By Katherine Livick
What is Google Drive, anyway? What does it have to do with Google Docs? And why do you need to know about it? Let’s take a look at the basics of Google Drive.
Drive: Home base for all your stuff
Google Drive works like the hard drive on your computer, but it actually keeps your files in the “cloud”. What’s this “cloud”? Don’t worry, it just means that your data is stored on a server, similar to the shared drive you may have used at work. This is very secure (though nothing is 100% foolproof).
The great thing about this is that you can access your files from anywhere, on almost any device. You don’t have to drag your laptop home to work on something--you can just log into Drive from your home computer or other Chrome device and work on it there. You never have to worry about having the right version of a file on your thumb drive - there’s only one version. And you can collaborate with anyone from anywhere. It’s a pretty great setup!
Create and import files
You can upload almost any kind of file from your computer to store in Google Drive. Office files (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) can be converted to Google versions to edit and share online, or left as is. Drag and drop the files into Drive, or use the blue NEW button to upload a file or folder. Be sure to double-check that everything has uploaded correctly before deleting any files from your local computer!
Create new Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, and more with the blue NEW button. Be sure to check out the “More” pop-out to find Forms, Google Drawings, and any apps your administrator has added to Drive for your use.
Customize your view
You can customize how Drive looks to you and organize your files however you’d like. The first thing you should know is how to change the general Drive view from icon to list. Most people who have a lot of files choose List, but you can do what works for you. Look for the icon near the top right that looks like a bulleted list. Click it, and it changes to a grid of six squares. Click again, and you’re back to the larger icons. In either view, you can sort your files by name (folders will always sort to the top above files) or by date modified by you, modified by anyone, or last opened.
A quick tour
You’ll notice when you start using Drive that there are quite a few gray buttons and menu items around. What does it all mean? Check out the left sidebar first. You’ll see a folder labeled “My Drive”. That’s the top level of your Drive storage, where all your files live. If you have created folders within Drive, they’ll show up when you click the small triangle to the left of the My Drive folder. Below My Drive you’ll see the following filters. A filter is simply a different view of the files you have in your Drive.
- Shared with me is a filter that shows any files created by another person who has shared with you. This includes Docs, Sheets, Slides, or even non-Google file types. Your ability to edit these files will vary based on settings the file’s owner has determined.
- Google Photos may appear in this list; it’s not every photo in your Drive, but only photos you have deliberately uploaded to Google Photos or Google+.
- Recent is a listing of your most recently opened files - handy if you forgot what you named that document you were just working on.
Starred files are files to which you’ve applied a star (by right-clicking on the file or adding a star from within the document to the right of the document title). You can use stars to quickly find important documents or something you’re working on over a period of time. Be sure to un-star documents when they become less important - if you star everything, this filter isn’t helpful!
- Trash is where files go when you remove them...they aren’t permanently deleted until you empty the trash. (If you have an education account, you have unlimited storage, so don’t be in a big hurry to empty the trash, especially if you’ve previously shared a document with someone else!)
You’ll notice some buttons up along the top right of your Drive as well, and these are the same buttons you’ll see if you right-click (control-click or Command-click) on a file in Drive.
These buttons may change slightly based on what file you have selected - for instance, a file shared with you by another person will show an “add to drive” button, while a file you created will not. Other buttons allow you to share the file, retrieve the shareable link, preview the file, or move it to another folder. Hover over the buttons for a moment to see what each one does. Not seeing a button you expect? Google resizes this toolbar based on the width of your browser. Click on the three vertical dots menu (if you hover, it says “More Actions”) to see what else you can do with the selected file.
Be sure to check out the gear icon at the top right of your Drive. This contains your Drive settings, where you can choose options for viewing, storing and converting files.
You can create folders from the blue NEW button to organize your files in Google Drive, and you can nest folders within folders, just like you can on your computer. Once you’ve created a folder, you can rename it, color-code it, star it, or move it by right-clicking. You can use any naming convention and sorting scheme that works for you.
FileStream and Offline Work
Though you’ll usually work seamlessly on your Google files while they reside in the cloud, sometimes you may be offline for a while and still need to work - or you may want to back up your files to a separate location. Check out Drive File Stream or Backup and Sync for options. There’s also a sync setting within Drive settings you can enable to sync files to your local computer. Be sure to check with your IT administrator for district policy on backing up files to a personal computer.
As you become more familiar with Drive and all it can do, you’ll discover some additional features that can help you work more efficiently. For instance, you can convert PDFs and photos to text right in Drive, so you can convert a picture of some text into an editable document. Drive has keyboard shortcuts to make your work go more quickly. If your administrator has enabled Team Drives, you can share a file space with your co-workers while sharing ownership of group files - if a team member leaves your organization, files they added will stay in the drive, unlike when an individual’s account is deleted. It’s a great way to collaborate with colleagues. Be sure to check out the G Suite Learning Center for more tips and tricks for working with Drive.
About Katherine Livick