What is Google Drive, and why is it so popular? Google Drive is an online office suite that includes a word processor (Google Docs), spreadsheet program (Sheets), and presentation tool (Slides). Google Drive also includes storage space, which is where it gets its current name (think “hard drive” that lives on Google’s servers, as well as on your own PC or laptop). Unlike Microsoft Office, Google Drive is free to use (for up to 5 GB of storage space).
Many people are introduced to Google Drive through Google Docs, the incredibly popular online word processor that is part of the Google Drive office software suite. Others are attracted by Drive’s other free programs and features. Microsoft Office can cost hundreds of dollars, and the programs in Apple’s iWork suite cost nearly $60. While Drive is not as sophisticated, it handles the basics very well. Google Drive also offers a slew of powerful online features that are unmatched by Office or iWork, including:
- Collaboration features that let users work on the same document in real time.
- The ability to review the history of a specific document, and revert to an earlier version.
- Simple Web forms and online surveys which can be produced without programming skills or website hosting arrangements.
- Offline file storage that can be synced to multiple computers.
- Automatic notification of the release date of Brad Pitt’s next movie.
I’m just kidding about the last item. But Drive really can do those other things, and without the help of your company’s IT department or the pimply teenager from down the street. These features are built right into the software, and are ready to use as soon as you’ve signed up.
Google Drive Use Cases
How do people use Google Drive? There are many possible uses. Consider these examples:
- A harried product manager needs to continue work on an important proposal over the weekend. In the past, she would have dug around in her purse to look for an old USB drive she uses for transferring files. Or, she might have emailed herself an attachment to open at home. Instead, she saves the Word document and an Excel spreadsheet to Google Drive at the office. Later that evening, on her home PC, she opens her Google Drive folder to access the Excel file. All of her saves are updated to Google Drive. When she returns to work the following Monday, the updated data can be viewed on her workstation.
- The organizer of a family reunion wants to survey 34 cousins about attendance, lodging preferences, and potluck dinner preparation (always a challenge — the Nebraska branch of the family won’t eat corn or Garbanzo beans). He emails everyone a link to a Web Form created in Drive. The answers are automatically transferred to Sheets, where he can see the responses and tally the results.
- A small business consultant is helping the owner of Slappy’s Canadian Diner (“We Put The Canadian Back In Bacon”) prepare a slideshow for potential franchisees in Ohio. The consultant and Slappy collaborate using Google Slides, which lets them remotely access the deck and add text, images, and other elements. The consultant shares a link to the slideshow with her consulting partner, so he can periodically review it on a Web browser and check for problems. Later, Slappy meets his potential franchise operators at a hotel in Cleveland, and uses Slides to run through the presentation.
- An elementary school faculty uses Docs to collaborate on lesson plans. Each teacher accesses the same document from their homes or classrooms. Updates are instantly reflected, even when two teachers are simultaneously accessing the same document. Their principal (known as “Skinner” behind his back) is impressed by how quickly the faculty completes the plans, and how well the curriculums are integrated.
- At the same school, the 5th-grade teachers ask their students to submit homework using Docs. The teachers add corrections and notes, which the students can access at any time via a Web browser. It’s much more efficient than emailing attachments around, and the students don’t need to bug their parents to buy expensive word-processing programs.
Image: Google Drive’s homescreen: