January 21, 2014 - 18:58 — GretchenNovakXu

Are you tired of carrying around a flash drive to store your documents? Do you ever e-mail yourself a copy of a document because you don't have anything to save it on? Have you ever wanted to create or edit a Word or Excel file on a computer only to find that it didn't have Microsoft Office installed? Have you been looking for a convenient way to share and collaborate on documents with others? Google Drive may provide a solution to all of these problems. It's accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection, and best of all, it's free to use.

Getting Started

To access Google Drive, all you have to do is go to https://drive.google.com and log in with a Google account. If you use Gmail (or any other Google service that requires you to log in), good news: you already have a Google account. The same username and password you use to log into Gmail will get you into Google Drive. If you don't have a Google account, just click on "Create an account" at the bottom of the screen to go through the signup process.

Once you've logged into Google Drive, you'll arrive at the Google Drive main page. The left-hand side of the window looks like this: 

Creating and Downloading Files

Click on the red "Create" button at the top to create a new file or folder. The types of files you can create are Document (similar to a Word document), Presentation (similar to PowerPoint), Spreadsheet (similar to Excel), Form (which allows you to create a form or survey for other people to fill out, and will automatically create a spreadsheet with the results for you), and Drawing (which will allow you to create simple drawings and insert text, shapes, or images into them).

Once you've created your file, it will automatically be saved in My Drive as Untitled Document (or Untitled Presentation, etc.) You do not need to--and actually cannot--save it yourself, because Google automatically saves your file after every change you make to it. This can be a little disorienting at first if you're used to saving your documents frequently, but it's a useful feature that can help keep you from losing any information in case you lose power or accidentally close the window. If you want your file to have a more descriptive name than Untitled Document, it's easy to change the name to something else. When you have the file open, at the top left-hand corner of the screen you'll see the current file name.  Click on the name, and you'll be prompted to pick a new one.

Documents, Spreadsheets, Presentations and Drawings can all be downloaded in a variety of file formats, including PDF as well as formats that can be opened and edited with commonly used programs such as Microsoft Office. To download your file, click on File (located just below your file name), choose Download As, and pick the type of file you want.

Unlike the other file types in Google Drive, Forms cannot be downloaded. Instead, when you've finished making your form, click on Send Form in the upper right corner. You'll get a link that you can share with other people so they can visit it and fill out your form. Or you can enter their e-mail addresses and Google will send them a copy of your form. Once someone has filled out your form, a new spreadsheet will appear in your Google Drive with the same file name as your form but with the word Responses after it. This spreadsheet will consist of all of the responses that have been submitted for your form and can be downloaded like any other spreadsheet.

I won't go into detail in this post about how to edit files. If you've used other office software like Microsoft Office or OpenOffice, the basic interface on Google Drive isn't very different. But if you do have questions, Google provides extensive help and instructions at https://support.google.com/drive/.

Uploading Files

In addition to creating new files on Google Drive, you can also upload files you already have on your computer and store them on Google Drive. Just press the red arrow button next to the Create button. When you upload a file, you'll have the option of converting your file to Google Docs format. If you want to edit your file using Google Drive, you will need to convert it to Google Docs format. But if you just want to store your file on Google Drive and don't need to edit it online, it isn't necessary to convert. When you need to download your document again, just right-click on it in My Drive and select Download.

Opening Files

To open a file that you have created or stored on Google Drive, click on My Drive and then click on the file you want to open.

Sharing and Collaborating

If you create a file on Google Drive (or upload a file and convert it to Google Docs format) you can share it with other people by opening it from My Drive and then clicking on the blue Share button at the top right-hand corner of the window. Then, you'll have the opportunity to put in the e-mail addresses of the people you want to share your document with, and specify whether you want them to be able to edit the document, add comments to it, or just view it.

I hope you have found this a useful introduction to what you can do with Google Drive! For further information, check out Google Drive's help site at https://support.google.com/drive/.