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Sunday, August 21, 2016

"Opening" a Microsoft File in Google Drive

One of the best things about Google Drive is the ability to create various kinds of files in an online environment.  We should not forget, however, that Google Drive is also very convenient cloud-based storage (especially Google Apps for Education, which has nearly unlimited space).

Usually, first time Google Drive / GAFE teachers take advantage of this storage aspect first by uploading tons of their old files, particularly Microsoft ones. At face value, this is not a bad idea.  Once uploaded, so long as you are able to connect to the Internet, you are able to view, print or download them, even via an app on your smartphone.  The problem is how that leads to one of the most common misconceptions of Google users: the perceived ability to edit a Microsoft file inside of your Google Drive.

In short, you cannot edit a Microsoft Word (or any other MS file) inside of Google Drive.  Only a MS program can do that.  There is no way to connect Word or any other MS program directly to your Google Drive / Google Apps for Education.

When you click on a Microsoft document in your Google Drive, you will get an interface like this:

Note that unlike a typical Google document, you see this "viewer" window when you click on a MS file.
The blacked out left and right margin let you know you are not in a typical Google file interface.  Instead, this viewer window gives you several options, including sharing, downloading, and printing the file.  (Note also that the right side X gets you out of this viewer function.  If you choose the browser's back arrow button, you will actually go back one level in your Drive.)

The trouble begins when you choose the drop down "Open With" option:

You should always see a "Google equivalent" program first, followed by other possible apps that can open the file.

For example, suppose you click on a MS Word file.  If you "Open with Google Docs," you are not editing the original MS file, as many people mistakenly believe. What you are actually doing is essentially asking Google Drive to make a clone version of the MS file in the appropriate Google app; in this example, create a Google Doc version based on the Word file.  The original Word file is and will always be the same as when you uploaded it.  But now you have a "translated" Google Doc version that preserves much of the same formatting.  This new Google Doc could be what you use from that point forward to share and collaborate with colleagues.  However, every time you think you are “opening” the initial Word file online, you are actually making yet another Google Doc clone, and this could continue ad infinitum causing a lot of confusion.

So should you not upload your MS files into your Drive?   If you never did, you would waste the wonderful online storage space that Google gives you.  Instead, I recommend putting all of your old MS files into a separate archive folder away from your brand new Google Docs, Slides, etc.  If there is ever a time you need to do something beside viewing one of the MS files, you can make a Google version ONCE, then move the new Google file out of the archive folder to a new spot in your Drive so you don’t create confusion.  And of course, from this point forward . . . when you want to make a new document, presentation, or spreadsheet . . . start clean and begin with a fresh Google file!

One last point of clarification.  By default, your uploaded MS files will stay in their original format.  However, in your Drive settings (the gear icon on the right side below your profile icon), you can checkmark a box where uploaded MS files will automatically be converted into their Google equivalents.  While this may be handy if you want to mass convert much of what you're uploading, I recommend the default setting where this is turned off.  That way, you can decide which (if any) of your MS file should be converted, and for the sake of archiving, your uploads will remain in their original state, especially if you want to download them "as is" later.

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