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Goodbye Google Docs, hello Google Drive: Hands on with Google’s all-encompassing cloud storage

Google DriveWe’ve been waiting… and waiting and waiting and waiting for Google to introduce Google Drive. The cloud storage client has been in the works for who knows how long, and a much-requested, much-anticipated Google Docs companion. Now that it’s finally here, we’ve got some initial impressions and hands-on observations to share. The bullet points: Drive is the feature Docs always needed – and it has taken over more of your Google productivity experience than we all thought it would.

Installation

Installing Google Drive is as easy as it should be. After hitting up the home page, you accept and install the client for Windows or Mac. After the download, a Google Drive icon will take residence on your desktop or task bar, and you’ll be prompted to enter your Gmail address and password to sign in.

homescreen

Then things get very familiar.

Interface

The Google Drive UI is essentially Google Docs. You might have been expecting a different hub that featured Docs integration, but that remained relatively separate – and if you did, you were wrong. With this set up, the best way to think of Google Drive is a complementary feature for Docs, because you’re going to remain within the same space as you’ve always been. But now you’ll have a folder that says “Google Drive” at the top of your queue.

Drive homeThe “create” icon remains on the left-hand side of the screen, where underneath you’ll also have access to your Drive as well as Shared items.

You can switch up the interface between condensed or spaced out, and use a thumbnail format if you prefer that over list. Again, it’s just like a more feature-filled, very slightly reimagined Google Docs UI.

Organizing, syncing, and saving

The Drive desktop icon really helps keep things organized – we’re trained to see things in that traditional folder setup. And again, the fact that Drive is serving as a sort of Docs start screen (even though Docs won’t be included in the 5GB storage space… more on that in a second) makes it a really nice productivity hub. Google Drive’s desktop folder allows you to save and organize browser-free, if you prefer. While content is syncing, you’ll get a two arrow icon. Once it’s done, a check-mark. Files you’ve deleted via Drive will have an X. You can upload outside docs via browser and convert them to Google Docs to enable editing, if you want.

syncing

Your “My Drive” and “Shared with me” folders will be where you spend most of your time within Drive (which for all intents and purposes, is now Docs… Docs on steroids). Under “My Drive,” you’ll see everything you put in your desktop Drive folder, as well as all docs you’ve created from this point on. Under “Shared” are all items that other Gmailers have shared out to you, and you can choose to drag and drop them into your Drive or leave it on its own. 

Collaboration  

Real-time collaboration works exactly as it did under Google Docs. You can watch your colleague type and edit away while you do the same. Sharing out folders from within your Drive hub is also simple, and once you’re in there you can add various types of content (presentations, spreadsheets, the usual fare).

collaborating

It’s a nice touch, and should enable Google to be a better place for productivity instead of idly saving and sharing out later.

Drive has eaten Docs

So let’s get a couple things straight about how Google Drive and Google Docs coexist. Really, Drive has consumed Docs and the productivity apps now all collectively lie under the Drive umbrella. If you want to create a document, spreadsheet, form, drawing, etc, it’s automatically going to be stored in your Drive client. All your past Google Docs content is going to be pushed to Drive as well, and sorting it might not be very fun.

Now when someone shares content to you, it won’t be pushed to Drive, and you have the option of letting it take up some of your precious 5GB or not. But if you want to collaborate on the document at all, then you will be automatically looping it into Drive.

More proof that this is partially a Docs rebranding? Android users who want to download Drive for their tablets or phones will visit the Play Store and see they have already downloaded Drive – because it’s replaced their Google Docs app.

You might want to sound the displeased user alarm here, but hold back. Google isn’t always the best at clarifying what exactly is happening with these types of changes, and at first your Drive experience is going to be a bit messy — but this is better. You’re getting more storage, more organizational capabilities, and better collaboration. It’s going to take a minute to sort out what’s where and what you can and can’t do without saving something to Drive, but after the initial fog we’re left with a better storage and productivity app. You just have to power through those early hang ups to get to it.