Google Drive is much more than just a cloud-based storage and syncing service with an excellent free storage plan. It also lets you create, edit, store, and collaborate on documents. New utilities for the service let consumers specify any folder on the computer for backup and let businesses save space by not duplicating files on local storage. New paid plans under the Google One brand make storage upgrades more affordable than ever. Google Drive is truly impressive in how it can help you store, back up, create, and even edit files, whether you work solo or as part of a team.
What Is Google Drive, Exactly?
For a while Google tried using the name Google Drive to mean the productivity apps—Docs and the rest. But the company has gone back to the more intuitive use of Docs Editors to mean the online productivity apps and Drive to mean the online storage. Google Drive and its apps work basically the same way Microsoft OneDrive does with the online versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
Google Drive, OneDrive, and Apple iCloud Drive also act like file-syncing services such as Dropbox and SugarSync. With all file-syncing services, you download and install a program on all your computers and mark files or folders to sync between the devices. That means that if you work on a file from the office, and then go home and want to pick up where you left off, you can do so seamlessly. When you finish working on the file at home, rest assured that all your work shows up on your office computer in the morning. Syncing relies on having an Internet connection, but as long as you have that key in place, it’s a piece of cake.
Just to reiterate: Both Google Drive and OneDrive offer desktop-to-desktop syncing service in addition to their web-based office-productivity apps and straight-up online file storage. Despite the nomenclature of the new Backup & Sync desktop app, we don’t consider Google Drive, strictly speaking, to be an online backup solution. But saving files to online storage can also serve as a sort of backup. True online backup runs scheduled backups and provides full system restore capability.
Compatibility is rarely an issue with Google Drive: You can upload files, convert them to Google’s file format to edit them online—or create new documents, spreadsheets, and slide presentations in the Web interface—and export the finished products to standard file formats, such as .doc, .rtf, .pdf, and so on. One issue is that you end up with multiple copies of the same document if you, for example, create it in Word and then open it in Docs. The Microsoft Office plugin for Google Drive lets you use your Google Drive as storage for files you edit with the installed Microsoft Office apps, removing any chance of incompatibility. And if you install Backup and Sync or File Stream (see below) Google Drive appears just like a local folder.
Integrations with third-party services is another strength of Google Drive. Just about every web service you can think of—from Slack to HelloFax to the Pixlr online photo editor—can integrate with Google Drive. Dropbox and OneDrive also integrate with third party services, but Google Drive integrates with everything.
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