Differences between Drive types in Google Workspace

Google Drive has had a few iterations and it can be difficult to tell them apart. Multiple possibilities for file storage in the cloud can create confusion for users. The goal of this article is to increase understanding each location and what they are best suited for.

If you’re new to cloud based storage, sometimes the organization can be a bit confusing. Google doesn’t help with their naming conventions. If you ever wondered what is the difference between My Drive, Shared Drives and Shared with me, you are not alone. Many users have difficulty with differentiating Shared Drives and Shared with me or with equating Team Drives and Shared Drives. In this article we will define these three sections of Google Drive, including who controls what and where you should store your files.

The picture above shows the different sections on your Google Drive page. We will focus on My Drive, Shared drives, and Shared with me.

What is “My Drive”?

Known Aliases: My Drive, Google Drive or G-Drive, my documents, personal Drive, synced desktop

Consider this your personal work folder. These files are yours to dictate the permissions on. They are still work files and if there is ever a need, an administrator can gain access. Compare it to your work desktop or a personal drive in a server. You can also back up your desktop to here with desktop sync. When that happens your desktop, documents, and downloads folders will be stored in My Drive. You can edit which folders are synced if you wish to change from the default. You can still access files from your desktop/file explorer as before, but with added features. For example, if you sync multiple desktops from multiple devices, they will all match and exist in the cloud.

Viewing Drive files through the Windows File Explorer

You can share and collaborate from this drive. However, ultimately you have permission to grant and alter who has access. If you choose to delete your account, these files are also deleted with you. As such, these files will be inaccessible to not only you but anyone who it was shared with. On a work account, the administrator usually has 30 days to recover any needed files before they are deleted permanently. If you have any shared files that should have multiple owners or be accessed by a whole department, use shared drives instead.

Example My Drive with documents and folders

Best for: Your personal work documents. Items that only need to be shared with a few select people, but that you want to retain full ownership of, your backed up desktop files.

What are “Shared drives”?

Known Aliases: Google Drive, Team Drives, Shared folders

Shared drives are owned and controlled by the company as a whole instead of an individual. Permissions are usually set by individuals who have full edit access, but ultimately that access is decided by the company and an admin account.

A library of Google shared drives

Many companies have multiple shared drives, most of which are accessible to all staff within the company. At an admin level, drives can be set with narrower permissions such as making them read only or making them only viewable to a select few staffers. Users can also make some permissions edits unless blocked by an admin. By default, users who have access to the drives will be able to edit and share files within. This often includes being able to share outside of the company.

Admins and owners of Shared Drives can manage members.

Best for: Company and department data, files and folders for collaboration, anything that has multiple owners within the company. 

What files are in “Shared with me”?

Known Aliases: Someone else’s files

Shared with me is actually very different from Shared Drives despite the similar name. When you view this section you can see files and folders that others have granted permission for you to view and/or edit. Generally, these are files or folders that you wouldn’t have had access to (i.e. not a Team drive that you are part of, or from outside your company). The owner of those files has full control and can revoke access at any point. When you share a file from your “My Drive”, it goes into the “Shared with me” section for whoever you are sharing with. Even though you don’t really get to control the items in this section, you can remove shared files or folders at will.

Right click on a file to open the options to remove from your shared with me section.

Best for: maintaining access to files shared to you from other people without having to save the link itself. Collaborative folders and files that you are not the owner of.

Navigating the three sections

Once you recognize the purpose for each section, it becomes much easier to find the files and folders you are looking for. Eventually, navigating to your most frequent folders will become second nature, but you can always create for yourself a bookmark or shortcut to get you there faster.

If you find yourself unable to locate a certain file, use the search function at the top of the page. Then, feel free to bookmark it in your browser or if you have the parent folder synced to your desktop, create a shortcut wherever is most convenient.

Permissions dictate the best place to store and locate files. It is important to take this into consideration and to review your permissions from time to time. Folders and files can be moved from one section to another, so you can always make adjustments along the way.

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