Fix Google Docs Annoyances With Free Software

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Google Docs is changing the way we work forever. It's perhaps the most popular cloud service in use today and is getting better every week.

Google's pipe dream is that, one day, we'll all use be using Chrome OS instead of Windows, and that will be when Google Docs really proves its mettle. However, until then we need to access it through a Web browser, which can make life annoying.

The top two irritations for me are:

1. Accidentally closing browser tabs: Here's how it happens. I have several tabs open in my browser, one of which is a document I'm editing in Google Docs. Being a clumsy chap, I go to close a tab I no longer need and accidentally close the Google Docs tab. Argh! No data is lost because Google Docs automatically saves every few seconds, but it's irritating having to reopen Google Docs.

2. Uploading documents: Google forces all file uploads and downloads to happen through its organizer interface, usually after a lot of irritating clicking to find the correct options. Multiple file uploads are impossible.

Luckily, there are two superb applications, both free-of-charge and nag-free, that can address these issues.

Once set up, GMDesk lets you run Google Docs in a separate program window. (Click image for full view.)
1. GMDesk

This is a simple application that lets you run Google Docs in a separate application window, outside of your browser. It's like running Google Docs as an application installed on your computer, although your data is still stored in the cloud.

Before installing GMDesk, you'll need to download Adobe Air. Yes, I know nobody wants another nagging Adobe product on their system, but it's worth it. Once it's installed, visit the GMDesk developer's Website and grab the latest version (v1.01 at the time of writing). It'll have an .air extension, and it'll install via Adobe Air when you double-click it after download.

Setting up the application is simple. Just double-click the desktop icon and before logging in, click GMDesk, then Preferences in the small application menu at the top of the program window. In the dialog that appears, click the radio button alongside Google Docs under the Select Startup Service heading.

If you use Google Apps for Business, enter the domain name under the Select Google Services heading and click the radio button alongside Google Apps. For example, I use Google Apps for Business to provide e-mail for, so I entered this address in the box (without the http:// or www prefixes).

Click the Save button to close the dialog box and then login as usual when prompted (be sure to put a check alongside Stay Signed In). From then on, just double-clicking the GMDesk icon will start Google Docs in its own program window. You might choose to rename the GMDesk icon to Google Docs too, to complete the effect.

GMDesk isn't just for Google Docs. You can switch between Google Docs and other Google products, such as Gmail and Picasa, using the Google Applications menu.

2. Cyberduck

Cyberduck allows access to your Google Docs file storage area. (Click image for full view.)
Once a Mac-only open source application, the v4 release of Cyberduck is now available for Windows too. The application started out as a simple File Transfer Protocol (FTP) program, which most people use to upload files to Websites, but has since grown to be a general-purpose upload and download tool that can connect to a variety of services--including Google Docs' file storage area.

Download the public beta of version 4 and install. To set it up for Google Docs, you'll need to create a bookmark. Click the Bookmark menu, then New Bookmark and, in the dialog box that appears, select Google Docs from the dropdown list headed FTP (File Transfer Protocol).

Then, in the Google Account Email field, type your Gmail address. If you use a Google Apps for Business account, enter your domain email address instead (i.e., Don't change the contents of the Server field! Finally, close the dialog box by clicking the "X" at the top right corner--there's no need to save the data because this is done automatically.

Then click your new entry in the Bookmarks menu. A login box will prompt you for your password, and ensuring the Save Password box is checked will mean you won't get prompted in future.

You should then see a list of your Google Docs files, the same as usually appears in the Google Docs organizer. To download any files, just select them in the interface and click and drag them to the desktop. You can drag and drop multiple files in the usual way using Ctrl and Shift to select files. (Note: on my system I didn't see an outline of the file icons as I dragged them to the desktop, but releasing the button started the download. I presume this is a bug that will be fixed soon.)

To upload files, click the Upload button on the toolbar and select them in the dialog box that appears. Again, you can use Ctrl and Shift to select multiple files. Note that, unless you have a Google Apps for Business Premier account, you'll only be able to upload office documents. The type of files you can upload are listed here. Attempting to upload any other kind of file will show an error message when the upload commences.

Keir Thomas has been writing about computing since the last century, and more recently has written several best-selling books. You can learn more about him at and his Twitter feed is @keirthomas.

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