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How to create links to Google Docs files

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If you do a lot of work in Google Docs, there are times when you may want to create links to Google Docs files so other people can view or edit them. Sharing public links in Google Docs is easy to do, but the menu is buried and some of the options can be a little confusing. In addition, sometimes you may want to add restrictions to limit who can view the Google Docs file or who is allowed to edit the file. These are important considerations if you are collaborating using Google Drive or Google Docs.

The following 3-minute video explains how link sharing works for Google Docs. It covers both public links (viewable by anyone) as well as private links (limited to people you contact or people in your company):

Google Docs notifications when a file is opened?

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A reader of Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes wrote to me with an interesting question involving Google Docs notifications:

I live by myself and my closest relatives live far away.  Should something happen to me, I’d like a way for them to have quick access to some critical information about me: who to contact, financials, and certain passwords.  They should never look at these except under dire circumstances.  In an ideal world, I would be notified if anyone other than me entered the folder.  Next best would be if anyone opened any of the documents.  In this way, if an account of mine were compromised, I could eliminate the info on my Google Drive as the source of the problem.
So the question is whether for the purpose of alerts, merely opening the files triggers an “edit” notification or does it require someone actually saving the document?  Alternative solutions?
It’s a common situation to want to leave instructions and other documents for someone else to open in case of death, injury, or disability. However, regarding the idea to get notified whenever a Google Docs or Google Drive collaborator accesses a folder — this feature does not exist in Google Docs, despite many people requesting it. I understand there is a Google Docs extension called “ezNotifications” (described here) that allows notifications that are associated with edits to the document, but I have not tried it and therefore cannot recommend it.
As for alternatives, Google Sheets does have a notification feature that will alert an account owner whenever a collaborator makes a change, but it does not alert owners when the spreadsheet is opened. I suppose sensitive information could be added to the spreadsheet as text, and edit alerts would be sent to the owner, but there would be no indication to the creator of whether or not it was merely opened by a designated collaborator.
Dropbox also has a feature that alerts owners when any document is changed or updated, but it does not alert for merely opening a document. (I have written a book about Dropbox called Dropbox In 30 Minutes that explains how Dropbox collaboration works).
Finally, planning for personal disaster is a complex topic. Before attempting to distribute documents in case of death or injury, I advise consulting with an estate-planning lawyer who has experience in this area.

How to change the design in Google Forms

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Last year, I wrote a post about how to create a form using the new Google Forms interface. In today’s episode, we’re going to look at how to change the design in Google Forms, Google’s free alternative to Surveymonkey that integrates with Google Sheets and Google Drive.

If you use Google Forms to to gather information from customers or survey a group of people, you can really improve the look of the form by changing its design. There are all kinds of reasons for changing the design:

  1. The default Google Forms design looks too plain.
  2. You want to apply your own design sensibilities to the form
  3. You have branding elements such as logos or special photos you want to incorporate into the design.
  4. You want the form to better match the fonts, colors, and other elements of your product or website.
  5. You think your audience will respond more enthusiastically to a different design.

This last point is not just being considerate of your audience’s aesthetic sensibilities. If different design elements convince more people to start the form and finish it, that means you will get more (and perhaps better) data.

Change the design in Google Forms: Step by step

Changing the design in Google Forms is not hard to do. This quick video will show you how to add photos, change background colors, and alter other design elements of Google Forms:

How to use the Google Docs mobile app to edit MS Word .docx files

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The Google Docs mobile app for Android and iOS now has the ability to edit Microsoft Word .docx files on the go! The following three-minute video shows how it works, using an actual .docx file stored in a Google Drive account and accessed through the Google Docs mobile app for iOS. Note that editing and formatting tools are limited, but at least it gives users a quick way to access and edit Microsoft Word documents when there is no easy access to a desktop computer or laptop.

To see how to edit a .docx file in Google Docs on a PC, Mac, or Chromebook, see our recent posts on this topic.

Edit .docx files in Google Docs using Office Compatibility Mode

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So you have a .docx file, and you want to edit it. A few years ago, you would have needed Microsoft Word to open and edit the file, or you would need to use a workaround, such as uploading the .docx file to Google Drive and converting it to Google Docs for editing. Now, it’s possible to use Google Docs to edit the original .docx file in Google Docs using Office Compatibility Mode–no conversion required!

The following video shows how it works. Keep in mind that editing options for MS Word .docx files in Google Docs are limited to formatting, such as bolding or italicizing text, applying different fonts, aligning text, and adding bullet lists. Advanced Word features involving inserting photos and tables or tracking changes are not supported in Google Docs (at least not yet). The video is less than four minutes long, and if you need more information, I have written about the pros and cons of Office Compatibility Mode in Google Drive.

Google Docs printing basics (and troubleshooting)

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So you are finally using Google Docs as your primary word processing program, and now you need to print out a document. The following short video covers Google Docs printing basics as well as common problems and how to troubleshoot them. Topics include printer setup, saving to PDF, getting rid of unwanted header information, setting orientation (portrait vs. landscape) and other basic information about Google Docs printing issues.

How to restore a deleted file in Google Drive

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It’s a pretty common scenario to have to restore a deleted file in Google Drive. Perhaps you deleted the file in error, or you trashed it and discovered later that you need to access it once more. The following method to restore a deleted file in Google Drive is not failsafe, but in many cases it will allow you to quickly bring it back to life. Note that this method works for native Google files (such as documents created in Google Docs, presentations created in Google Slides, spreadsheets created in Google Sheets, etc.) as well as files that were created by other applications or devices–photos, Microsoft Word documents, text files, PDFs, etc.

The video is less than two minutes long:

Google Forms tutorial using the new forms interface

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I recently tried out the new Google Forms while writing an update to Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes. The new interface is a lot slicker than the old version of Google Forms, and gives more control over the look and feel of the forms. It’s a great way to create an online survey, or have people enter data for a variety of purposes. It’s also worth noting that Google Forms has been partially decoupled from Google Sheets, meaning it’s possible to create a form directly from Google Drive and see the results within Google Forms, instead of having to open up Google Sheets. This post will show what the new Google Forms interface looks like, and then give a brief Google Forms tutorial.

Google Forms is a tool to build online forms, which can then be emailed, shared on social media, or embedded on a public-facing website. The forms can really change the way you gather data. Think about it: Instead of manually entering data, you can make a simple form or survey, post it on the Web and let other people do the work for you! This tool is perfect for signup forms, surveys, and simple reporting.

Once a form has been created, it can be accessed via a Google link that you can email or post on a social network. The form can also be embedded on a blog or company Web page. Customization options can make the form look more professional, or match the fonts and colors you want to use. The data from the form is only visible to you and designated collaborators (as described in ).

The Google Forms tutorial below applies to the updated interface for creating new forms, which was rolled out in late 2015 and early 2016 for some users. I expect it will be rolled out to most Google Drive and Docs users later in 2016.

How to create a form

  1. You can either use an existing spreadsheet (select Tools > Create a form) or make a new form from Google Drive’s main screen by pressing the New button and selecting More > Google Forms.
  2. The form editor appears (see screenshot, below).
  3. Enter the title.
  4. Enter the description. Make it clear what the form is being used for, and add any instructions that can help people complete the form. Absent context or appropriate instructions, users may be reluctant to use the form, or they may enter the wrong type of data.
  5. Edit the first untitled question. Change the name of the question by clicking on the title. Change option labels by clicking on them. Select different question types from the drop-down menu labelled Multiple choice. Select Required to force users to answer a question.
  6. Add a new question using the Add question There are more than a half-dozen types of questions that can be used.
  • Short answer. A one-line text field.
  • Paragraph. Allows for longer answers.
  • Multiple choice. Create a multiple-choice question, with as many possible answers as you want.
  • Checkboxes. People can check off one or more items from a list.
  • Dropdown. Creates a drop-down menu.
  • Linear scale. Users choose from a range of numbers.
  • Multiple choice grid. Users fill in data according to a table.
  • Date or Time. Users can select the date or time (useful for scheduling purposes).

Google Forms tutorial based on the new Google Forms interface

The form builder has additional functions:

  • Icons allow form creators to add titles, sections, photos, and video.
  • Change the colors used in the form by clicking the easel icon.
  • Preview the form by clicking the eye icon.
  • The settings icon (look for the gear) controls who can use the form, as well as presentation options. Use the drop-down menu to select Anyone or one of the other options, if available.

When complete, click the Send button, which shows various distribution options. Email is the default choice, but social media icons, Web links, and embed code (which can be used to insert the form into a blog post) are other possibilities.

Data entered into the Web form can be accessed via the Responses tab at the top of the form editor. Click the Sheets icon to flow the data into a new or existing spreadsheet, which can then be formatted, sorted, filtered and otherwise manipulated. To return to a form, search for it in Google Drive or visit https://docs.google.com/forms.

I hope this Google Forms tutorial was useful. For more information, check out the updated version of Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes.

Managing Google Drive files on Chromebooks with limited storage

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A reader of Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes recently wrote in with the following question about managing Google Drive on a Chromebook with limited storage space:

“When using Google Docs with offline sync is it possible to select where the files should be stored?  There is little memory available in a Chromebook so I use a thumb-drive to store stuff and thought it would be a great place to store offline documents – but how to I tell the computer to store it there?”

It is possible the default “save” location for all files, using this method:

To set a default location for your saved files:

  1. Click the status area, where your account picture appears.
  2. Select Settings Settings icon > Show advanced settings.
  3. In the “Downloads” section, pick a default download location by clicking Change.

However, I do not believe it is currently possible to change the default location of a Chromebook’s Drive Files folder for offline syncing.  Following is an explanation of how Drive handles a lack of storage space on Chromebooks … it apparently removes older files that have not been accessed in a while:

Open the File Manager app.
  1. Click on the Downloads folder > 3 dot menu > how much space is left on your local SSD.
  2. Click on My Drive > 3 dot menu > how much space is left in your online storage.
Drive offline syncs up to 5GB or 100 files. It will start automatically removing the oldest modified files from the local SSD when you get to that number.This is the only way you can selectively sync and choose non Google Docs, Sheets etc. Files like jpeg, png or PDF files or some other format via the right click context menu.
 
This is how is works at the moment. The way to avoid the syncing for offline is to always work in the Drive app or drive.google.com. and only open the ones you want offline in the Drive folder in the File Manager app.
Most chromebooks have 16GB – about 7GB for Chrome OS = 9GB – extensions/apps – cache – files in local Downloads – offline capable app files like Keep or offline Gmail.
If your Chromebook is running out of local storage space, you either have a lot of files in the Downloads folder or have other User Accounts also using local disk space.

It’s probably not the answer the reader wanted to hear, but in this case I think it is difficult to work around the inherent limitations of the Chromebook platform (i.e., tight integration with Google Drive/Docs/Sheets/Slides and a lack of internal storage to keep Chromebooks cheap & help them live up to the promise of cloud storage).

One thing I added when I responded to the reader: Keep in mind that even if a file is removed from the Chromebook, it will still be available on drive.google.com.

Converting .docx files to Google Docs, and preserving Drive storage space

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A reader recently contacted me to ask about file conversion and use of storage space in Google Drive. She wrote:
“I purchased your Google Drive book today and consider it a solid foundation to begin, thanks! I am new to freelancing and two of my clients use Google Drive so trying to get up to speed ASAP.
I am hoping you can answer one of the questions that I am most interested in – is there a way to convert a word doc with ext .docx into a Google doc and not use up storage space? I.e. if I copy text from a word doc and paste into a new Google doc is that considered a Google doc file and therefore doesn’t use any storage space? I’d like to eliminate a number of word documents on my laptop and transfer to my Drive so can easily share with clients, but would prefer not to use up storage space.”
The answer: Any Google Doc created by a user through any means (copy and paste, or the “open as” feature) will not count toward that user’s Google Drive storage limit.
However, if the user uploads and converts a .docx file, he or she should delete the original .docx file after creating the Google Docs version because the original Word file will count toward the storage limit. For people using the free Google Drive/Docs accounts, this is a big deal.
However, there is one other major consideration before doing any large-scale conversion of MS Word files to Google Docs: If the original .docx files have complex formatting (for instance, a newsletter or a document with complex headers or footers), Google Docs will strip out most of the formatting or convert it to something that looks quite different than the original. This is an issue I discussed in my book, and used an example of a fancy Word template that was completely gutted during the Google Docs conversion process. Standard reports, letters, and drafts generally come through OK, though.
Also, in my opinion it’s worth paying a little extra to get more storage space and other features. I do it through a Google Apps subscription, which allows me to use my own email address plus a bunch of email aliases and more Google Drive storage than I know what to do with (90 GB in all). It’s worth the $5/month, plus I get a little more attention when I need Google Drive support (that is, an actual human being looks into issues when they come up).