How to: Make Your Desktop Files Sync With Your Cloud Files

cloud computing

Part of the reason I love Google Drive is because it offers a great desktop sync option for Mac or PC. The Google Drive sync function adds a local folder to your desktop machine that enables you to drag and drop files directly into your Google Drive folder.

google drive

When you click on the folder, you’ll see the contents stored in Google Drive, just as you would on your desktop workstation.

google drive

Other cloud storage programs, like Dropbox or Bitcasa, have similar features. (I’m going to talk about Google Drive below, but the steps and features are almost identical for the other cloud systems.) These programs automatically sync any files or changes among the connected devices.

If you’re going to use one of these programs, it’s important to remember (or understand) how cloud syncing works.

Cloud sync 101

When you move your files to the cloud, you’re really only moving them into space on someone else’s hard drive that they’ve allocated to you. (That’s also the big hoopla over “who owns your data” and “where’s it being stored.”)

The bonus of cloud computing though is that your space on the other person’s hard drive is accessible from any location on the planet.

To cloud, or not to cloud

When I discussed organizing your files for mobile work, one reader asked whether I structure and store my files directly to Google Drive and then download the file for offline use when they’re needed for court. for the most part, I do not. I choose to transfer only the files necessary for a particular event. Therefore, my main files sit soundly on a second desktop (or you could use an external drive), and I’ll transfer the file or folder with the information I need. I can save storage space by only storing the files I need on any given day. I do create documents and scan files into Google Drive from my mobile device, but I will transfer that information back to the client’s folder stored on my desktop — I prefer to transfer the documents, as opposed to a secretary, because then I know when I’ve finished working with them.

This is a conscious decision I’ve made based on two reasons. First, I don’t fully trust the security of the cloud, namely storing a client’s personal information in the cloud — I’m okay with my information, because it’s my choice. Second, before I switched practice management programs, my program required a local drive for document management, and didn’t recognize cloud drives very well. That added to some difficulty in managing documents.

Security in the cloud

To relieve some of the fear about cloud security, I opt to use Viivo to encrypt sensitive documents I’m storing in Google Drive. If I take my client’s information to the cloud, Viivo’s the program I trust to keep it protected until later.

Viivo offers drag-and-drop encryption, and will automatically sync encrypted documents in Google Drive. I have an “Encrypted” folder in Google Drive where Viivo stores my newly encrypted files.

Viivo Encrypted folder

The folder is for convenience mostly, because I’ll ultimately drag the documents into the appropriate client folder. In court, I can still open the file (or store it offline earlier) using the Viivo app.

Case document management software

Thankfully, most case management system are improving their capabilities. Now these programs have built-in document management, and some, like Clio, will even sync with Google Drive. Although Google Drive (or Google Apps for Work) isn’t a stand-alone case management system, its sharing features are much better, meaning employees can collaborate and see documents more easily. This includes being able to see shared folders.

You can see shared folder in Google Drive under your “Shared with me” tab. Simply drag the shared folder to the “My Drive” (or “Clients”) folder to make them visible on your desktop, too.

shared dragging

Unfortunately, you need to move the folders in your browser before they’re visible on your desktop.

new shared file

Note that even though you moved the folder somewhere more convenient, it’s still in your Shared with Me folder, and located in your colleague’s convenient place. Also, deleting the folder on your side only deletes the file share, not the entire folder.

Given all of those variables, I suspect that you could use a shared folder with most desktop-based document management programs. You might have to work at it just a bit.

 Syncing soundly

When your system’s set properly, you shouldn’t have to worry about transferring information or keeping up to date. Cloud storage provides real-time updates to files. That means any changes, edits, or updates get synced when you save the file. This is an almost instantaneous process.

Photo: George Thomas via Flickr

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Jeff Taylor

I’m just an ordinary guy living an extraordinary life. I’m also an attorney and I blog about Android for lawyers. You can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Google+.