Google Drive Tutorial (Part 3): Applications

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Google Drive Tutorial

Now that you’ve been introduced to the concept of the Cloud and have better idea of how to in and out of it, lets move on the core of the ideal. I won’t be recovering the list of topics but you can find them via this link.

Google Drive is a full suite of applications created to be used on the internet.  Although Google has made great strides to make the Google Drive suite available offline and on Windows computers (through Google Drive Apps for Windows).

Although there are some comparable similarities, Google Drive is not Microsoft Office.  Some people may be familiar with the applications of Google Drive as they reflect aspects of MS Office and other productivity suites.

So far Google Drive has mostly been a light-weight suite to accommodate the most common needs in office productivity.  But as we covered in last week’s post about the Cloud, the advantage of the internet offers options previously not comprehended in standalone office software.  Of course there may be features that you want that Google Drive does not offer, but for collaboration tools and high-availability, Google Drive is the best.


There are several applications within the Google Drive suite.

  • Google Docs

  • Google Spreadsheets

  • Google Presentations

  • Google Drawings

  • Google Forms

The names are quite generic but lend themselves simply enough to user, without trying to remember what each application’s purpose is.  Docs is a word processor and includes the most basic features that are found in the Microsoft Office program known as Word.  Google Spreadsheets is coincidentally a spreadsheet application. Although similar to Microsoft’s Excel application, it is nowhere near as robust.  Most of the cell functions that you would find in Excel can be found in Google Spreadsheets, but there is a limit to the size of the spreadsheet available.  Also there is no access to Visual Basic or Dot Net, although it is possible to create simple scripts if need be.

Google Presentations is similar, again to Microsoft PowerPoint, but with far fewer features.   Google Drawing is a drawing application, allowing for simple shape-based and freehand image creation.  You may be familiar with an application that resembles Google Drawing within the MS Office suite of applications, called Visio. And lastly an application that is not normally found in the Microsoft Office suite, Google Forms.  Google Forms is an extension to Google Spreadsheets allowing the user to build questionnaires in multiple formats.  The form that is created is then tied to a Google Spreadsheet as a database and form control center.

The one most apparent difference between the Google Drive suite and the Microsoft Office suite is internet connectivity.  Although the most recent version of Microsoft Office 360 offers internet connectivity via Microsoft’s online Cloud service, it still pales in comparison, requiring a compatible licensed copy of MS Office on every system that would access it.  Google Drive requires only a browser and an internet connection.

Google also offers a much more comprehensive suite of applications via the Enterprise Google Apps services.  These services include large enterprise management tools and can scale to as many users as a corporation might have across the globe.  The are literally dozens of programs included in this service which far exceeds the scope of this article.

Functional Features

When you first login to Google Drive you will be prompted with a short visual tutorial.  Google wants you to be familiar with how things work.  On the left-hand side of the browser frame you will see a large button labeled “Create” and an Up-arrow underscored.  Below that you will see a list of options

  • My Drive

  • Shared with me

  • Starred

  • Recent

  • More (with further options)

    • Activity

    • Offline

    • All items

    • Trash

    • Owner, type, more >>

My Drive is quite similar to Windows My Documents and contains all the files and folders that you will use.  The “Shared with me” option is for selecting all files that other users have shared with you, whether for editing, viewing, or just comments.  Starred files are special in that you have set them aside for a particular purpose.  I use the star denoting for files that I use daily and want to be able to quickly access.  The “Recent” option will list all the files that you have most recently accessed, in order from most to least recently.

The last option under “more” offers an option called “Activity” where you can see all the activity on all the files that you or others have worked on.  It works best when you have a team of individuals working on multiple files.  If you have an internet connection, you will get live updates on all files in the activity option.  Offline is a new feature for Google Drive.  If you have Google Drive enabled on your desktop, Google will synchronize all the files in your Google Drive with your computer.  These files will then be accessible when you’re are not able to access the internet and will be immediately synchronized the next time you have access.

Once you begin to create folders on Google Drive you may (like me)  realise that you have so files that you’re not entirely sure where they all are.  The “All Items” option will give you access to every file that was accessed, no matter what folder it currently resides in or to whom it may belong.  It’s a sort of sitemap for your files.

Google Drive offers a trash bin for your files. Files can remain in the trash bin indefinitely, especially if they are Google-specific files.  I am unaware of any file-size limit for the trash bin, you may very well be able to move all your files into the bin if the need arose.

Lastly and probably most centric to the original business model of Google is “Search” The Search bar is ever across the top of the Google Drive main window.  If however you need to find files by a particular aspect, the “Owner, type, more” option may be useful to you.  I can’t tell you how incredibly useful this tool is, despite the attempts of Google to make Drive simplistic to use.  I actually miss it when I have to use a desktop product search utility.  Google Search is so incredibly fast that it is in a class all its own.

Files and Folders

Once you begin to create or upload documents in Google Drive you are given the option to create folders as well.  These files may be color coded in one of 20 pastels which offers a helpful visual distinction, not merely the name of the folder.  Files may be selected and directed to particular folders, but Google is aware that users are familiar with the concept of “drag and drop”.  If you select one or more files they can be dragged in a visual manner and dropped into a folder.

Google realizes that people are visual creatures and may want to see more detail their files.  In the upper right-hand corner are several buttons.  First a “Sort” button that offers the ability to change how the files are sorted.  The options are fairly simple, including last edited, last opened, title, or quota used (that is to say how much of the total allocated space each file uses).

Immediately to the right of the sort button are the two options for file layout.  The default layout is by the details of the files, but it is also possible to view the files by a graphic format. This is particularly useful to get an idea of the content of a file prior to opening it.  It also lends itself to the storage of images that can easily be previewed this way.

At the end of the short row is the tools list with a host of additional options (represented by a 6-sided gear icon).  Google recognizes that not everyone has the same preferences for spacing of files in the display and offers three levels; comfortable, cozy, and compact.  Each successive level compresses the spaces between the display of each file.

Below are the remaining options in the “Tools” menu

  • Settings

  • Upload Settings

  • Manage Apps

  • Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Help

  • Offline / Disable Offline

Settings provides some basic set of options.  The language preference, timezone, how much Cloud storage space remains and some account values.

Google encourages users to upload any and all files to Google Drive making exceptional concessions for file size and type.  However, if we are to upload Microsoft files, we may want to convert them if possible to avoid using too much space.  Files that are converted to Google documents types are removed from the file capacity limit.  Such files can be converted on download, back to their original format.  The Upload settings specify the actions to be taken when uploading files that can be converted.

There are yet more tools that we could cover, but I don’t want to inundate you with miscellaneous items.  Once you begin to use Google Drive you will see that it is likely, more than what you need.  And the added bonus of the web will expand your capacities far beyond your initial considerations for an office productivity software.

If you still feel that the explanation above is too vague or complex, please do not hesitate to send me an email and I will be glad to explain further.  Be sure to check out the Glossary for new terms from this, and every article on

Have a Great Friday and weekend

– Wes

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