Google’s Redesigned Drive Focuses On Speed, Office Compatibility And Security

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Google today gave its Drive online storage service a major redesign today and with it, it is also bringing a number of new features to its Docs, Sheets and Slides productivity apps on mobile and the desktop.

Maybe most importantly, Google has now built Quickoffice‘s technology, which the company acquired almost exactly two years ago, right into its productivity apps. This means you can now open and edit Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files in their native format thanks to the new Office Compatibility Mode. Just like Google’s Sundar Pichai promised more than a year ago, Quickoffice in the browser will use Google’s Native Client technology to render documents quickly in Chrome. Because of this, however, this feature won’t work in any other browser for the time being. While Google is also building Quickoffice into the Drive Android apps, iOS users will still have to wait a little bit longer.

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With all of this functionality folded into Google Drive, the existing Quickoffice apps will soon reach their end of life. As Google’s director of product management for Google Drive Scott Johnston told me earlier this week, the team wants to ensure that users don’t have to worry about formats. The other thing they shouldn’t have to worry about is editing documents while offline, so with this release, any platform that Google’s productivity apps are available on now will support offline editing.

When I asked Johnston why it took Google this long to finally integrate QuickOffice, he noted that it took a long time to get the two code bases together and make them run at Google’s scale. He also argued that the team wanted to ensure that everything worked really well. “We are on so many devices now that we can’t put anything out that is half done,” he told me.

Upon launching the new Google Drive, the first thing users will notice, however, is the new look. As Johnston noted, the main idea behind this was to simplify the experience and to make the web app feel more like a desktop app. I’ve had a chance to try the new Drive on the web for the last day and it does indeed feel faster and more fluid.

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Google also made a number of more subtle changes. The “Shared with me” folder, for example,  is no simply called “incoming.” The Drive tool bar has been simplified a bit and as far as I can see, Google did away with the upload dialog in favor of going all-in with dragging and dropping files and folders from the desktop.

One nifty feature Google implemented on Chrome is the ability to select any native desktop application as the default program to open a file from Drive. Say you have a Photoshop file in Drive. You can now have Drive automatically open the file in Adobe’s photo-editing application. That’s a small feature, but it definitely makes Drive feel more in touch with the desktop than before. 

Google kept the biggest changes for the mobile apps. The activity tab, for example, is now also available on mobile, and sharing a link only takes a single tap. Johnston tells me the team also managed to increase upload performance.

In addition to all of this, the team has now enabled new security features that ensure that every document you store on Drive is encrypted both at rest and in transit to your browser and between Google’s servers.