Google Drive for Desktop: confusion is strong with this one

On Oct 1, Google retired the product called “Backup and Sync.” In its place is a product called Drive for Desktop. People are asking,

“What was Backup and Sync, and how do I know if I have it?”

“What is Drive for Desktop and why would I need it?”

“What happened on October 1 and do I need to do anything?”

Episode 220 of our YouTube show was all about Google Drive and the New Google Drive for Desktop. We showed in detail how to use it and how to migrate from Backup and Sync, but I don’t think we sufficiently answered the questions above, so I’ll try here.

“What was Backup and Sync, and how do I know if I have it?”

First of all, if you have to ask – you probably weren’t using it! So, the fact that it is changing just doesn’t affect you at all. But, just to be sure, let’s dig a little deeper. Backup and Sync was Google’s utility for uploading and downloading between your Computer and Google Drive/Google Photos in the cloud. To know if you used it, review these 3 questions:

Do you use Google Drive?

Google Drive is the cloud storage service for your Google account. You can keep files at https://drive.google.com/ If you see your files there, you are looking at the cloud copy. If you’ve created any Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides, you will see them in Google Drive. This can be used all by itself. Any time you want to see a file that is stored in Google Drive, you go to the web.

If you use Google Drive AND you can also access your Google Drive files using your computer’s Filing system – something like: C:\Users\yourname\Google Drive – then you must have been using Google Backup and Sync to copy files back and forth between your computer and the cloud.

Even if you don’t use Google Drive, do you upload to Google Photos?

Do you put photos on your computer that get automatically uploaded to Google Photos? (https://photos.google.com/) Google Backup and Sync was the utility that automatically uploaded photos from your computer to Google Photos.

Can you see the Backup and Sync icon?

You can also just look in your “Systray” in the lower right on a windows computer and see if the icon is there. If it is there, click it, then the 3-dot menu, then Preferences. That’s where you’ll see the settings of what it is backing up. On a Mac, this icon will be in the upper right.

“What is Drive for Desktop and why would I need it?”

Drive for Desktop replaces Google Backup and Sync and serves 2 purposes:

  1. Syncing: To make Google Drive files accessible from your computer’s filing system and computer files accessible from the cloud
  2. To upload photos from your computer to Google Photos

You don’t need it if you are happy using Google Drive from the web interface, and manually uploading any photos to Google Photos.

However, if you have lots of important files stored in Google Drive, and you want them all synced to your local hard drive, Drive for Desktop is how you can do that. If you have thousands of photos on your computer, in hundreds of folders, then Drive for Desktop is the way to automatically upload them all to Google Photos. (See this video: 705.GP-Upload to Google Photos using Google Drive for Desktop)

“What happened on October 1 and do I need to do anything?”

If you were using the old Backup and Sync to sync files from Drive to your computer, OR to automatically upload photos to Google Photos – that process stopped on October 1. Any new Google Docs you created using the web interface after Oct 1 did NOT get synced down to your computer, and vice versa, if you edited a file in C:\Users\yourname\Google Drive – that is not getting synced to Google Drive in the cloud. Also, any new photos added to your computer are not getting uploaded to Google Photos.

If you want those processes to continue, you need to install Google Drive for Desktop. Once you do, you will see a different icon in your Systray.

If you decide you don’t need this syncing function, you can uninstall Google Backup and Sync (and/or Google Drive for Desktop.) Any files that had already been synced to C:\users\yourname\Google Drive will remain on your computer but will no longer be updated.

The results of migrating to Google Drive for Desktop

When you install Google Drive for Desktop, you will have two main areas to set up.

  1. One is to backup folders from your computer to the cloud. These folders are ones outside of the Google Drive folder, like My Documents, Taxes, Clients, or My Pictures. When these folders get synced to the cloud, you will find them at Drive.Google.com in the section called Computers. Or, if you specified to upload photos to Google Photos, they will be at Photos.Google.com
  2. The other is to sync folders from Drive down to your computer. These folders will be found at Drive.Google.com in the section called My Drive. Your only choice here is to:
    • Stream files. If you choose to Stream – find them on your computer in a virtual drive, probably G:
      OR
    • Mirror files. If you choose to Mirror – find them in a folder usually called C:\users\yourname\My Drive. You can click the option to “Change folder location” and put them anywhere you choose. Note: if you are migrating from Google Backup and Sync, that folder was called C:\users\yourname\Google Drive. It is now an orphan and should be deleted. If you choose to “Change folder location” and make Drive for Desktop mirror to C:\users\yourname\Google Drive, be prepared for duplicates when the sync occurs.

The diagram below shows the Google Drive for Desktop preferences on the left and the Drive.Google.com web page menu on the right. Notice how the settings for “My Laptop” relate to the “Computers” tab and the “Google Drive” settings relates to “My Drive.”

Learn More

If you decide to use Google Drive for Desktop, please do watch our Youtube show Episode 220. Here are chapter links to what we taught in that show:

  • 1:04 Example of using Google Drive and collaborating on a document
  • 6:40 Intro and welcome
  • 10:58 Google Drive vs Google Drive for Desktop
  • 14:31 Using Google Drive for Desktop to upload photos to Google Photos (705)
  • 25:49 3 purposes of Google Drive for Desktop
  • 31:44 Migrating from Google Backup and Sync to Drive for Desktop (706)
  • 39:30 Audience questions
  • 47:13 Mirror vs Stream
  • 50:29 Removing old folder created by Backup and Sync
  • 51:28 Viewing Google Drive files from mobile devices
  • 58:30 Review Questions

Any questions, you can leave a comment on the YouTube video, or here on this article. I promise to respond.

4 replies on “Google Drive for Desktop: confusion is strong with this one”

  1. Naanu says:

    does it use my hard drive space when syncing?
    virtual drive contains all Gdrive folders which i dont want .
    how to delete the virtual g drive on my computer?
    thanks

    • MrsGeek says:

      Drive for Desktop does use hard drive space. The “Stream files” option uses a lot less than the “Mirror files” option, but it still does take space to list all the folder and filenames. If you choose “Mirror files” the Virtual Drive G will disappear, but you’ll have a folder Users\yourname\My Drive that has a complete duplicate of the cloud contents of your My Drive. If you don’t want either, then you don’t need Google Drive for Desktop and you should uninstall it.

  2. Hans Knoernschild says:

    Google Drive Desktop causes probably a breakdown of the pc (laptop) while using a browser (I had the breakdown several times with three browsers – Firefox, Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge). I had this problem with Windows 10 and also after installing Windows 11.
    My solution: closing Google Drive directly after switching on.
    My laptop is an Acer Aspire A-515-52 bought in January 2019.

    • MrsGeek says:

      hmmm, that’s weird. I don’t see why Google Drive for Desktop should affect your browser. Just curious – did you select the Mirror option? or the Streaming option? for Google Drive?

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