Does Google Drive Sync Google Docs Locally For Offline Editing?

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 04/25/2012

Update: it looks like they just enabled offline editing.

The answer is “No” ”Yes” per the link above, and this post is kept for historical reasons.

Google Drive Sync Google Docs Offline EditingOkay, it’s Wednesday, April 25th. I was playing Mr. Mom on Friday and Monday, and yesterday (Tuesday), I had trouble getting back into the swing of things – focusing incorrectly on Google Drive, which was just released and of great interest. It is a HUGE insight into the future of Google and how they’re intending to lock “users” into “customers”, which is very relevant to my career, so that makes it okay. But none-the-less, I have to get my mindset back into 360iTiger today, and delighting my audiences, now both internal and the public at large.

First, just a word on Google Drive. I installed it on my office Macbook Air. Googling how to download it led me to the Android store first, which caused confusion. After I found the Mac download page, it went smoothly. My main question, since they touted Google Docs integration, was whether this was at long last, a viable offline Google Docs solution. Like were they really going to download some local file for all your Google Docs and spreadsheets?

The answer is yes and no. They download an approximately 150K file, which looks like a JSON file, which identifies the document, which actually still resides on the cloud. If you double-click a gdoc file, it still opens a web browser and relies on an online connection to load the document. In this way, Google Drive is actually doing much more than Dropbox. In addition to the very Dropbox-like sync’ing… and the iCloud and Dropbox-like API for direct loading and saving from documents so you don’t have to deal with a file-system, Google Drive ALSO manages the perception of local access to files that actually still reside in the Google cloud, and were never downloaded locally, but for a file that amounts to not much more than a Linux symbolic link requiring an online connection.

I presume this means, and will validate through experimentation, that this means you can at least do a certain amount of file organization offline—creating folders, moving gdoc files into folders, renaming files, deleting files, etc. With 5 years of “Untitled Document” file cruft, this will certainly be a boon to getting myself organized, and purging old meaningless documents. I sort of used GDocs as a copy-and-paste feature between machines over the years. While this is historically somewhat interesting in a “oh yeah, I remember working on that” perspective, keeping these files around until I’m on my deathbed sorta insults my sensibilities. Regardless of the lack of true offline GDoc documents, Google Drive will help with housecleaning.

Hmmmm. This commentary I think is too important given the hotness of this topic today. I think I’ll do a journal commit, push this entry out, and start a new journal entry for my real work today.

UPDATE: Following the search-hits that led to THIS page, I found this other page that discusses how to get your Google Docs to download locally. It’s in beta, and it’s for viewing only. You have to install the Google Docs Chrome Web App. It then becomes one of the icons on your Chrome start screen. When you click it, it tells you it’s “Preparing offline docs”. It says: “It’s magic: Even when you’re offline, go to”… Okay, confirmed. Your recently opened docs are double-clickable while offline, and they come up in Google Docs in the browser for offline viewing… but on the hard drive in the Google Drive sync folder, it’s still just a JSON file with a URL, key, resource_id, etc. Offline Google Docs is still just cache or proxy trickery, because Google controls the Chrome browser and made a Google Docs extension. This is not true local Google Docs syncing and editing… and probably never should be. Cloud docs really are different… in that they are API-programmable, etc.