ChromeOS – Google Drive vs Files, what is the difference?

I’ve had problems in the past related to not using the correct app for accessing files from my Chromebook and thought a quick post might help others to understand the difference between Google’s two file management apps on Chrome OS.

First, I will admit that this post shouldn’t be necessary. Google should really get the Files app sorted out, or simply add local file access to Google Drive.

Let’s start with the difference between the two apps as it stands today.

Picture of Files App icon

The Files app was originally intended to access local files, i.e. Downloads, and should only be used for that purpose in most cases. (keep reading for the explanation)

picture of Google Drive icon

The Drive app provides access to all files stored in the Google Drive cloud. This includes files that are automatically syncing from a computer and also cloud backups. It does not currently provide access to local files.

Recently, Google has added access to Google Drive files in the cloud from the Files app, but if you have a large number of files in Drive the app will slow to a crawl or freeze up entirely when attempting to display files from the cloud. So my advice is to restrict the use of the Files app for access to local files.

If you are successful in accessing Drive files from the Files app, another issue is that the last folder from which you accessed files will be the folder displayed when you open the Files app the next time. If this was a Drive folder, the Files app will slow to a crawl as it tries to display files from Drive.

In fact, in some cases, again depending on the size of your Google Drive, the Files App can be rendered unusable. But there is a fix if this happens, using the following two steps.

Clearing Metadata

Just enter chrome://drive-internals/ into your browser and press Enter. Then on the drive-internals page scroll down to the Local Metadata section and select clear local data. Don’t worry, this will not remove any local files, just the metadata.

Resetting the Default folder for Apps

Once complete, you have one more step.  Open Gmail (or really any app that allows browsing to a file), compose a new message and click the attachment button. This will open the Files app. Click on the downloads folder and select any file. Once back in Gmail you can discard the message.

To prevent any future problems, if you need to browse to a local file, use the Files app, but if a file in the cloud is needed, use Drive.

If an application does not provide a button for Drive access, you can always download the file from the Drive app first, and then browse to the download folder using the Files app. Some apps even allow you to drop a file instead of browsing. In that case, simply open Drive and drag and drop the file desired into the application.

Hope this helps, and thanks for reading.  J

Did you find this post useful? If so, let me know by leaving a comment below, or join me on Twitter

3 thoughts on “ChromeOS – Google Drive vs Files, what is the difference?

  1. Hey, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues.

    When I look at your website in Firefox, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer,
    it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!
    Other then that, terrific blog!

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