Google Drive's new desktop program launcher plays better with PCs and mobile apps

Now there's another way to launch files stored in Google Drive. Here's what happened when we tried it.


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After touting the power of the web for years, Google is making its web-based products interact as seamlessly as possible with mobile apps and PC programs. The company’s latest move is a new app-launching capability for images, PDFs, and even spreadsheets and Word documents.

This is the second method to launch desktop apps from Google Drive has. In 2014, the company made it possible to right-click any file on the web app version of Google Drive, select Open with, and open it directly in a compatible desktop program. Now, this same capability is part of the Google Drive Web viewer that lets you see a preview of a file without editing it.

Here’s how it works.

Before you do anything you have to install the latest version of Google Drive for Windows or Mac. You can download the utility here, or if it’s already installed it should update automatically. This utility is required because it acts as the mediator between the Drive website and your PC.

Once that’s done, jump on to Google Drive on the web and open an image. This will launch it in Drive’s Web Viewer. At the top of the screen, click Open, and you should see options to launch that file on a desktop app right at the top.

It doesn’t work perfectly, however. In my tests on Windows 10 and Chrome, the web viewer failed to identify the open source GIMP photo editor as an option for opening JPG and PNG images.

Launching Microsoft Office

Using this method to open a Word doc or an Excel sheet is a little different. Because you can edit Microsoft Office docs inside Google Drive, clicking the file won’t work. Instead, you have to right-click the file and select Preview from the right-click context menu. From that view you can select apps on your PC. In my tests, the Google Drive web viewer had no problem identifying Office files.

Why this matters: Google Drive may be competing with Microsoft Office and other productivity software, but Google (and Microsoft) has also come to realize that users just want to get things done—and not hit walls when they wander outside the ecosystem. This new program launcher offers yet another way for applications to play nicely together, and that's great news for users. 

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