How to use Google Drive: tips, tricks, and best practices

Of all the cloud storage and file synchronization services out there, Google Drive is arguably one of the best. The idea behind it is simple: Place any file in Drive and so long as you have Internet access, you’ll be able to view it on any device. Sure, Google isn’t the only company to offer this kind of service — but with its seamless integration with other Google services and a set of dead-simple collaboration tools, Drive easily stands out from the pack.

Using Drive isn’t tricky at all. In fact, it’s probably one of the easiest cloud services to start using. So rather than giving you a needlessly long tutorial, this guide offers a brief introduction to navigating and using the Drive interface, and also includes a few tips to help you get the most out of the service.


Getting started

Step 1: If you don’t already have one, get a Google account. It’s completely free, and will give you easy, synchronized access to all Google services. Downloading the Web browser Chrome wouldn’t hurt either, as there are a number of extensions and features that integrate with Google Drive.

Step 2: Once you’re signed up, you can choose to download Google Drive as a desktop app, or use it exclusively as a Web app through your browser. Either method will work, but you should download the desktop app if you want offline access to Google Docs. You can download the desktop software here or head on over to the Web-based version here.

Basic navigation

Google Drive navigationGoogle’s UX designers have gone to great lengths to make sure that using their services is extremely easy. Truth be told, you could probably skip this tutorial and use the time you would’ve spent reading to explore the browser and you’d likely get the hang of it after a few minutes. But just to get you up to speed, here’s a quick rundown of the basics.

To get started, in Drive, click on the big red Create button in the top left. When you do, a drop down menu should appear that’ll give you a bunch of different options. You can make a spreadsheet, a word document, a slideshow presentation, a form, a drawing, and a bunch of other things made possible by third-party apps. More on those in a minute.

We won’t go in-depth on how to use each of these free programs — but we will offer a couple quick tips for learning them quickly. 

1.) The buttons are pretty straightforward, but if you’re ever unsure of what one does, just hover over it with your mouse. A popup should quickly appear that explains the function of the button.

2.) If you’ve ever used Microsoft Office (i.e.: Excel, Word, or PowerPoint) then Google’s Sheets, Docs, and Slides software should look relatively familiar. They operate in a similar manner, and are arguably more intuitive. You won’t find as many advanced features as in Microsoft’s software, but Drive is free, so that’s to be expected.

3.) If you ever run in to trouble, just head over to Google Drive’s help page to figure stuff out.

Tips & Tricks: Getting the most out of Google Drive

Uploading and sharing documents

To upload a document to Drive, just click the upload button right next to the big red Create button. It should looks like this: Google Drive create icon. If you’ve got the latest version of Chrome or Firefox, you can skip this step and just drag and drop files into Drive from your desktop.

Google Drive is great for personal use, but what sets it apart from other cloud services is its powerful collaboration tools. If you ever need to work remotely with somebody on a project, you can share a Google document with them and make changes together in real time. To share a document after you’ve created it, look to the upper right-hand corner of the window and find the Google Drive share button button. Click it and you’ll be met with a window. Here you can give collaborators access to the document by adding their e-mail addresses. Once they’ve been granted access, the document should show up under the Shared With Me tab in their Google Drive dashboard, and a link to the shared document will also be sent to their email inbox.

Whilst inside of a shared document, you can see who else is currently editing it by looking up in the top right corner of the window. Collaborator names will be displayed in different colors so you can easily tell them apart. Just hover your cursor over any color to see who it represents. 

Add lots of collaborators quickly by sharing with a Google Group

If you’d like to share a document with a large group of people, you can avoid having to enter in email addresses one-by-one by sharing the document with an entire Google Group. Every person in that group (as well as people added to the group later on) will then have access to whatever you’ve shared. 

Share lots of files at once

Need to share a bunch of files all at once? Rather than sharing each file individually, you can move them into a folder and share that folder. Everyone you share the folder with will have access to all the files inside of it.

Microsoft Word to Google Drive

Convert your documents created with other programs (MS office, OpenOffice, etc.)

Need to share a document with coworkers or friends so they can collaborate on it, but you already have the file in another, similar program? Not to worry. As long as the docs are in the correct format, most files can easily be converted into Google docs, which can then be shared and edited collaboratively. To do this, just upload the desired file and open it in Drive. Next, click the File menu and choose Open With. Depending on the file type, Google will suggest the appropriate program to open it with. Below are the file formats that can be converted into Google documents.

  • For documents: .doc, .docx, .html, plain text (.txt), .rtf
  • For spreadsheets: .xls, .xlsx, .ods, .csv, .tsv, .txt, .tab
  • For presentations: .ppt, .pps, .pptx
  • For drawings: .wmf
  • For OCR: .jpg, .gif, .png, .pdf

Revert to an older version of a document

A major problem with collaboration is that it’s generally a pain to fix something that someone else screwed up. Don’t worry if you find yourself in one of these situations though — Google has your back. Drive is programmed to constantly save your work, so it saves every updated version of your documents for 30 days or 100 revisions, whichever comes first. This makes it simple to revert back to an older version of a document if necessary. To retrieve an older revision of a document, open the document you want to change, click File, and scroll down to See Revision History. After you select this, a bar should appear on the right side of the document that lists all previous revisions in chronological order. Click on any one of them to get a preview of that specific revision. If it’s the one you’re after, click the blue Restore This Version link and everything will return to its former state.

Do more than just documents with Google Drive Apps

Google Drive is more than just a file synchronization service or a suite of free office software. Google clearly has bigger plans for it. In addition to its proprietary software, Google offers dozens of third party applications through Google Drive — apps that let you make diagrams, edit photos, build 3D models, make sketches, and more that we haven’t discovered yet. Files created within these apps will be saved and synced to your drive account just like any Google app. Check them out here.

That concludes our tutorial about how to use Google Drive, but if you’ve got any tips, tricks, or suggestions that we didn’t mention, be sure to tell us about them in the comments! 

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