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Ten ways to maximize your Google Drive

Google Drive has many options and features you might not be aware of. Here are ten tips to ensure you're getting the best mileage out of it.

Back in December I wrote an article to help users "Get started using Google Drive for document sharing." This covered the basics of using Google Drive to share and edit files with others. A total of 5GB of space is offered for free with paid options for expanded storage capacity beyond that.

However, Drive is more than just a collaboration service; it's a full-fledged cloud storage and productivity service which you can use in a number of versatile ways to make your daily life easier. Here is what I consider the ten most important strategies to help you use Google Drive effectively.

Strategies

1. Use the Google Drive application on your Mac / PC or your mobile device (iOS or Android) to synchronize your data

Google Drive isn't just a web storage concept; it also operates as an application on your computer or mobile device. You can access the Google Drive Download Page to select the option for PC/Mac, Android or iOS.

If you install the Google Drive app on your PC or Mac it will synchronize your Drive files/folders locally (the program puts a Google Drive folder icon on your desktop, but you can copy relocate that folder elsewhere if you like). This means all your data will be kept both on your hard drive and on Google's servers (note that icons for any Google Docs you have are pointers to online objects; not kept locally). If you install the Drive app on multiple computers, your files will always be present on those systems without needing to open a browser and log into your Google account. Does anyone miss having to deal with Windows Backup program? I sure don't.

The Drive app allows you to view storage details about your account, to configure which folders to synchronize and other miscellaneous options. (Figure A)

Figure A

(Note: it's possible to use the Drive app with multiple Google accounts, but you'd have to use the "Disconnect account" button as shown above, and then connect the app to an alternative Google identity).

2. Set up offline access for Chrome (not applicable to other browsers)

If you don't want the Google Drive app installed (or perhaps you don't have the ability to install applications at all on your system for security reasons) you can configure offline access to work with your files if you don't have an Internet connection.

Offline access will let you access and edit your Google Drive files from a PC/Mac (any changes you made sync back to Google when your system is able to contact the Internet again) but you can only view the items when offline on an Android or iOS device.

To turn this option on for your PC/Mac, make sure "More" has been selected in the Google Drive vertical toolbar on the left and select "Offline". (Figure B)

Figure B

Look for and select "Offline" as outlined above. (Figure C)

Figure C

Click "Enable Offline." Then you'll need to install the Drive Chrome web application. Click "Get this app" to complete the process. Now when you access drive.google.com in Chrome you can still work with your Drive data even if you don't have an Internet connection.

Google provides a list of stipulations on the "Work offline" help page for Drive. (Figure D)

Figure D

There are some limitations to be aware of, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

You can also enable offline access on your Android or iOS device. These steps involve manually choosing the Drive objects you want to make available offline and setting them to do so.

3. Take advantage of the built-in file viewers

Google Drive offers file viewers to open over thirty types of objects which can be especially handy if you can't or don't want to install an associated program to open the file, or you are using a public system which may not have the correct application on it. (Figure F)

Figure F

4. Look for files by criteria using "Owner, type, more"

The Google Drive vertical toolbar offers the "Owner, type, more" option to allow you to look for specific categories of files as well as their visibility and ownership. (Figure G)

Figure G

5. Look for files using the search box

I use Google Drive to store a lot of history and IT documents which I keep in PDF format. The native search option lets you enter terms and find relevant content. For instance, if I want to see all the documents I have which contain the word "Napoleon" I can find them within seconds. (Figure H)

Figure H

What if I want to narrow down my search based on file type, visibility or ownership? I can click the small down arrow at the right of the search box and select my criteria. (Figure I)

Figure I

6. Use document revisions

Google Drive will keep previous versions of your files (such as the ones which have been edited) for either 30 days or 100 revisions. If you want to revert a file to an older version, just right-click it to bring up the menu box shown in Figure J.

Figure J

Choose "Manage revisions" like shown in Figure K.

Figure K

The available revisions of a file will be shown as demonstrated above. You can delete unwanted versions or click on a file to download it if you want to save it elsewhere.

You can also select file revisions that you don't want deleted by checking the box under the "Do not auto delete" column. (Figure L)

Figure L

7. Use stars to flag key files

Stars allow you to identify important files for quick access. To "star" a file, right-click it to bring up the menu box shown in Figure M.

Figure M

Choose "Add star." You can easily access your starred items in the Google Drive vertical toolbar. (Figure N)

Figure N

Click "Starred" and these files will be displayed on the right of the toolbar.

To "unstar" an item, follow the above steps and select "Remove star."

8. Make sure to take advantage of integration with other Google services

One comment to my previous article on Google Drive referenced Dropbox and how it works in a similar fashion, so the user felt no need to change. I can definitely appreciate that sentiment, but Google has integrated Drive with other services such as Gmail to make it more user-friendly. One user named j2callie contributed the following tip for sending attachments from Drive in Gmail:

"I use Google Drive to share video clips because they're too large for an attachment. However, there's now a way to attach a file using Drive when you're composing a message:

Hover over the plus icon at the bottom of the compose window, which will open the insert menu. (You need to be using Gmail's new compose and reply experience to insert files using Google Drive) Click the Compose button, click the 'new compose experience' link right next to the Labels button at the top of the message. (Figure O)

Figure O

Click the Google Drive icon as shown in Figure P.

Figure P

In the window that appears, you can upload a file to Google Drive, as well as navigate to or search for files you've stored in Drive. For files stored in Drive, select the checkboxes next to the files you want to insert. Click the Insert button. Gmail then adds a link to your message so recipients can click the link to view your file.

When you send the message, Gmail checks to see if your recipients have access to the file and will prompt you to adjust the sharing settings on the file(s) you've inserted, if needed."

Thanks for that tip, J2Callie!

Also, sharing files on Drive works not only via email notification to recipients, but social networks as well.

When you right-click a file and choose Share, you'll have the option to send the item to Gmail, Google+, Facebook or Twitter. (Figure Q)

Figure Q

Selecting the Google+ option lets you send the file after providing you with a "Sharing settings" window like Figure R.

Figure R

Set the appropriate option and then click "Share to Google+".

9. Use extensions in Chrome

Chrome offers a number of extensions to integrate the browser more tightly with Google Drive. Go to the Chrome Web Store and search for Drive. (Figure S)

Figure S

The Save to Google Drive extension was created by Google to help facilitate saving web objects to your Drive account. It will give you a right-click option when browsing the web with Chrome which allows you to save webpages, documents, pictures, and multimedia as shown in Figure T.

Figure T

All you have to do is select the option to save the item to Google Drive and it will do so for you.

10. Know your storage options

5GB of free space may be more than enough for some users, but only a drop in the bucket for others. You can add more space if needed; Google offers 100GB of data for $4.99 per month (and Google Docs do not count against your storage limits!) Compare this to Dropbox, which offers 100GB for $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year. If you need more than 100GB from Google the options shown in Figure U are available.

Figure U

It's worth nothing that $49.99 per month gets you 500GB with Dropbox but 1TB with Google.

Conclusion

I've never been in favor of commercials that promote one product while belittling another. Dropbox is a fine service for file storage, but I nevertheless believe Drive offers more versatility at a better price, especially for business users. If you are a frequent user of different Google services I think you will find that Drive can get you where you're going faster, cheaper, and better than the alternatives, especially with the above engine tune-ups.

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About

Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.

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