New Chrome extension Application Launcher for Drive lets Google Drive open files in local applications.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

November 6, 2014

3 Min Read

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Google Drive has become more difficult to distinguish from local file storage, thanks to the introduction of a Chrome extension called Application Launcher for Drive.

As Google Drive product manager Rachel Barton explains in a blog post, browsers and installed applications have some barriers between them. And that's by design: Browsers began as a distinct environment, a way to separate Web software and local computing resources.

"To change that, today we're launching a new extension for Chrome that lets you open files from Google Drive directly into a compatible application installed on your computer," said Barton. "This includes apps like advanced image and video editing software, accounting and tax programs, or 3D animation and design tools."

In other words, you can open images stored in Drive using Adobe Photoshop CS5, because it still works fine and you can't stand the thought of paying a subscription fee for access to Adobe's Creative Cloud apps.

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Application Launcher for Drive doesn't break down the browser barrier as much as bridge it. It provides the same ability to launch a local application from a browser link that iTunes and other apps that respond to custom URL schemes offer. With Application Launcher for Drive, clicking on a file listed in Google Drive allows the user to choose "Open with" from a menu to open the file with the appropriate application on the user's computer.

Unremarkable as this might sound, it nonetheless makes the Google Drive significantly more appealing than before. It makes files in Google Drive behave as if they were stored in a local folder on the user's device; it obviates the need to download files from the cloud so they exist locally before opening them with a local application.  

Taking advantage of this new functionality requires some double-checking, however. Installing the extension from the Chrome App Store is easy enough, but users also need to make sure they are running the latest version of the Google Drive app for OS X or Windows (version 1.18+) and that they have switched over to the revised Google Drive interface introduced in June. Finally, the file being opened must have been synced through the local Google Drive folder.

Unfortunately, the plumbing to support the extension might not be all there yet. Google says the updated functionality in Drive will be rolled out over the next few days. Presently, there appear to be some issues. When testing the extension with a .psd file created in Photoshop CS5, the "Open with" options provided by right-clicking the file in Google Drive included several local image editing apps -- Sketch, Pixelmator, Fireworks CS5, Preview, and ColorSync Utility -- but not Photoshop CS5, the default app for the file. 

Google Drive for Android also received an update last week, one that brings Android 5.0's Material Design look to the mobile app. The revised app also includes better search, an improved PDF viewer, and the ability to add a custom message when sharing a file.

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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