How To Unlock Google Drive's App Potential For Music, Image Editing, And More

Google Drive doesn't do anything exciting--at least at first. Here's a guide to the apps that make Drive worthwhile.

Google Docs was turned into a general purpose cloud storage dropbox called Drive back in April. But in classic Google fashion, no one explained what you could do with your free 5GB of space besides upload and download files.

As it turns out, Drive is much more than just a different name for where you used to store documents and spreadsheets. For example, did you know you can fax people documents and PDFs from Drive? Well, you can, and usually for free. You can also edit images in Aviary or Pixlr, send presentations to SlideRocket, and handle Microsoft Project files with Gantter.

When you open the door to non-Google apps, Drive becomes a launchpad for a wide range of useful web tools.

Hooking up apps to handle Drive files is easy, once you know where to look. Log into your Google account and head to Drive, then look for the gear-like settings button in the upper-right corner, under your name. Click the gear, then choose "Manage apps" from the list that drops down. You might not see much there, but that’s okay: Click the "Get more apps" link. You arrive at a whole sub-section of the Chrome Web Store that showcases apps that can use Drive files as their source.

The Chrome Web Store? If you’re using Chrome, it’s where you install extensions (or add-ons) that give your browser a few extra abilities, along with "apps" that are somewhere between shortcuts and extensions (yes, it’s weird). But you don’t need to be using Chrome to install "apps" in Drive. You’ll get a little bug-ish "tip" about using Chrome, but go ahead and keep browsing in Firefox, Safari, Opera, or newer Internet Explorer versions.

Find something you’re interested in, click on it, then click "Install" (or "Add to Chrome" if you’re in Chrome). You’ll be asked to authorize the app through your Google account, and give it any permissions it needs. Once you’ve clicked through, you’ll get a notice that the app was added to Google Drive. In many cases, if you peek at the folders (or "collections") under your My Drive heading, you’ll see that apps often add their own folders: "HelloFax," "Signed and returned by you," and so on. If you click the settings gear icon again and head to "Manage Apps," you can make an app the default handler of certain file types, see which files it can work with, and see all the files an app has created.

To use your new Drive apps with the files you've uploaded, right-click on a file in Drive, mouse over the "Open with" option that pops up (if you've got the right file type), and you'll see the option for your new app.

Drive's now a bit more convenient. And Google's vision of the web-centered work day? Maybe it makes just a bit more sense than it did before.

[Image: Flickr user Library Of Congress]

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