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Google Docs morphs into once and future 'GDrive'

'Shhh,' says Google. 'Don't tell'

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Google has updated Google Docs – its online word processor cum online file repository – offering new tools for finding, exploring, and sharing files stored on the service.

Little more than a year ago, Google first allowed netizens to upload any file to Google Docs, a move that transformed the service into something not unlike the oft-rumored but never delivered "GDrive". And now the company is going a few steps further.

"Many of you have been taking advantage of the ability to upload any file to Google Docs," reads a blog post from product manager Vijay Bangaru. "With more files and a variety of file types in one place, it becomes more difficult to organize and find what you need quickly. As a result, we are happy to announce that, over the next couple of days, we’ll be rolling out a refresh to the documents list, aimed to make it more useful to find, explore and share all your files stored 100 per cent on the web."

Google Docs new file finder

Google Docs new file interface

Google has added new filters for sorting files, and it has added what it calls "priority sorting", which is similar to the "priority inbox" it recently added to Gmail. In essence, the company automatically creates a folder of files that its algorithms believe are particularly important to you. "Priority sorting is like Gmail’s Priority Inbox, in that we look at a number of signals to put your most relevant files at the top of the list," Banguru said.

The company also offers a new default file category known as Home, where you can actually use your own judgment to decide which files are most important to you. "The contents of the Home view are controlled by you so that the content you access the most often is easier to get to". You can also hide these category if you so prefer," Banguru said. "You can remove files from the Home view by right clicking the file and selecting Don’t show in home to hide them".

Doing away with its file folders, Google now offers what it calls file "collections", meant to combine the folder metaphor with the "labels" used in Gmail. "Collections are designed to combine the best features of labels and folders. A file can live in multiple collections, just like with Gmail labels. Collections can also be stored hierarchically, just like folders on your desktop. And of course, collections can be shared, just like you can share docs".

You can also use your Shift or Control keys (or the Command key on Apple Macs) to select multiple files.

Meanwhile, on the right hand side of the document list, Google is offerting a preview panel that lets you browse thumbnails before opening files in full. But this same pane lets you play videos, not just preview them. A separate interface lets you view still pics as slideshows.

Google Docs slideshow viewer

Google Docs slideshow

Google says its update to the service should be available globally "over the next couple of days, and if you're a Google Apps for Business customer – and you haven't enabled "pre-release features" – you'll should see the changes in "a few weeks".

As the tech press continues to speak of the elusive GDrive, Google Enterprise president David Girouard is happy to let them do so. "ReadWriteWeb Step By Step, Google Docs Becoming the Mythical 'GDrive' http://rww.to/hAWaSV, " he tweeted. "shhh don't tell". On one level, it's a playful response, but at the same time, Google is quite clearly pushing for a world where all files are moved into the so-called "cloud". If this wasn't already obvious, Google drove things home with the beta release of Chrome OS. The browser-based netbook operating system lacks a local file viewer. ®

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