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Dropbox and G Suite’s new integration is more like a mind meld

The long-awaited ability to keep your Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides in your Dropbox isn’t just about plumbing.

Dropbox and G Suite’s new integration is more like a mind meld
[Animation: courtesy of Dropbox]

Thirteen months ago, Dropbox and Google announced that they were working together to let users store G Suite documents in their Dropbox storage. The news addressed what must have been a common request—or at least something I’ve long fantasized about doing. At the same time, it was also a bit startling: After all, Google’s Google Drive competes directly with Dropbox, and it’s where Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides documents have always lived.

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The whole ambitious idea–which Dropbox originally said it expected to ship in 2018–has taken a long time to implement. But this week, at Google Cloud’s Next conference, the two companies are announcing that it’s ready for public consumption. The feature is launching as an open beta for paid subscribers to Dropbox Business, a prelude to general availability for everyone who uses both Dropbox and G Suite.

After getting a sneak peek at what Dropbox and Google have built, I understand why they couldn’t just pop it out on a timetable. The two companies haven’t just figured out the mechanics of shuttling files back and forth between Dropbox’s online storage and Google’s web-based apps. They’ve smooshed the two services together into something so cohesive that it’s literally tough to detect where Dropbox ends and G Suite begins.

For organizations that go deeply into both Dropbox and G Suite, the results could be a big deal. “Our internal research shows that over 50% of Dropbox users also use G Suite,” says Adam Nash, the veteran tech executive who became Dropbox’s VP of product last August. “We have hundreds of millions of Gmail users who have created Dropbox accounts. So the overlap set is not a few million users. It’s a huge audience.”

[Image: courtesy of Dropbox]

Hey, you got G Suite in my Dropbox

On the most basic level, the integration is about making G Suite documents behave like Dropbox files. You can create new documents from within a Dropbox folder, and move existing ones–which carry file extensions such as .gdoc–around at will in Dropbox’s web-based interface or via its operating-system integrations and apps. As you work in a G Suite app, everything is auto-saved back to Dropbox as it would be if you were using G Suite in its standard form.

Dropbox’s rich full-text search works as usual, pulling up G Suite files alongside whatever else you’ve stored. And rather than using Google’s document-sharing features–which are fine, but a separate universe from Dropbox–you can share G Suite files the same way you would anything else in your Dropbox. “If a Google doc is inside a Dropbox folder, and that Dropbox folder is shared with five people, you don’t have to worry about typing in those same five email addresses,” says Nash.

From the preview I saw, the slickest part of the integration happens when you’re inside a G Suite document. Rather than handing you off entirely to Google, Dropbox wraps itself around special versions of the G Suite apps: Check the URL, and you’ll see that you’re still at Dropbox.com, not Google. Dropbox’s own sharing features are available within the Docs, Sheets, and Spreadsheets interfaces, again eliminating the need to switch your brain over to Google’s equivalents. It’s as if Dropbox had a built-in productivity suite that happened to be suspiciously similar to G Suite. (Dropbox’s own collaborative document-creation tool, Paper, is defined as much by how it’s different from traditional apps than how it’s similar.)

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Another bit of functionality acknowledges the fact that a lot of people who work in G Suite still work with Microsoft Office files. You can open Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files stored in Dropbox using G Suite’s equivalent apps and save them back to Dropbox without going through any file-conversion rigmarole.

[Image: courtesy of Dropbox]

What’s next?

Assuming that Dropbox’s new melding with G Suite is as robust in practice as theory, it could change how some teams work right away. On mobile devices such as iPhones, Android phones, and iPads, however, you only get enough integration to whet your appetite: You can preview G Suite documents inside the Dropbox app, but can’t edit them. Dropbox isn’t saying whether it’ll introduce editing capability at some point, but as an iPad user, I hope it does.

What might be even more intriguing are future integrations that Dropbox could announce now that it’s finally wrapping up its G Suite work. The company has existing partnerships with software kingpins such as Adobe and Autodesk to make content from their apps more functional inside Dropbox. Turning Dropbox and G Suite into a unified experience is a more daring step—in the past, G Suite documents, unlike a PDF or an AutoCAD drawing, are so cloud-native that it’s been easy to forget they’re files at all.

According to Nash, the company’s collaboration with Google is a blueprint for additional deep interminglings with other online services. “There is an explosion in usage of cloud-based productivity and workplace applications within teams and in companies of all sizes,” he says. “And we think that Dropbox really has a role to play in building this open ecosystem where all of that content works together and all of those applications work together. This Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides integration represents our initial vision.”

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About the author

Harry McCracken is the technology editor for Fast Company, based in San Francisco. In past lives, he was editor at large for Time magazine, founder and editor of Technologizer, and editor of PC World.

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