How to use Google Drive
Of all the cloud storage and file synchronization services available, Google Drive is arguably the best. The idea behind it is simple: Place or create a file in Drive and so long as you have access to the internet (or download the offline Chrome extension), you can view and edit files on any compatible device. Sure, Google isn’t the only company offering this kind of service, but given its seamless integration with other Google services and its simple set of collaboration tools, Drive easily stands out from the pack.
In fact, it’s probably one of the easiest cloud services to start using. So, rather than providing you with every detail under the sun, this guide offers a brief introduction to the Drive interface, allowing you to better navigate and use the suite. We’ve also included a few tips to help you get the most out of Google’s freemium offering.
Accessing Google Drive
Step 1: If you don’t have one already, you’ll need to get a Google account before proceeding with Drive. It’s free to sign up, and doing so will give you easy, synchronized access to all of Google’s services. You’ll need to pay a fee if you want more than 15GB of storage, but whether you choose to do so will not affect your ability to use the service. Downloading Google Chrome doesn’t hurt either, given the popular web browser features a number of extensions and tools that integrate well with Drive.
Step 2: Once you’ve signed up (or logged into your existing account), you can access Drive via your browser or the dedicated mobile app, which is currently available for both Android and iOS.
Once signed into Drive, click the blue New button in the upper-left corner or My Drive, which is located toward the center of the screen. In the mobile app, press the blue circle with the plus sign in the lower-right corner. This opens a menu that will allow you to create or upload a file to Drive. You can make a spreadsheet, word document, slideshow presentation, form, drawing, and a bunch of other things via third-party apps.
We won’t go in-depth on how to use each of these free programs here, but here are a few tips for learning how to use these services quickly:
Tip 1: The buttons across Drive are pretty straightforward, but if you’re ever unsure of what one does, just hover over it with your mouse. A pop-up window should appear explaining the function of the button.
Tip 2: If you’ve ever used Microsoft Office — i.e., Excel, Word, or PowerPoint — then Google’s Sheets, Docs, and Slides software should look familiar. They operate in a similar manner, and are arguably more intuitive. You won’t find as many advanced features as in Microsoft’s software, but Drive is free, so that’s to be expected.
Tip 3: While you can go to the main Docs, Sheets, or Slides page to see all the files of that type in a single place, creating folders might be a better way to keep organized. To create a folder, click the blue New button in the upper-left corner, select Folder, and name the file directory. Then, simply drag your file(s) into the folder of your own choosing from the main Drive page.
You can also star files you’ll want to access later by clicking Add star in that item’s menu, though, keep in mind that they can only be viewed by the person who added them and not by those who you’ve shared a particular item with.
Tip 4: Another way to quickly find an item in your Drive is by utilizing the Search Drive function; on the top of every page is a field where you can search for a file using its name or file type. If you press the downward-facing arrow in this field or More search tools, you can specify even further, and search for files based on a specific criteria, such as the date or who you’ve shared the file with.
Getting the most out of Google Drive
Uploading and sharing documents
To upload a document to Drive, click the Upload files button under New or My Drive and select a file from your computer. Drive is great for personal use, but what sets it apart from other cloud services is its powerful collaboration tools. If you need to work remotely with someone on a project, you can share a document with them and make changes together in real time.
To share a document after you’ve created it, look to the upper right-hand corner of the file window and find the Share button.
To share a document after you’ve created it, click the Share button in the upper-right corner, add your collaborators using their email addresses, and click the blue Done button at the bottom of the window. Once they’ve been granted access, the document should show up under the Shared with me tab in their Drive dashboard, and a link to the shared document will also be sent to their email inbox.
You can use the shareable link in the upper-right corner of the Share with others menu to send the file via text or another messaging service.
Whilst inside a shared document, you can see who else is currently editing it by looking in the top-right corner of the window. Collaborator names will be displayed in different colors (or with their account picture), so you can easily tell them apart. Just hover your cursor over any color to see who it represents.
Downloading documents and accessing files offline
Another useful Drive feature is the ability to view and edit files even if you don’t have access to the internet. All you need to do is download the Google Docs Offline extension for Google Chrome. Once downloaded — and enabled in your Drive settings — you can access certain files (Docs, Sheets, and Slides) even when you’re traveling or without internet for a few hours. A gray circle with a lightning bolt through it will appear next to your file name in the file window, letting you know when you are offline.
One of the downsides of this, however, is that you can only access files you’ve created and haven’t shared with anyone. You also must have already opened Google Drive in your browser to do so. Files can be accessed offline via the mobile app as well, assuming you’ve turned on the function in Settings beforehand.
Adding multiple collaborators via a Google Group
If you’d like to share a document with a large group of people, you can avoid entering each email address individually by sharing the document with an entire Google Group. Every person in that group (as well as people added to the group later on) will then have access to whatever you’ve shared.
Sharing multiple files at once
Need to share a bunch of files all at once? Rather than sharing each file individually, you can move them into a folder and share that folder. Everyone you share the folder with will have access to all the files inside of it.
Converting documents created with other programs
Need to share a document with co-workers or friends so they can collaborate on it, but you already have the file in another, similar program? No need to fret. As long as the documents are in the correct format, most files can easily be converted into Google Docs, which can then be shared and edited collaboratively. To do this, just upload the desired file and open it in Drive. Next, click the File menu and choose Open with…. Depending on the file type, Google will suggest the appropriate program to open it with. Below are the file formats that can currently be converted into Google Drive.
plain text (.txt)
Reverting to an older version of a document
A major problem with collaboration is that it’s generally a pain to fix something that someone else screwed up. Thankfully, you don’t have to worry if you find yourself in one of these situations — Google has your back. Drive is programmed to save every updated version of your documents for 30 days or 100 revisions, whichever comes first. This makes it simple to revert back to an older version of a document, if necessary.
To retrieve an older revision of a document, open the document you want to change, click File, and select See revision history at the bottom. After you select this, a bar should appear on the right side of the document that lists the previous revisions in chronological order. Click on any one of them to get a preview of that specific revision. If it’s the one you’re after, click the blue Restore this version link and everything will return to its former state.
Utilizing Google Drive Apps
Drive is more than just a file synchronization service or a suite of office software. Google clearly has bigger plans for it. In addition to its proprietary software, Google offers dozens of third-party applications through Drive — apps that let you make diagrams, edit photos, build 3D models, make sketches, and more that we haven’t discovered yet. Files created within these apps will be saved and synced to your Drive account just like any Google app. Check them out here.
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