Google Drive is real, and it's out, and I've been playing with it. If you haven't heard, Drive is Google's cloud storage offering. You get 5 GB free with an option to buy more.

You're going to hear two phrases over and over again in this hands on, so you'd better get used to them now: get ready to see "like Dropbox" and "like Google Docs" a lot.

Google Docs, by the way?  Gone. It's dead. Totally replaced by Google Drive. The Android Docs app updates to Google Drive, the website has changed over too, and "Docs" is now replaced by "Drive" in the black navigation bar.

RIP Google Docs.

But on to happier things! We've got a whole new Google service to explore. The biggest component of which is the new desktop app:

The Desktop App - Your OS Is Useful Again

Just like Dropbox, Google Drive has a Windows (and Mac) app. It syncs your files in both directions, and lets you manage your files in the familiar Explorer interface. It is pretty much a straight up clone of Dropbox:


First though, we've got to install it. Setup is easy enough: download, install, sign in, and wait for your existing files to download.

setup0 setup1 setup2

No surprises there. The app even downloads your Google Docs, which seems like a sacrilegious concept in the world of cloud computing. At the end of the sync process, you’ll have your Google Docs on your hard drive with cute little .gdoc and .gsheet extensions. Wild. Double clicking them opens the document in Google Docs, just like you would expect, and just like Dropbox, anything you drag into the Drive window gets synced to the cloud.


There really isn't much in the way of settings. You get the option to limit syncing to certain folders, sign out, and you can see your free space. It looks a lot like the Google Music app.

The coolest thing about the Windows app, which definitely sets it apart from Dropbox, is that it makes your OS useful again. Dropbox and Drive both store files, but Drive stores my important files, and that can really change the way you use your computer.

The advent of Google's cloud services has made me move more and more away from my OS to towards the browser. Instead of double-clicking on a Word document from my desktop or a folder, I open a Chrome tab, go to Google Docs, and open the file from there. Over the years, Google has been steadily taking over my workflow for each file type: mail, music, calendar, video, pictures, etc. Every start point has gone from "Do this in your OS" to "Open a browser." I can't tell you the last time I used my desktop for anything other than a dumping ground for "files I need to save real quick."

Drive lets you go back to all that native desktop stuff. It's really easy to add file shortcuts to your desktop now. You’ve always been able to “create application shortcuts” with Chrome, but that was such a long process no one ever used it for individual files. This is something a normal person can figure out and use.


And it's not just shortcuts, you can actually use your native file manager to manage files. It's so much easier than the regular Google Docs interface that after this article I'm going to take some time and clean up my Docs storage. It's just cool to be able to use your OS for OS stuff again, instead of it just being a browser launcher.

It's not all happiness and sunshine in desktop-land, though. The Google Drive desktop app is missing a few crucial features. The biggest being that shared folders are not (reliably) synced. It's such a big deal that, when writing this section, I was considering just throwing <h1> tags around that last sentence and calling it a day. Correction: Shared folders can sort-of be synced. There are even official Google instructions.  If you open load up the web app and drag your shared folder to "My Drive" the desktop app will download them. (Thanks Stephen!) The problem is, though, it just doesn't work. If you and a friend make changes you'll get some errors, and on the 3rd or 4th try, your files might sync. At the end of the day Drive doesn't have reliable, two-way sync for shared folders. It's a huge deal breaker and a big reason to still have Dropbox installed.

The other crushing revelation we've had today is the complete lack of shell integration. You can't right click on a file and do anything with it. Well, you can delete a file, or make a new folder, and Drive will sync that, but you can't share files from explorer, or make a new Docs file, or do anything outside of the most basic file manager commands. Drive needs to make its own special section in the right click menu like Dropbox does. I'm holding out hope for a quick "version 2."


It's also missing all the nice little touches Dropbox has. Someone needs to talk to them about their choice of bubble icon. There's no bubble popup for updated files, like there is for Dropbox. There's also no upload progress reporting of any kind. I was testing Drive with a 3 gig file and I had no idea what was going on. No completion percentage or upload speed, just "Syncing 1 of 1 (trust me)." Eventually I canceled it. I had no idea if it was canceled at 1% or 99%.

A big pet peeve of mine is the tray icon. Left clicking on it brings up the right click menu. Just let that sink in for a bit. It doesn't open your Drive folder. You have to pick "Open Google Drive Folder" for that. It also doesn't open the existing Drive window, like Dropbox does, it opens a new one. Always. My normal Drive/Dropbox workflow involves clicking that icon about a million times, and at the end of it Dropbox is fine, but Google Drive has spawned a million identical windows. Fix it.

The Web App - Hey look! Google Docs.

Have you used Google Docs? Then you've used the web app:


Docs still bring up the docs editor, pictures still bring up the picture viewer. Not much has changed. The web app does have one or two new tricks up its sleeve, though. It can display Photoshop documents!


Well, scratch that.. It can display Photoshop document thumbnails. Teeny tiny ones. And if you try to zoom it just blows up the thumbnail into a pixelated mess. It's still better than nothing, though.

revision-history-1 revision-history

Drive keeps a revision history for everything, so saving stuff directly to the drive folder means you have a nice history if you screw something up. Clicking on the links will download your old file. They don't even count towards your storage limit!

Drive isn't just for your Google Docs. There's an SDK, which means developers can use your storage for their apps. There's even a spot in the Chrome web store.

web-apps apps

"Get more apps" is bizarrely hidden at the bottom of the "Create" menu. Once you actually find the menu item, things are easy. Apps plug right into Drive. You can set your new app as the default handler for certain file types, and you can create new files with your new app. It's like having a little cloud OS. You can't drag 3rd party apps out of the "More" ghetto, though. For now, they're stuck there.

The Android App - Docs With A Share Handler

This being an Android site, I should probably talk about the Android app. It looks like this:

Screenshot_2012-04-24-12-55-47 Screenshot_2012-04-24-12-55-54 Screenshot_2012-04-24-12-57-08

Like I said earlier, this app used to be Google Docs, and it still works a lot like it used to. In the first screen, the horrible 2x3 icon layout of the Google Docs app is gone, and everything has gotten a thorough de-saturating.

"My Drive" brings you to what was formerly known as "All Items" in Google Docs. It's pretty hard to write anything about it, because almost nothing has changed.

Screenshot_2012-04-24-12-57-18 Screenshot_2012-04-24-12-57-58 Screenshot_2012-04-24-12-58-14

What has changed is the ability to upload anything to your Google Drive via Android's share menu. You can only upload to the main Drive folder though, the sub folders are off limits. So much for organization.

Fun fact: since G+ pictures are synced to the Gallery, you can actually "share" from your G+ pictures to your Google Drive. Yo dawg, I heard you like cloud storage.


The Android app doesn't know all the tricks the web app does. Here it is choking on my .PSD file. Clicking on a file will let you open it in the appropriate app, though, so if I had some kind of magical, Android (Phone) compatible version of Photoshop, I could see this.


There is also this silly little widget. It lets you open Drive, open the starred list, take a picture and create a new document. Meh.


This is a decent first effort, but until Google gets synced sharing working reliably, I'm going to have to stick with Dropbox. The Desktop app isn't anywhere near as polished as Dropbox, there are lots of poor UI decisions and missing features. This also isn't really Google Drive, it's more like Docs Drive. It's missing my Google pictures, music, videos, attachments, and myriad other files I have stored across Google's services.

Drive definitely has some potential though, there's an SDK, 3rd party apps, a small glimmer of shared folder sync working in the future, and all the files you already have on Google Docs. To me that's the big killer for Dropbox, Dropbox can only ever store some of my important files, Drive, because of the Google Docs access, can store all of them. Dropbox should definitely be worried. Until they get the standard suite of features nailed down, though, Drive deserves a Beta tag.

Ron Amadeo
Ron loves everything related to technology, design, and Google. He always wants to talk about "the big picture" and what's next for Android, and he's not afraid to get knee-deep in an APK for some details. Expect a good eye for detail, lots of research, and some lamenting about how something isn't designed well enough.
  • James

    I was really hoping you'd be able to just right-click files to choose to back them up to Google Drive. I don't want to have to put everything I want shared into a particular folder. Oh, well; I'm guessing that functionality is on the way, at some point. Good first offering.

    • Pre86

      And that is the exact reason I love sugar sync . The ability to sync my folders across all my devices and not have to throw specific files into one big folder or make completely new folders.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1152240024 Christian Davis

    Has anyone found any better methods of linking and sharing, or are these features possibly on their way? One of the best things about Dropbox is being able to right-click>get link and share a (direct) link to a file with a friend. Also great for hotlinking, and it looks like Google Drive has none of it.

    Secondly, what do you mean by "shared folders aren't synced"?

    • Ron Amadeo

      Shared folders aren't downloaded by the Windows app. You can only access them from web app. I'll update the post.

      • JOeMTC

         The Dropbox "Public" folder is pretty power in which one can "host" a website. No fancy URL or anything, but a website can be hosted my just linking to the index file, html file, etc. Like this: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/2726833/Cisco%20Help/default/index.htm  Will that be possible with Google Drive?

      • JOeMTC

         I found my answer. http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2403713,00.asp (Point number 4). It would seem I would be using Dropbox and Google Drive at the same time (as I am now with Insync) until one is truly better than the other (for my purposes anyway).

  • Mark

    I love Titanium Backup Pro sync'ing to box.net's free 50gb :-)

  • Stephen Hammack

    Correction: shared folders CAN be synced.  You just have to drag folders that were shared with you over to "My Drive."  If you open the arrow next to "Shared With Me" in the web interface it explains this... vaguely.  Note that folders/collections that you made and shared with others are already syncing, since you created them (and anything inside used your storage space in Docs).

    I think the reason why you have to do this manually is because, like Dropbox, shared folders in Drive will utilize disk space between all users involved (just a guess, don't know for sure).  If Google automatically put shared folders in Drive, a small set of users would likely exceed the 5 GB limit, which is not good.

    Also, it would prevent random people from trolling and filling up your Drive space.

    Quick question: does the desktop application crash when you shut down on Windows 7?  That happens to me for some reason...

    • Stephen Hammack

      There is one thing that doesn't get synced in Drive: any documents that use Google Cloud Connect (for Microsoft Office).  It makes sense, but too bad Drive doesn't do something like create a hyperlink to where the file is online...

    • Ron Amadeo

      That .....kind of works, you can suck down a shared folder, but two people can't work on it and get files back and forth reliably. Darn. Good find though.

      • http://twitter.com/sam1am Sam Garfield 

        You can work on files back and forth, but you can't do real-time collaboration like this - it's always going to sync the newest version just like Dropbox does. But, unlike dropbox, you CAN do realtime collaboration in the web interface. 

    • http://www.geilt.com Geilt

      Actually, the reason why they do this, is so you can share an individual folder and let the OTHER USER decide where to put the folde rin their own structure. This gives me the ability to share a specific folder with 1 person, in a folder shared with others, which Dropbox CAN'T all the while retaining my own file structure and allowing others to retain theirs.

      I just made a folder called "Shared" and drag them in and organize them as I want. I am already loving this.

      Interested to see how the syncing of files conflicts just switched my peeps over to drive. 

      Also, sharing stuff with others, from what I have seen, does not effect their quota. 

  • Jeffrey Feely

    I am sure there will be eventual sync issues, but one thing I did to ease the transition (or co-existance) from dropbox was to create my Google docs folder inside dropbox (i.e. c:dropboxGoogle Drive). Then I moved all my dropbox folders into the drive folder.  I can now access my google docs at dropbox.com.   Of course, since the synced Google docs are just links to docs.google.com this isn't particularly useful.

  • Freak4Dell

    It definitely does have some basic features that need to be added, and I'd like to see some more advanced ones, too. You mentioned my main request briefly in the post. I'd like to be able to see all my files across all Google services through one service/app/window. It would be great if Drive would automatically create a folder called Pictures, and put all my Google+ and Picassa (why are these things still separate?) in there. Another folder called Music could display all the music I have uploaded to Google Music, so that if I happen to want to download one, I don't have to go into Music to do that. It would also be great if they would let us have all our GMail attachments in another folder, so we don't have to find them in GMail.

    Another thing I wish is that Drive didn't actually take up space on my hard drive. I wish it would just display the files I have uploaded to drive, but not actually move my files to the Drive folder. This is something I don't like about DropBox, either. I try to stay organized with my files, and that means sometimes I want them in certain folders. If I want to upload a file to the cloud without removing it from the folder it's stored in, I have to copy it to the cloud service's sync folder, which means I now have 2 copies of the same file on my hard drive. Unnecessary, in my opinion.

    On a side note, I didn't realize anyone actually used Google Docs over real desktop document software. I mean, I get that it's great for sharing and all, but Word and others are so much more full-featured than Docs is. I can't imagine actually using Docs for all my document needs.

    • Tibor Lovey

      I for one have moved to the web based document software and haven't looked back since. And yes the desktop software is much more feature rich - the only downside is I don't use any of those rich features. Basically you loose some of the features (which many users don't use anyway) for the ability to open and edit all your stuff from anywhere with a browser and internet connection. On top of that you're not forced into a wedlock with any particular software provider which (over)charges their platform or (bloody continually) changes their UI from ground up.
      As with everything these days, it's all a matter of personal preference

    • Simon

      Have you tried using collaborative documents?  Just awesome - I've done teleconferences where we are both simultaneously editing text.  You know the old Word workflow of sending documents back and forth with revisions enabled and end up with two overlapping sets of revisions?  This absolutely kills that dead.

      You'd not want to do the final formatting of a large report on it but all the WIP stages are great. 

      • Freak4Dell

         Yeah, the collaboration is the only reason I've used Google Docs in the past and will in the future. It's great for group projects and stuff. When we're done writing, though, the final document is edited, cleaned up, and formatted in a full desktop word processor.

  • John

    Am I the only one that is having trouble uploading new files into Drive via Android app? As in..it uploads successfully but never shows up on Drive =/
    (LTE Galaxy Nexus)

  • Jeremy Powers

    The widget is a nice feature. I have all my "Membership" cards as .png bar codes so i stared all my bar codes and the widget allows quick access while at a checkout. Cards i have as a example: Best Buy Reward Zone, PetCo, DSW, etc...

    • ChumbleSpuzz

      Key Ring does this quite well.

  • http://meatcastle.com/ Youre My Boy Bloo

    @ronamadeo:disqus I particularly liked this article the first time, when I wrote it as a comment.


    In related news, hey everybody look at me, look at me!

  • Tate Peterson

    It won't launch on my computer. No gdoc folder that I can find.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Emaw-Kennedy/504157652 Michael Emaw Kennedy

    As a graphic designer they really need to work on the psd settings

  • John April Santos

    My Documents folder became scattered when I installed Drive.. -_-

  • Andykere

    Has anyone bothered to read there privacy policy? They own and can change, modify and or give and sell your stuff to anyone. Once you upload your stuff to there cloud sitwe it's there stuff?. Ya right. Like I'm willing to give up the rights to my stuff for free storage.

    • CalmLikeaBomb

      There's really no need to spread FUD, I've seen similar comments to yours all over since yesterday and the one thing missing is the very first sentence of their policy:

      "Under the heading, Your Content in our Services in Google's terms of service, Google states, "You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours."

  • HeavyD

    That may be vool if google drive could have future to read docs on sdcard

  • dt

    Google Docs could already open .PSD files, it's not a new feature from Drive

  • InvaderDJ

    Glad to finally have it released but for some reason my account still hasn't been let in to the program.

    • ChumbleSpuzz

      I'm having the same problem. Google says they will email me when available.

  • Plarney

    Sharing from Android doesn't allow you to upload a web page. Pretty lame. I tested sharing a picture and a document and that worked though.

    • 18rmiller

      Have you seen any kind of solution to this?

  • Rick

    Both Google Drive and Dropbox have their strengths and shortcomings. But you forgot to mention a very important factor that works as strength for Google Drive and shortcoming for Dropbox: index and search!

    Searching the contents of docs in Google Drive is amazingly easy. It even recognizes image-PDFs through OCR.  Have you tried searching for a Dropbox document based on your vague recollection of a couple of keywords in the content? Not possible at all. Currently Dropbox only searches only file titles, which is almost useless if you keep thousands of PDF files and need to bring up the right one in the blink of an eye based on a keyword.

    Try it in Google Drive and you'll be amazed. That's why I'm going to keep using both Google Drive and Dropbox, but I think eventually Google Drive will win out this war.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=696603382 Larry Stone

      Rick -- I agree this is a killer feature. But it doesn't work for me. I'm 100% sure my PDFs have been OCR'd (because I can search them from *within*) but they're not found using identical search terms from the Google Drive search bar. Have you had success with this?

  • denbo68

    "The coolest thing about the Windows app, which definitely sets it apart from Dropbox, is that it makes your OS useful again."

    Silly statement. When I can run Photoshop, After Effects and Maya (ok and Skyrim) on Android then I will find my desktop OS useless.   That isn't going to happen any time soon.

  • http://www.toysdiva.com Toys Samurai

    My biggest complain is the video feature. On the desktop, clicking on a video from the Google Drive site will launch a player. On the Android app, you can only download it. However, using the Android default Browser (requesting the desktop site), you can play the video (streaming?) because it uses Flash -- but why Flash? Why not HTML5? Flash has no future in mobile computing, and you can't use Chrome (on Android) to play the video. Anyway, I shouldn't even need to use a browser to play a video on my phone, the Google Drive App should just play the video

  • Dank

    I didn't see it mentioned... but an issue I am running into is that I use Dropbox for work and personal inside a single Dropbox account. With Google Drive I can only login to a single account at a time... so i am forced to choose if I want all of my personal stuff in my business Google Apps Google Drive, or if I want all of my business stuff in my personal gmail Google Drive.  The app works great because I can easily switch between these two account in the same way I switch between them in the gmail app.  How do i make that work with the desktop application?

  • Ben Radlinski

    I know what you're saying here, but then again, I don't understand what you mean:  "Dropbox and Drive both store files, but Drive stores my important files, and that can really change the way you use your computer"

    What are your "important files"?

  • ArnieParnie

    How do I move a non-shared document from my drive to a shared collection as the shared collections are not displayed in the left sidebar anymore?

  • http://www.staticshift.com.au/ Karl Thew – Static Shift

    Looking forward to it going offline. I'd be interested to see another review when it does so

  • Craig Boudreaux

    The search on Drive has been terrible.  Apparently you can't search across all documents on the mobile app.  When you do a search it says it's searching online, but I always get a response that nothing was found.  If I go online and do the same search I find the document I was looking for.  I just found out that if I select the appropriate folder, it will find the document on android.  I used to be able to search All Docs when it was Google Docs.  So for me, Google dropped search from this app.  Kind of ironic that I can't depend on Google for search.  I'll need to find some other app to search Google Docs if I want to continue using this service.

  • http://twitter.com/iramlalima iram lalima

    This is a great post, thanks! I agree with 

  • jdh

    Thanks for the really thoughtful and helpful review!  I wish c|net and other professional tech journalism websites were as thorough and helpful!  They should hire YOU!  :-)