Dropbox sets the current consumer standard for easy to use file synchronization. Install Dropbox on your work and home computer. Login to your Dropbox account on each computer and a file saved to the Dropbox folder on your home computer will be synced to Dropbox’s servers, and then replicated to the work computer.

Think of Dropbox as a web-enabled flash drive. Dropbox provides locally installed applications with cloud-synced data storage. A Microsoft Word document saved to your Dropbox folder at home can be opened from your work computer’s Dropbox folder.

Google Drive at first seems similar. Install Google Drive on your work and home computer. Login to your Google Drive account on each computer and a file saved to the Google Drive folder on your home computer will be synced to Google’s servers, and then replicated to the work computer. A Microsoft Word document saved to your Google Drive folder at home can be opened from your work computer’s Google Drive folder. Just like Dropbox.

But Google Drive also provides desktop access to cloud applications and cloud data. That’s different.

More in the cloud

With Google Drive, a double-click on a Google Doc opens the document in a browser, ready to view or edit. As you’d expect, this works for Google documents, spreadsheets and presentations.

This also works for Google Drive integrated applications, such as MindMeister’s online mind mapping application. Once enabled, you can save a MindMeister mind map with Google Drive. The file will appear in the desktop Google Drive folder. Double-clicking the file will open the file in the web application within a browser.

Google Drive supports viewing of more than 16 files types. You can view files from applications not installed on your computer, such as Apple’s Pages (.PAGES) documents, Adobe Photoshop (.PSD) files, or even Autodesk’s Autocad files (.DXF). You also can comment on files in Google Drive – without affecting the content of the file itself.

That’s Google Drive’s strength: providing desktop access to cloud applications and data.

Because the Google Apps administrator controls users accounts and logins, the administrator can transfer ownership of files and folders to other users should an employee leave. Dropbox exists outside this authentication framework. Administrators seeking additional file security and backup should look to third party solutions, such as CloudLock or Spanning Backup.

Each user receives an initial 5GB of storage, but both the Google Apps administrator and each user can purchase additional storage, if needed. Google native docs, spreadsheet and presentation format files do not count toward the storage limit. Storage as of May 2012 is priced at $5 per month for 100GB of storage.

Google Drive helps people transition from the “local app, local data world” to the “cloud application, cloud data world”. Google Drive is also an excellent solution for organizations that use Microsoft Office documents and a local Windows Server to store and share Microsoft Office documents. People can continue to save and open files using the Google Drive folder on their desktop.

See How to enable Google Drive and set up a Shared Folder >>

How to enable Google Drive and set up a Shared Folder

For many organizations, Google Drive might easily replace the need for local shared file storage. Here’s how to setup and configure an organization-wide shared folder within Google Drive.

Note: These instructions assume that you are using Google Apps and that your Google Apps administrator has enabled Google Drive for your domain from the Control Panel.

Enable and Install Google Drive

1. Go to http://drive.google.com/start. Click on the blue “Get started with 5Gb free” button.

2. Click on the blue “Try Google Drive” button.

The renamed “Docs” screen will now display as “Drive”.

3. Click on the “Download Google Drive” (for PC or Mac, depending on your system).

You will then need to accept the terms of service. Click on “Accept and Install”.

4. Sign in to Google Drive with your Google Apps email and password. (If your organization uses two-factor authentication, you may need to verify your six digit code, as well.)

5. You’ll then see two “Getting started” screens. Read how Google Drive works on the first, then click next.

Optional: If you want to selectively sync files, click the “Advanced Setup” button.

Otherwise, click “Start sync”. This will sync all existing files from your former Google Docs – now Google Drive – account to your desktop.

Then, wait for the files to sync. When Google Drive is set up on a Windows 7 system, you’ll see the Google Drive icon in your system tray in the lower right corner of your desktop.

Setup a Shared Folder with Google Drive

1. Login to Google Drive with your web browser.

2. Next, you’ll create a folder. Click “Create” in the upper left, then click on “Folder”.

Name the folder something meaningful for you and your colleagues, such as “Shared Files”, and then click “Create”.

The folder will now appear in the list of folders on the left side of the screen. Be sure the “My Drive” drop-down triangle points downward to display the folders.

3. Now we need to share the folder. To do this, move your cursor over the folder name. A drop down arrow will appear. Click this, then select Share, and then Share from the additional sub-menu.

Here, you can choose to share the folder with specific people (via their email address). For our purposes, we’ll share the folder with everyone in the organization. To do this, click the word “Change” found just under – and to the right of – the “Who has access” heading.

Change the Visibility option as desired. In my case, I shared the folder with everyone at my domain. Be sure to check the box to “Allow anyone within (your domain) to edit” if you want to use this as an organization-wide shared folder.

4. Finally, people with access to the shared folder can now find it and add it to their Google Drive.

Users with access to the folder should now be able to search for the folder name while viewing their Google Drive files in a web browser.

When they see the new shared folder, they can drag-and-drop it from the file listing (under the word “Title”) to the “My Drive” list at the left of their screen.

From now on, any files added to this folder by users with edit permissions will automatically sync to Google Drive – and then sync to all connected Google Drive accounts on local computers.

Now you can enjoy a powerful file viewing, commenting, editing and syncing tool on your desktop and in your browser. You may never need to use a USB flash drive again.

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