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Get the most out of Google Drive with these 25 tips, tools, and tweaks for power users
25 tips and tools to make Google Drive more powerful and productive
Google Drive is a lot of things. It's a cloud-based storage service, it's an online office suite, and it's the connective tissue that ties numerous Google services together.
Don't be fooled, though, there's even more to Drive than meets the eye. With the right combination of tools, settings, and know-how, you can turn Drive into a lean, mean, productivity machine -- one that's jam-packed with time-saving functionality and fine-tuned to work for you. Here are 25 ways to crank up the power and send Google Drive into overdrive.
1. Go offline
Google Drive may be cloud-based, but with a quick two-minute setup, you can view and edit your documents even without an active connection. The only requirement: You need to be using Google's Chrome browser.
In Chrome, first install the official Drive app. Then, go to drive.google.com, click the "More" option in the left-hand menu, and select "Offline." Click the button to enable offline access for your computer, and -- ta-da! -- you're all set.
It's worth noting that you'll need to enable offline access individually for every computer you use. (One exception: If you use a Chromebook, offline access is automatically activated by default.)
2. Add Drive to your hard drive
In addition to offline document management, you can enable full Drive-to-PC syncing, which will allow you to access any files you've stored in Google Drive on your local machine and easily drag and drop files between Drive and your computer.
To get going, just grab the Google Drive sync program for your Windows or Mac system. After installing it, you'll be able to select a local folder that'll serve as a two-way sync spot between Drive and your PC.
3. Crank up your sync
The official Drive sync program puts Drive files on your hard drive, but when it comes to documents and spreadsheets created in Google Docs, that won't do you much good; those files are stored in the proprietary Docs format, which means they can't be opened with a local word processor like Microsoft Word.
Enter SyncDocs, which creates a two-way sync between your Drive account and a local folder -- and converts Docs files into your choice of Word or Open Office format as part of the process.
SyncDocs allows for real-time collaboration between your local Word installation and Docs, too, and can convert Word files into Docs format when uploading. It’s free in a limited capacity and $19.95 a year for unrestricted functionality.
4. Drag and drop files
Got a file you want to get into Drive fast? Don't mess with any upload commands; instead, just drag it directly from your computer onto the Drive website. Drive will initiate an upload and put it into your storage -- no further steps required.
5. Insert images easily
When editing a Google Docs document, you can always use the command bar at the top of the screen to insert an image -- but wait! There's an easier way: Simply drag the image from your computer into the Google Docs document. It'll automatically show up inline, where you can move or resize it as needed.
6. Search for links
Save time when looking for a link by searching right within Google Docs. When you add a link into a document by pressing Ctrl-K or using the toolbar at the top of the screen, just type regular text into the box that appears. Google will automatically start searching the Web as you type and will give you a dropdown list of relevant URLs from which you can select.
7. Keep track of changes
Google Docs doesn't have the same Track Changes features as Microsoft Word, but that doesn't mean history is doomed to be forgotten. To look back at a detailed list of edits made to any document and optionally revert back to an older version of the file, open Docs' Revision History feature. You can find it in the File menu or by pressing Ctrl-Alt-Shift-G.
8. Take some shortcuts
Speaking of keyboard shortcuts, Google Drive is full of 'em. You can find a complete list by holding Ctrl and pressing the forward-slash key from anywhere on the Drive website.
9. Focus, damn it! Focus
If you're itching for a full-screen document editing experience without any distractions, look for the "Full screen" command under Docs' View menu. That'll take away everything in the window except for your actual document body. When you're ready to return to a regular view, just hit the Esc key.
10. Get organized
You probably know that Google Drive lets you create folders and even nested folders, but did you know you can also color-code them for organization? Just right-click on any folder in your Drive and select the "Change color" command from the menu that appears.
11. Start sharing
Google Drive offers a couple of different ways to share your content, if you know where to find them. You can invite other users to collaborate on a document with you, which will allow them to make edits and/or comments (depending on the permissions you set), and you can also email a document or file directly from Docs in the format of your choice. Both options can be found by right-clicking on any file in Google Drive or looking in the File menu while editing a document.
12. Push the envelope
Google Docs currently lacks its own native tool for creating properly formatted envelopes, but a third-party Chrome app called Envelopes for Google Docs is ready to fill the void. All you need to do is install the app and then run it by clicking its icon in the Chrome New Tab page. The app will ask for the envelope dimensions you need and then will create a new document for you that'll print at precisely the right size.
13. Get a new view
You can customize Drive's appearance to make it work better for you. On the main Drive screen, click the button at the top-right with four small boxes to switch from the default list view to a more visual grid arrangement. Click the button next to it -- the one with a series of horizontal lines -- to switch back.
To the left of those buttons, you'll see a command for changing the way your files are sorted. And if you click the gear icon to the right, you'll find options for changing the density of the display -- making the presentation "comfortable," "cozy," or "compact."
14. Consider conversion
If you upload a lot of text-heavy PDFs or images, Google Drive's conversion capability might be just the thing for you. Drive can scan and detect text in PDFs and images and then place it into an editable document; you'll find the option by clicking the gear icon at the top-right of the main Drive screen and looking under "Upload settings."
15. Don't get lost in translation
Parlez-vous Français? Non? Pas de problème: Google Docs can translate your documents into another language for you. While editing a document, click on the Tools menu at the top of the screen and select "Translate document." You'll be able to select from a large list of available languages and create a new document with the translated text.
16. Do your homework
Next time you need to look something up while you're working on a document, try the Google Docs Research feature. Just click the Tools menu and select "Research" -- or hit Ctrl-Alt-Shift-I, if you prefer a keyboard shortcut -- and Docs will pop a special sidebar onto your screen that's prefilled with info about topics mentioned in your document. You can click on any of them to get more details or search for any additional terms right there alongside your work.
17. Turn Drive into a fax machine
Faxes may be annoying, but they remain an unfortunate necessity in many parts of the business world. With a plug-in called HelloFax, you can take the hassle out of the process and let Drive serve as your own personal fax machine.
With the HelloFax Chrome app in place, you just right-click any document from your Drive list to find the option to fax it. The service currently allows for up to 50 free pages per month; beyond that, you can opt to pay for a monthly or annual subscription to increase allowances and gain extra functionality (including the ability to receive faxes through the service using a phone number of your choice).
18. Let Drive sign on the dotted line
If you find yourself needing to sign a lot of electronic documents, a Drive-connected app called HelloSign, made by the same folks behind HelloFax, can be a tremendous asset in your cloud-based arsenal.
Once you've installed the HelloSign Chrome app and uploaded a signature, all you do is right-click any file in Drive and select to open it with HelloSign. You'll then be able to drag and drop your saved signature wherever you want in the document and save it or even email it to someone right there.
The self-signing functionality of HelloSign is free and unlimited; if you want to use the app to request other people's signatures as well, pricing starts at about 12 bucks a month.
19. Create documents quickly
Save precious time by putting a quick-create button for Google Docs right in your browser. Just snag the free Google Docs Quick Create extension for Chrome; it'll add a button into the browser's toolbar with one-click commands for starting new spreadsheets, documents, and presentations.
20. Simplify saving
If you find yourself saving a lot of Web-based content to your Google Drive account, a free Chrome extension called Save to Google Drive will make your life easier. The app, provided by Google itself, adds right-click "Save to Drive" commands directly into your browser to allow you to grab images, documents, screenshots of entire Web pages, and even audio and video files from the Web and save them straight into Google Drive.
21. Search outside of Drive
As long as you're signed into Google, you can search through your Drive content even if you aren't in Drive itself. Try typing queries like "my tax documents" or "my income spreadsheets" into Google Search (or into the address bar in your browser, assuming it's set to use Google as the default search engine).
If you have an Android device, you can also use the Android Voice Search function to complete similar searches by speaking into your phone or tablet.
22. Tell Drive to collect data
Use Drive to create public forms for collecting and organizing survey-style data: Click on the Tools menu within a Google Docs spreadsheet and select "Create a form," then follow the prompts to get started. You can build in any combination of question types -- plain text, multiple choice, and so on -- and you can have responses filed directly into your spreadsheet as they come in.
23. Turn Drive into a coding machine
Google Docs is great for general document editing, but if you work with code, a free Chrome app called Drive Notepad may be a better fit. Drive Notepad lets you view and edit plain-text documents in your browser and save them to your Drive account. It offers syntax highlighting for a variety of scripting and programming languages, including HTML, Python, Perl, Ruby, and JSON.
24. Shift your company's scheduling into Google Drive
Got projects? Get Gantter for Google Drive, a Chrome app that puts enterprise-level project scheduling right into your Drive account. Gantter supports Microsoft Project files while allowing for Docs-wide multiuser editing and chat. And best of all, it's completely free to use.
25. Turn Google Drive into a cross-platform cloud hub
Google Drive is far from the only cloud storage solution out there -- and with a free Chrome app called Wappwolf Automator for Google Drive, it's easy to connect your Drive account to other online services and set up cross-platform syncing.
The oddly named but highly effective Wappwolf Automator allows you to create special syncing folders within Drive; any files you move into those folders are then automatically sent to the external service of your choice. The program supports Dropbox, Picasa, Facebook, Flickr, Evernote, Skydrive, Sugarsync, and Basecamp, giving you plenty of choices for taking your cloud universe to new heights.
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