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Google Workspace: a Practical Guide

Drive

Google Drive is a key part of Google Workspace. Getting to grips with it as you're learning about the Google apps is crucial to being able to collaborate effectively with others and use files across other parts of Google Workspace. Let's take a look at how Drive works and tips for using it.

Google Drive is a cloud-based file storage system that allows you to not only store files created elsewhere, but also create online documents and other kinds of files using Google's apps built in to Drive.

Elsewhere on this guide we'll explore those apps in more detail, but here we'll look at Drive in general. We'll start by looking at how Drive works in terms of the cloud, and then look at the specifics of the two areas within Drive: My Drive and Shared drives.

Living in the cloud

What makes Google Drive any different to the sort of networked drives we've been using for decades?

A filing cabinet full of files full of documents...

Here's a filing cabinet. Each draw contains a number of hanging files, each of which may contain a number of documents. When we started using computers, we took this model with us to create the sort of file structure you'll have on the computer you're using now: documents arranged in directories or folders. But the filing cabinets in a computer could play with space in a way that physical filing cabinets can't: on a computer you could have filing cabinets within filing cabinets! You could have a file-path of nested folders, allowing some impressively complex organisation.

A network drive icon, and a folder containing two Office documents

A network drive is just a computer that lots of people can access, in the same way that lots of people might be able to access a shared filing cabinet. But the files tend to work in a very similar way in both cases: if I take a document out of a filing cabinet, only I can see it and interact with it; if I open a document on a network drive, it's locked for editing and the only way anybody else can look at it at the same time is to make a copy (or come to my computer and look over my shoulder).

A filing cabinet full of kittens

Both the filing cabinet and the network drive are examples of shared working spaces. In contrast, Google Drive is a collaborative working space: it's still essentially just a computer we can all access, but it's one where we can all be editing the same documents at the same time. It's a bit like if we were all on the one computer, only with less fighting over who gets to use the mouse. Or it's a bit like if we were all in the filing cabinet together...

Making sense of Drive

Everything is just a link — the structure of Drive

Google's most famous product is, of course, a search engine. They've applied the same approach to Google Drive.

Don't expect Drive to look tidy. It won't. By its very nature there's no real structure to Google Drive: it's just a big pot of files. Yes, you could impose some order by adding files to folders, but this does not actually change the underlying structure. Every file has a unique ID which forms part of its web address, and (unlike with a Windows filepath) this address remains the same regardless of any folder location you may try to impose. Indeed, because the documents you see in your Drive are essentially just web links; it makes it possible for files to be linked to from multiple folders. In other words, the same file can appear in more than one location simultaneously.

Alternatively, a file could sit in no folder at all. It would still be discoverable via its web address, and via the search box.

What's more, because of the collaborative nature of Google Drive, you could share access to a document without sharing access to the folder structure around it. Therefore, you can't rely on a folder structure to a) give context to a file, or b) help other people locate it.

Sharing a link

Since all Drive files and folders are essentially just links, you can use the web address to bookmark items in your browser, or send the link to others by copying and pasting. You will, of course, also need to have granted them appropriate access permissions to the file in order for them to actually see it once they've followed the link.

Finding documents

Given the fluid nature of Drive, there will be times when you are not sure where a document is located. Files may appear in multiple locations, or no location at all. Don't rely on a folder location to tell you what a file is. Even if you can see a folder structure, other people may have access to the file without having access to the folders. File names are therefore particularly important if people are to be able to find files via the search box.

Some tips

Star

Make it easier to find documents you are currently working on by adding a Star

Recent

Find recently edited documents in the Recent list

Search

Use the search options dialogue (accessed via the toggle to the right of the search box) to search by file-type, date, owner, and more:

Search options
Tip

Use sensible names for files to make them easier to locate by searching! Try to second guess your future self who is desperately trying to find the file you're creating.


'My Drive' and 'Shared Drive'

Drive has two bits to it, giving you two different ways to collaborate: My Drive and Shared drives.

These work slightly differently, meaning there's different reasons you might use each one. It's worth bearing in mind that both can contain files created by you or by other people, despite the fact that one is called My Drive, as the 'My' refers to anything you have access to.

My Drive

  • Files and folders have a defined owner, which may mean a lot of admin if someone leaves and the files are still needed.
  • There's a full range of sharing permissions: folder permissions are inherited by the files in that folder, making it easy to share new documents with existing collaborators and to extend access to many files; you can also fine-tune access at a file level if you want that file to be shared differently to the others in the same folder.

Permissions:

  • Owner – every file has one, though they can transfer ownership to someone else;
  • Edit – modify the document and its name, share more widely, and make use of the version history;
  • Comment – add comments, suggest changes, copy, print, and download;
  • View – view the file, copy, print, and download.

Shared drives

  • Files and folders are 'owned' by the Shared drive itself, meaning there are no complications if someone leaves.
  • Shared drives are designed for teams or project groups where everyone needs the same level of access to the same collection of documents; you can still share individual items outside of the Shared drive but there's much less breadth of control in terms of being able to customise the way in which those files are shared.

Permissions:

  • Manager – add/remove members, and carry out all other actions;
  • Content Manager – create/delete files and folders, plus edit access to all files;
  • Contributor – create (but not delete) files and folders, plus edit access to all files;
  • Commenter – comment access to all files;
  • Viewer – view access to all files.

When working on a group project, you'll need to collectively consider the best space for your needs. If you change your mind later, you can still move files from one space to another. However, currently users cannot move folders from My Drive to a Shared drive; instead, you'll have to recreate the folder structure on the Shared drive and then move the files over (you can select multiple files at once), or contact itsupport@york.ac.uk for more information on moving folders to Shared drives.

Managing documents in My Drive

Here's a few things to consider when collaborating on Google Apps documents and other files in Google Drive:

Ownership

Every file and folder in the My Drive section of Google Drive must have one owner (and this owner cannot be a Google Group, but it can be a non-personal account). The person who created the file or folder will initially be the owner. Ownership can be given away by the owner, but not taken by anyone else - the onus is on the owner to transfer ownership. The owner can also decide whether to restrict the ability of others with edit permission from being able to change sharing attributes.

Drive does not use the term delete but instead chooses remove. If you own a file/folder, remove will move the items to your bin. If you are not the owner it will simply remove it from your Drive view (but if it's in a shared folder, it will disappear for others too!).

When an account is suspended (for instance, when you leave the University), all resources owned by that user will cease to be available, irrespective of location, and so it is essential that ownership of shared documents is transferred to an appropriate individual when someone leaves.

Sharing

Note: the video above has a slightly different sharing box to the one you'll see in Drive now as Google has updated it, but the principles remain the same.

You can control access to the files you create in or upload to Drive.

When you share a file/folder, you first have the choice of leaving it visible only to the defined list (default) or making it more generally available. You can also set the permission level in each case.

Visibility options

  • Share with people and groups (default) - The document is only accessible to those users or Google Groups specified in the share settings. You can customise the permission level for each individual or Group you give access to;
  • Link sharing: University of York (standard option) - Anyone signed in with a york.ac.uk account and in possession of a link to the document can access it;
  • Link sharing: University of York (advanced option) - Anyone signed in with a york.ac.uk account can access it and find it when searching in Google Drive;
  • Link sharing: Anyone with the link - Those who have the link to it can access it, regardless of whether they're at York - no Google account is needed to view.

Permission options

  • View - Can see it but not make any changes. By default, copying and printing are possible, but this can be disabled on a file-by-file basis
  • Comment - Can see it, add comments and ‘make suggestions’ in text documents (similar to ‘Track Changes’); can't change content permanently
  • Edit - Can make any changes to content and comments. By default can also add/remove sharing and change visibility, but the owner can remove this on a file-by-file basis

Permissions can be set to expire after a period of time - either after several days or on a specified date.

Moving files and folders

You can right-click on a file or folder in Drive and choose Move to open the Move dialog box. Multiple items can be selected using the CTRL key. Alternatively, you can drag items about the place.

Adding shortcuts

Just like with Windows, you can add a shortcut to a file or folder in a separate location. To create a shortcut, right-click select a file or folder and choose Add a shortcut to Drive, then navigate to where you want the shortcut to sit. The file itself will not inherit any permissions associated with the folder you put it in, but the shortcut link will be visible to anyone who has access to that folder (regardless of whether or not they have access to the file at the end of it).

If a file has been shared with you, you can use the same method to effectively add it to your own My Drive. You can even organise it within your own folder structure, safe in the knowledge that you won't break anything for anyone!

Folder management

Private folders and shared folders

There are effectively two types of folders in Google Drive:

  •   Private folders – allow you to organise your own My Drive
  •   Shared folders – allow you to create shared storage areas

As soon as you give access to a folder, it will get a little head symbol on it to show that it is no-longer private.

Inheritance

When you assign sharing permissions to a folder, all documents created in or moved into that folder will inherit those permissions.

Inherited permissions can be modified for specific files, to over-ride the inherited permissions. For instance, access might be removed or added on a particular file. File permissions trump folder permissions.

A Venn diagram: The left circle represents the folder permissions, and contains a pink triangle and a blue square. The right circle represents the file permissions, and contains an orange circle and a crossed-out blue square. The intersection contains a pink triangle and an orange circle.

In the example above, a folder (left) is shared with the pink triangle and the blue square. A document in that folder (right) has its sharing permissions adapted so that it is not shared with the blue square but it is shared with the orange circle. As a consequence, the document is shared with the pink triangle and the orange circle, but not with the blue square.

If a file is moved out of a shared folder, it retains any permissions set at a file level but loses any permissions set at a folder level. Predicting the outcome of moving files and folders is not always easy: you'll need to look closely at the file permissions to see what might happen.

If we were to move the file from our previous example out of its folder, the pink triangle would lose access and only the orange circle would be able to see it. Depending on where we put the file, it might inherit some new permissions there.

Remember, if you're worried about moving files, you can always add a shortcut instead: the file itself will not inherit any permissions associated with the folder you put it in, but the shortcut link will be visible to anyone who has access to that folder (regardless of whether or not they have access to the file at the end of it).

General points

  • If you have edit permissions in a shared folder, any rearranging you do will affect other people too - so be careful;
  • Read the messages on dialogue boxes - these tell you what is happening;
  • If a folder is shared with you, add a shortcut to your Drive for easy access;
  • Re-check sharing and permissions after any rearrangement.

Always remember: Only the owner can delete (remove to bin) a document or folder.

Managing documents in Shared drives

While many of the sharing principles from My Drive carry over to Shared drives, there are some specifics to be aware of...

Ownership

Files in Shared drives are owned by the Shared drive. This overcomes the problem of what to do when somebody leaves the University (though you still need to make sure that each Shared drive has multiple managers to control sharing and content).

Sharing

Each member of a Shared drive is assigned an access level, which applies across all the files in that drive.

Non-members and external users can still have individual files or folders shared with them, though these options can be prohibited in the Shared drive settings (available on the right-click menu for the drive). Commenters and viewers can also be prevented from being able to download, copy or print the files, at a global level as well as on an item-by-item basis.


When sharing with non-members, you have the same sharing and permission options as you would in My Drive.

Folder inheritance

The way that folders inherit permissions works the same in Shared drives as in My Drive, but the way you can then remove access to subfolders and files is different. Whilst in My Drive you can share a folder with an account and then remove access to subfolders and files as needed, if you try to do this in a Shared drive you will receive a warning message that doing this will remove access to parent folders.

When you try and remove a person from a subfolder or file in Shared drive, a dialogue box warns you this will remove access to the parent folders.

What this means is that you can only share folders in a Shared drive when the user can have access to everything within that folder and all subfolders. This is similar to the way that an overall Shared drive works, in giving a user access to everything within. For more controlled access, you would need to share on a file or subfolder level to give someone the exact level of permissions desired.

Using Google Drive as storage

Google Drive isn't just a place to create files using the Google apps, though when you're working collaboratively these give you the best range of features. It is also somewhere to upload files and store them, share them, and even edit some of them within the Google apps. Using the sharing features of Google Drive you can share these files so others can view or download them.

You can store a huge range of files on Google Drive including audio, image, video, and text files, .ZIP files, and Microsoft and Adobe files.

To open these files, it depends on the type of file. For Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files, these can all be opened using Docs, Sheets, and Slides respectively, though this can break complex features that don't exist in the Google versions of the tools (particular for complex PowerPoint files). For other files, you can often view a Preview of the file (for example, you can see a preview of a PDF that even allows you to add comments), but you will often have to download the file from Drive to open it in a program that is designed for that file type.

Drive for Desktop

Google Drive for desktop is an application made by Google which allows you to access Google Drive files via your computer and backup folders and files from your computer. You can stream your files from the cloud to your computer, viewing your Google Drive via a Google Drive (G:) drive created on your computer and making relevant files available for offline access if needed (any edits are sent back to Google Drive when you're next online).

Google Drive for desktop can be a useful way to use Google Drive and also work with files on your computer, or to make certain Drive files available when you're offline.

Google Docs and Drive session materials

In this session (which staff at the University of York can book onto via the LMS), we take a look at using Google Docs and Drive effectively for collaborative working and file management. We look at how to choose between using Drive or Shared drive (formerly Team Drive) for collaborative work, and how to manage file ownership. We also look at the details of using sharing permissions to work with others, organising files and Drives, and using cloud features when moving files and sharing links, as well as key features of Google Docs.

Example scenarios

I create a document and want to share it for editing with one or two other people

  • Create a new document on your Drive with default visibility (Specific people)
  • Add the people to the list, giving them Edit permissions
  • Encourage them to use Comments, Suggestions and Chat to discuss updates
  • Use History to revert changes if you change your mind

A new project I am leading is starting and we will be working as a project team with several shared documents

  • First create a Google Group for the team
  • Create a project folder on your Drive and share it with the Group
  • Create sub-folders within this project folder as necessary - they automatically inherit the share permissions
  • Get each team member to add the project folder to their Drive (essential for easy management)
  • Make sure the team get the habit of creating new documents inside the project folder (or move inside) - they will automatically inherit share permissions

Some of the documents in the project need to be shared more widely for view/comment

  • Share documents (or a sub-folder) with View or Comment permissions with other specified users or groups

All the documents in one sub-folder need to be shared with another team for editing

  • Add the second team's Google Group to the share permissions, but just for the sub-folder
  • In this scenario full Edit permissions would allow them to move documents out of the folder - make sure they know what they're doing

An existing Word document needs to be collaboratively updated by the project team; the finished document needs to be in Word format

  • Upload the Word document into the shared folder structure, choosing to convert to a Google document
  • The team can now edit as normal, use comments, suggestions and chat
  • When editing is complete, download it as a Word document. You will need to do a final tidy up and reformatting of the Word document

Forthcoming training sessions

Forthcoming sessions on :

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Exercises

Here's some suggested exercises to start familiarising yourself with Google Drive:

  1. Add something to Starred. If you've not already, trying adding a file and a folder to your Starred section.
  2. Create a new folder and move a file into it. Try sharing the folder and the file with someone else to see what happens.
  3. Create a test Shared drive. Add someone else to the Drive if you can. Try moving a file from My Drive to the Shared drive.

We also have online exercises for our Google Docs and Drive session for more to have a go at:

Forthcoming training sessions

Forthcoming sessions on :

Show details & booking for these sessions

There's more training events at:

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