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What Is Google Drive?


Portrait of man typing on laptop at his desk
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Google Drive isn't Google's self driving car. This virtual drive space was a rumored product not long after Google introduced Gmail with an unprecedentedly large amount of storage. There were a few hacks to take advantage of the storage space as a way to store backups of files in the cloud. The non-existent app was usually referred to as "Gdrive." Meanwhile, cloud storage systems were introduced by other companies, including Microsoft. In April of 2012, the rumor finally came true and Google introduced Google Drive.

What exactly is Google Drive? It's a way to transform your Google Docs account into an online and offline storage system. You get both the Google Docs portion you're used to using and the convenience of a virtual folder on your computers that you can simply drag and drop files to sync between laptops, tablets, and mobile phones. There are a few quirks with using Google Drive, so here's a run-through.

Installing Google Drive

Go to drive.google.com, and follow the instructions.  You'll convert your Google Docs account to a Google Drive account. The Google Docs favicon will change to the new Google drive logo, and any time you go to docs.google.com, you'll be redirected to Google Drive.

Meanwhile, you need to download the Google Drive app to any laptops, desktops, tablets, or phones.

The Google Drive app works on:

  • Windows XP
  • Windows Vista
  • Windows 7
  • Mac OS 10.6
  • Mac OS 10.7
  • Android 2.1 and above
  • iOS 3.0 and above

And you can access Google Drive from the Web on a bunch more devices and browsers, though you lose the convenience of a virtual folder.

Using Google Drive

For the most part, using Google Drive is just like using Google Docs when you're on the Web. You can share directly to Google+ from Google Drive if you wish, and the folders that Google Drive calls collections are back to being called folders. The left side menu changes and now has My Drive instead of a home menu.

When you've installed the Google Drive app, you have what appears to be a folder on your computer desktop. You can drag and drop files into the folder, and your activity will be synced with the Web and available on any computer or mobile device you're syncing with Google Drive. That means your files will be downloaded into that folder and uploaded back into the cloud every time you make a change. You can't use the desktop folder as anything other than a folder, though. You can't convert files or share to Google+ from it.

Your phone is too small to allow 5 gigs worth of files to be downloaded onto it at all times, so the mobile version of the app is more like a bookmark to quickly download the files rather than a copy of the files themselves.

Storage Limits

Google Drive does not grant you infinite storage. You're currently limited to 5 gigs, or you can pay a monthly fee to add to that storage space.  If you're over your limit, you can still access your files, but you won't be able to add any more of them until you're back under the limit. Syncing stops, too, so you'll need to sort out storage issues quickly!

This is the tricky part. You actually have more than 5 gigs of storage space. Files and folders you convert to Google Docs format don't count against your limit. Other files still do. It's to your best interest to convert Word files to Google Docs format whenever possible. If you need to edit a file using a desktop editing program, you can export the file back to Word or another format. 

Converting Files

From Google Drive on the Web, right click on a file and select the appropriate option to convert the file to Google Docs format. Files you can convert include Word, Excel, OpenOffice, PowerPoint, and more.

Google Drive Alternatives

Google Drive isn't the only virtual storage app out there. Dropbox, Micrsoft SkyDrive, SugarSync, and other services offer very similar features, and the introduction of Google Drive will no doubt increase the competition and features they offer in the future. 

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