In the early days, Drive mostly served as a central store for Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Later, Drive added support to store all sorts of files, and offered integration with Microsoft Office.
Yet some things remained awkward. The Google Drive sync client offered few configurable options. The Google Drive for Office plugin didn't support Outlook. Administrators accustomed to shared file servers struggled to set up Drive share settings correctly. The list went on.
In recent months, the Google Drive team has released several seemingly small, but significant, improvements.
1. Selective sync (Windows, Mac, and Chrome)
You can choose which files and folders you want to sync from Google Drive to your device.
Selective sync reduces the amount of local storage needed. For example, I choose to sync just 100MB of filesout of the more than 200GB of files that I store on Google Drive. The change makes the Google Drive sync app more useful on Mac and Windows systems with limited storage — including inexpensive Windows systems designed to compete with Chromebooks.
Selective sync also reduces network traffic, which can have a significant impact at sites with many devices. When someone makes a change to a file, only the people who choose to sync that file will use bandwidth. No more will one small change to a massive PowerPoint file prompt a re-sync for every device in the office. People who don't choose to sync the file may always access the file in the browser. Sync only the folders you need.
The Google Drive app syncs not only the folders you select, but also all unfiled items in the folder at the same level. In my case, I had dumped files in the main "My Drive" directory of Google Drive for years. When I selected a single sub-folder to sync, I ended up with 4.8GB of files to sync — because the app synced all the files in the "My Drive" directory along with the sub-folder I selected. I moved files from the main "My Drive" directory into various sub-folders, which reduced the default quantity of files synced to 0MB. So, for maximum control over sync, you may want to change where you store files.
To configure selective sync, install or update the Google Drive app on your Mac or Windows system, then select the folders to sync during setup. (Google also will allow you to select a specific Google Doc, Sheet, or Slides file for offline access within Chrome. For organizations, a Google Apps Admin may disable the feature.)
2. Set file access expiration dates (Browser)
You can set an expiration date to end access to a shared file. This can be a useful way to grant temporary access to a document.
Share your file with someone, as usual, add their name or email address, then change their access level to either "Can Comment" or "Can View". Send the invitation. Next, select the Share button again, then choose "Advanced". Move the cursor over the line containing the name of the person and you'll see a watch icon. Select the watch, then configure how long you want to offer access: 7 days, 31 days, or any date you choose.
3. Added third-party app support
An update to Google Drive on Android now lets you open a file from Drive, edit it, then save changes back to drive. This works not only with Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, but also with other file formats. For example, from within the Google Drive Android app, you can tap a Markdown file to edit with a third-party Markdown editor, such as IA Writer. Your edits are saved to Google Drive. Similarly edit images with a photo editor, such as Snapseed or Google Photos.
On Windows, Google Drive supports Outlook attachments as part of the Google Drive for Office plugin. That means you may save files you receive in Outlook email to Google Drive, and attach files from Google Drive to email you send. It's a nice addition to the Office file editing features we covered in the summer of 2015 (see "How to edit Microsoft Office documents stored on Google Drive").
4. Improved instructions
Finally, Google has significantly improved online training pages for users and administrators. The http://learn.googleapps.com/drive site provides a nice guide to the basics of Google Drive, and includes a series of tips for users switching from Box, Dropbox, or Microsoft OneDrive.
Google gives administrators better guides, too. For example, an administrator accustomed to a conventional file server for a small office used to have to read several pages of documentation to figure out how to configure Google Drive share settings. Now, Google gives a concise, one-page guide — with illustrations! — that walks an administrator through a three-step process to set up an organization's file share.
SEE: "The first five steps new Google Apps administrators should take" (TechRepublic)
What do you think?
Collectively, I think these improvements signal how serious the Google Drive team is about attempting to meet the real needs of real users today. That's likely a reason that many features address the needs of people who use Microsoft Office or Windows systems.
What changes to cloud storage have made the greatest impact on your work in the past six months? What changes to Google Drive would you most like to see?
"How to edit Microsoft Office documents stored on Google Drive" (TechRepublic)
"Quick Tip: Sharing Google Drive files is now a bit easier" (TechRepublic)
"How to transport your files to Google Drive" (TechRepublic)
"Steering around the potholes with Google Drive" (TechRepublic)
Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.