a group of people can work on a text document, or a spreadsheet, etc., and coordinate what each other are doing. Now, that’s collaboration.

Other Google Apps

There are a lot more Google apps available. Open that app drawer again. You have some apps right there. Click More at the bottom and you’ll see (wait for it) more. (And by the way, you can drag and drop things here to move the ones you use most to the top section and get the ones you don’t use so much out of the way). And at the bottom there’s a link that says Even more from Google, which opens a page with links to a whole herd of Google apps. News, books, maps… Remember the trick from a few posts back, where you can add a web site as an app? (Hamburger, More tools, Add to taskbar.) Pick the apps you can use, add them as apps using that trick, and then you can fire straight into them using the App launcher.

Some I use:

  • Google Keep is really useful. Create notes and lists (I use it for shopping lists, among other things) and have them available on your phone. Neato.
  • Google Calendar – I don’t know how I’d manage without this one.
  • Google Translate – very useful from time to time.
  • Google Sites – create web sites and wikis. Well, actually, I haven’t used it myself but I’m planning on trying it out just to mess with it and see what it can do.

Until next time . . .

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