In a world where we have a high-speed connection to the internet in our pockets whenever we're in a reasonably populated area, storing files online instead of just on your device isn't just recommended to create redundancy for important documents and media. It's also very convenient to be able to send chunks of your life into the cloud and download them years later, maybe on the other side of the world, on a different device.
If you've been holding off on using cloud storage, it can actually be pretty straightforward to use, once you've figured out how to navigate the mobile app that inevitably comes along with these services. Taking Google Drive as an example, let's walk you through all the ways you can store, download, share and generally get the most out of cloud storage.
Some basics about Google Drive
By default, you get 15 gigabytes of space for free, but this cloud capacity is shared across that Google account, which also includes Gmail (download for iOS or Android) and Google Photos (download for iOS or Android). If you're just saving text documents, then you'll probably never run out. But PDFs, media files and backups of entire folders can quickly push you to the cap, in which case you'll need to pop for a monthly subscription.
Thankfully, the next step up gets you 100GB for only $20 a year, which works out to $1.67 a month. If you ever want to take a look at your options, tap the hamburger menu button in the upper left of the Drive app and then tap the Storage section at the bottom to see Google's storefront.
Getting a paid subscription also grants you the ability to add up to five other family members to your cloud storage account, and you get access to premium tech support and the occasional deal (like $5 off a purchase in the Play Store). You can switch between different plans at any time, and the changes will take effect right away.
Your Google Drive is also accessible at any time through a web browser at https://drive.google.com. Since you can use your browser to download files from Google Drive to your device, it can be a handy way to transfer contents from your phone to a laptop or desktop PC.
Deciding on how to interact with your Google Drive account
There's two main ways to enable Google Drive storage for files on your computer: You can download Google's free Backup and Sync desktop app, or you can access Google Drive from a web browser as previously mentioned and just click-and-drag your files from your computer into the web browser window.
Note that the Google Chrome browser (download for iOS or Android) can accept both individual files and entire folders, whereas Mozilla Firefox (download for iOS or Android) is limited to individual files.
Clicking-and-dragging is handy for unscheduled file transfers, but the Backup and Sync app lets you schedule uploads and downloads, so it's worth an explanation.
Assuming that you're using Windows, Backup and Sync should be accessible from your Start menu after you've downloaded and installed the desktop app. Just tap the Windows key on your keyboard, type backup and sync and click the search result labeled "Backup and Sync from Google."
It may take a minute for the desktop app to load. When it does, click the "Get Started" button and follow the on-screen instructions to connect your PC to your Google Drive account.
Setting up the Google Backup and Sync desktop app
By default, the desktop app will select your Documents and Pictures folders, plus whatever files and folders are sitting on your desktop. You can uncheck the boxes next to those locations to ignore them, which is arguably a good idea for your first experience with the app. Otherwise, you could be inadvertently stuck with gigabytes of uploads right away.
If you click Choose Folder, you can select pretty much any folder on your computer. If you just want to create a folder to sync files with Google Drive, instead of backing them up to the cloud for archival purposes, the desktop app's setup process will give you that option shortly.
Also note that your photo uploads will use "original quality" by default, whereas Google's space-optimized "high quality" option will not count against your storage limit, in exchange for a small reduction in image quality. Unless you're a pro photographer, we'd recommend "high quality" for now. You can change this any time.
And by default, your image uploads will go to Google Drive instead of Google Photos, unless you check the box at the bottom of that setup screen. If you take a lot of pictures, we'd recommend enabling the Google Photos option to help keep your collection organized and searchable.
When you're done making your choices, click the Start button. This completes the data backup section of the desktop app's setup. On the next screen, you choose if you want a folder whose contents will continuously sync with your Google Drive account.
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Backup folders versus sync folders
The difference between a backup folder and a sync folder is that changes you make to a synced file in the cloud will be automatically reflected in the version of the file that's in your sync folder on your computer. If you modify or delete a file in the cloud that came from a backup folder, it will be restored with the file on your PC the next time Google checks for an update to that file.
So if you don't care about syncing and you just want to use Google Drive for redundancy, you can uncheck the box next to "Sync My Drive to this computer" and click the Start button on the bottom right. If you decide to sync, the app will open your Google Drive sync folder at this point, and you can begin dragging files and folders over.
The desktop app in your system tray
To manage Google's desktop app, click the icon in your system tray that has a cloud with an arrow pointing up. This will open a compact window where you can see the email address associated with this account, how much Google Drive space you're using and how much space you have left.
To the right are shortcuts to your sync folder, the web browser version of Google Drive, Google Photos and a three-dot menu for managing the desktop app itself. To change the desktop app's settings, click the three-dot menu and select Preferences.
Note that the desktop app in your system tray will keep a running list of your most recent files. This is designed to make those files easier to share, which you do by clicking the icon to the right of your file of choice.
This opens up the same share dialog that you see in Google Docs. By default, the Backup and Sync app will allow this file to be edited by its recipient, but you can change that in the dialog window by clicking the drop-down menu depicting a pen with a tiny downward-facing arrow next to it. This will give you two other options: "can comment" and "can view."
As long as you leave the Backup and Sync app in your system tray, it will quietly do its job in the background. To close the app, click its system tray icon, then the three-dot menu, and then select "Quit Backup and Sync." It will take a few seconds to verify that there's no immediate work still left to be done, and then it will close.
Be sure to check back next week after the Presidents' Day break, because we'll be talking more about how to use Google Drive in a web browser and via the official mobile app.
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