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Google Drive problems for Google documents

Google Drive doesn’t really save Google Docs content to your computer so the offline support is limited and clumsy.

We’ve been testing the new Google Drive and really can’t believe what we’ve found. A major shortcoming in the support for documents created by Google’s own ‘Docs’ service.

Google Drive doesn’t really save Google Docs content to your computer so the offline support (eg if you’re on a plane or a slow Internet link) is limited and clumsy.

Even if you can get the offline version of Google Docs working – you can’t edit or convert the documents!

In our, frankly surprised, view this makes Google Drive with Google Docs a poor choice and certainly inferior to the Skydrive/Office combination from Microsoft or offerings from Dropbox or SugarSync.

Google Docs are not really on your computer

After synchronisation, any Google Docs files seem to be available on your computer. But it’s not that simple.

Google docs have special extensions .gdoc .gsheet and .gslides

Each of the ‘documents’ in Google Drive is merely a pointer to an online resource. Opening a .gdoc file in notepad reveals a resource link with no content:

{“url”: “”, “resource_id”: “document:0Aa2GTqXi8Bv3ZGZxY3hMTJnbmNjcjVkeg”}

Any .gdoc .gsheet and .gslides files in the Google Drive folder are just 1KB in size regardless of the true size of the document.

Google Drive - 1KB files image from Google Drive problems for Google documents at

That means the document content itself is NOT saved on your computer by Google Drive. All it does is save a link to an online resource.

That’s a vital distinction for anyone who wants to work offline or thinks that Google Drive is acting as a backup copy of their cloud storage.

Note: this only applies to Google Docs. Any other files you put on Google Drive like MS Office documents, PDF or images are copied entirely.

Using Google Docs offline

Google Docs/Drive offline support is poor. It’s clumsy to setup and even then you can only view Google Docs – not edit them.

To really save your Google Doc content offline you need to install Google Docs in the Chrome browser and enable offline use. According to Google their ‘Docs’ service is now ‘Drive’ but in trying to get Google documents working offline we found there’s an important difference between the two.

In our tests the integration of Google Docs offline mode and Google Drive was poor. If you do want to use Google Docs offline, test it carefully before running it live.

You need the Google Docs browser based system to work offline with its documents. There’s a link in the Google Drive preferences that seems to enable offline use but it’s really just a link to the setup advice online. We’ll save you the trouble – here’s the link.

In short, go to the ‘Gear’ icon on the Google Drive page then select ‘Setup Docs offline’. You’ll have to specifically enable offline use and install the Google Docs app for Chrome. Once installed go back to the ‘Gear’ menu and choose ‘View offline docs’ to see synchronization status.

What seems to be happening is that the offline storage of Google Docs content is in a Chrome cache, not the Google Drive folder.

Viewing only

You’d think having Google Docs working offline would mean you can edit those documents for later sync up to the online storage – think again. You can only view Google Docs offline – no editing is possible. Even viewing isn’t available for presentations, forms or drawings.

Google promises editing offline will be available in the future.  We hope they’ll also fix the fake syncronization being done by Google Drive.

Vitally, while offline, you can’t convert a Google document into a MS Office compatible format.


However you can select text or cells and copy to another program. The Edit menu is disabled but the Windows shortcuts (Ctrl + X, C or V) still work.


You can view and edit non Google Docs offline (ie MS Office documents etc). That’s because those files have been copied by Google Drive and can be opened by the software you have on the local computer.

No copying

A trap for the unwary is copying a Google Doc ( .gdoc .gsheet or .gslides) from the Google Drive folder on a computer to another location, for example My Documents.  All you’ve done is copy a url to the document, not the content itself.

The copied file will still work when connected to the Internet because it’s associated with the Google Docs service.

However offline it won’t work at all because there no real content in the file you copied.

Note to Microsoft

We’re amazed that Microsoft isn’t making more of this enormous shortcoming in Google Drive/Docs. Rather than wasting time with lame ‘Gmail Man‘ videos, Redmond could be pointing out that Skydrive with Office provides real offline access to documents.

The next time Microsofties complain about pointing out problems in Office, they should keep articles like this in mind. We’re prepared to describe problems in any software or service, whoever makes it.

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