Recently in FAQ / Howto Category

This is another in an occasional series of "howto" instructional documents.

To use Google Docs, go to If you already have a Gmail or Google Docs account, log in with that username and password. Otherwise, create an account by following the instructions in this howto doccument.

The first time you log in, there will be a "Getting Started" box with an arrow pointing to the Upload button. This button is, naturally enough, what you use to upload files. Next to it is the "Create New" menu; we'll get to that in a moment, but first let's talk about uploading.

When you click the Upload button, you'll be taken to a separate page which tells you how much storage you are currently using, and gives you upload options. Let's look at these:

  • The Files to upload box shows what files you have currently selected to upload. When you first see open the page, it will say "No files selected"; click the "Select files to upload" link to open a file browser box that lets you choose files from anywhere on your computer or network drives. Navigate to the file you want and click Open to add it to the list of files to upload. You may then click the "Select more files" link if you want to upload more files now.

  • Below this box are conversion options. Regardless of whether you want to cooperatively edit files online, or merely store them for others to view or download, you probably want to leave the checkmark in the box labeled "Convert documents, presentations, and spreadsheets to the corresponding Google Docs formats". Word processing documents, spreadsheets, powerpoint presentations, and similar documents will be converted into Google Docs formats. This makes them take less storage space, and allows you to edit them online (and optionally allow others to do so.) Images and other file types like PDF documents are unaffected.

  • The other conversion option should probably be left unchecked. However, if you upload an image or PDF document and want Google to attempt to convert it into editable text, check this box. This is a new feature of Google Docs and is not foolproof.

  • Below the legal notice about the Terms of Service, you have two important menus and the upload button. Before clicking "Start upload", make sure you understand the settings in the menus.

  • The first menu is labeled "Destination folder". If you don't choose anything here, the document will be uploaded into your main folder, but you may also choose to put it into any folder you have created, or any folder that others have shared with you. If you are sharing documents (see below), you will probably have a folder in which you want to upload the document into.

  • The second and more important menu lets you choose the document's visibility setting. By default, it says "Private", and this is where you will want to leave it most of the time. It is important to note that private documents can still be shared if you specifically designate people to be able to view or edit them, or if you put them in a shared folder. Your other options are "Public on the Web" which makes the document available to anyone and findable in searches, and "Available to anyone who has the link" which means the document won't be found in searches, but the link to it can be used by anyone to whom you give it (and to anyone those people share it with, and so forth) without requiring a Google Docs account. I strongly recommend leaving documents private unless you have a specific reason the whole world should be able to see them.

  • Finally, you have the Start Upload button, which uploads the documents you've selected and converts them according to the options you've chosen. While this is happening, you'll see a progress indicator, and when all files are done you can either click "Upload more files" to, obviously, upload more documents. If you don't want to upload more documents, just click the "Back to Google Docs" link near the top of the page to return to the main page.

You can share individual documents by clicking on them and then using the Share menu on the details page, but if you have many files to share it is easier to create a shared folder and then simply put documents into it. Here's how to do that:

  • First, you need to create the folder. Remember that "Create New" menu I mentioned a bit ago? Click it, and choose Folder. This will pop up a window asking you to name the folder; name it something that will make sense to everyone who will be sharing the folder, and click OK.
  • The folder will now appear under "My Folders" in the sidebar. Its name should also be showing in the colored header bar to the right of the Upload button; that means you have it open as the current folder. If it is not open (for example, the header bar it might say "All Items" instead) then click on its name in the sidebar.

  • Once you have the folder open, find the Share menu just below the header bar. In an empty folder like this one, it will only have one item, with greyed-out text saying "Use the checkboxes to select one or more items, or share this folder". That last part should be a link; click it to bring up the sharing settings window. Note that if you share a document individually, the sharing settings window will be the same, so you can follow the same instructions in that case.
  • The Sharing settings window lists the visibility setting of the folder (the settings are the same as when you upload documents) and anyone who can currently access it in any way. Currently, the folder should be set private, and the only name in the list should be your own. Next to your name, the text "Is Owner" designates that you won this folder and have full rights to it.
  • Below this list is a text box labeled "Add people:" when you click in it, more options will appear, but before you do that, take note of the text below the box. On a newly created folder, it should say "Editors will be allowed to add people and change the permissions" and there will be a Change link next to it. This is very important: if you leave the settings this way, you need to trust everyone to whom you give editing rights, because they will be able to give rights to additional people or even set the folder to be publicly viewable. If you do trust everybody, you can leave this setting alone, otherwise click the "Change" link and choose the other option. This one says "Only the owner can change the permissions" and explains what this means, I highly recommend choosing this more restrictive option if you plan to share any sensitive data in this folder. Whichever you decide, click the Save button to return to the main Sharing settings window.
  • Now, click the Add people box. It will transform into two separate text boxes and some other controls will appear as well. If you have a Gmail account, you can use the "Choose from contacts" link to find people who are already in your Gmail contacts list. Otherwise, you can type the email address of another person who uses Google Docs; however it will only work if you use the exact address they used when creating their account. You can type more than one address if you separate them with commas.
  • Next to that, you will see the permissions menu, which by default says "Can Edit". If you don't want these people to edit items in this folder, choose the other option, "Can view". The larger textbox just below lets you type in a message to be sent to these people along with the automatic notification that this folder has been shared with them.
  • With the first checkbox below the personal message box, you can choose whether to send a copy of the notification to yourself so you see what it looks like; this isn't really necessary but you can check the box if you wish. The other checkbox is checked by default, and indicates that you want to send the notifications via email; if you uncheck it, the people will only see the notification when they log in to Google Docs. Unless you know they log in regularly, you should leave this box checked.
  • Below the Save and cancel buttons, the editor setting is displayed again, and you have another chance to change it as described above. If it is the way you want it, click Save. The names of the people you added should now be visible in the sharing list, along with the permissions they have; you can change the permission setting by clicking on it, or completely remove their sharing rights by clicking the X.

  • When you are done adding people, click the close button. They should now be able to see this folder in their list of "Folders shared with me" in their sidebar, and click it to see all the documents in it.

Once you've shared a folder, you can simply upload documents into it, or drag them from the All Documents list onto the folder name in the sidebar. Now here's something that will seem weird if you don;t already use Gmail: documents can be in more than one folder. If you share one folder with a certain group of people, and another folder with a different group, you can share a document with both groups by dragging it to both folders. Whether you're looking at All Documents or the contents of a folder, each document will show the names of the folders it is in; if you want to remove it from a folder, just drag it to the All Documents item in the sidebar (though this only works if you have editing rights on the document.)

Now, you might be thinking "but what about viewing and downloading documents? All this uploading, sharing, and foldering is pretty useless otherwise." Fair enough; luckily this is easy. Whenever you see the name of a document, you can just click it to get to its details page. This will show you a preview if one is available, and give you links to download the document or open it. Note that some documents, such as video files, cannot be previewed or opened in Google Docs, but can be downloaded.

Anyway, this was just the basic introduction. Like most Google services, there's a Help link next to the sign our link in the upper right; explore that for lots more about Google Docs!

Creating a Google Docs account

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This is part of an occasional series of instructional posts on various topics.

If you want to use Google Docs but don't already have a Gmail or Google Docs account, you'll need to click the "Create an account now" link below the login box, which will take you to the account creation form. There, you need to enter the following:

  1. Your current email address. This does not need to be a gmail address, but must be a real address where you can get a confirmation email. Your address is OK to use here. Note that this entire address will be the login name for your Google Docs account.

  2. A password. For security reasons, you should NEVER use your WOU password on a non-WOU server. Please create a password that you can remember; it must be at least eight characters long and ideally should include at least one number and punctuation mark. It is OK to write down this password as long as you keep it in a safe place, such as with your credit cards.

  3. Re-enter the password to confirm that there weren't any typos the first time.

  4. If you are likely to use publicly accessible or shared computers to log in to Google Docs, uncheck the "Stay signed in" checkbox. Otherwise, it is OK to leave it checked so you won't have to log in as often.

  5. Uncheck the "Enable Web History" button, unless you are comfortable with Google tracking and remembering searches that you make even when you are not logged in. Click the "Learn More" link for more information about this.

  6. Choose your location from the dropdown menu; if you are in the US, the menu will probably already be set to "United States".

  7. Enter your birth date. Make sure to use a four-digit year.

  8. Type in the verification word. This is necessary to show that you are a person and not some computer program trying to automatically create an account for some sneaky purpose. Unfortunately, their verification words are rather hard to read, because Google is attacked often by hackers and they have to be very sure you are indeed a human. Sometimes the letters are extremely narrow and squashed between two others, but luckily it doesn't matter whether you type them in capitals or lowercase. If you have trouble with the visual verification, turn on your speakers and click the handicapped icon. After a few moments, you will hear three beeps followed by a slowly spoken series of numbers with a computer-generated random muttering in the background. Sometimes you will hear non-number syllables like "oway", "no", or "yow" in the foreground; ignore those and pay attention to the numbers alone. You will hear the words "once again" and the code will be repeated.

  9. If you are so inclined, read the Terms of Service. A more readable version may be found at "". Here are some important points:

    • You agree to do nothing illegal, nor attempt to hack or otherwise mess up any of Google's services.

    • You agree that Google can change the features of their service without notice.

    • You agree that Google isn't legally responsible for what you do with your account, and that you can't blame Google if you see anything objectionable.

    • You agree that Google does not guarantee that their service will be available 100% of the time

    • Google agrees that you retain any intellectual property rights to content you upload.

    • You agree that Google has a license to display your uploaded content as part of its services, i.e. if you share content with anyone, Google is legally allowed to show it to them. This is the infamous "Section 11.1" which looks very scary when read by someone not versed in legal technicalities; you can find more information at "". The key point is that the license granted in Section 11.1 is limited by the Google Docs Privacy policy which states that your information is only shared with people whom you designate. Click here for an independent opinion. Further information can be found by doing a web search for "Google Docs Terms of Service Section 11.1" without the quotes.

  10. Assuming you are satisfied with the terms of service, click the button below them that tells Google that you agree and want your account created. You may need to retry once or twice to get the verification text right.

Once you are done with the form, you will get a confirmation email at the address you gave in step one. The subject line will be "Google Email Verification" and it will be sent from "", so make sure your spam filters are set to allow the message through. You should save this message, because you may need it again if you forget your account name or password. Consider saving it as a file in your home directory, so you have a backup in case the email is accidentally deleted.

Click the verification link near the top of the email. You'll be taken to a page that confirms that your account is now active and gives you several options and informational links. It is not necessary to link your account to a gmail address or a mobile phone, but you can do so if you want to. However, instructions for those actions are beyond the purpose of this document.

The "Click here to continue" link will take you to Google Docs itself, which I will cover in another document.

I'm always fascinated to learn how things work, especially stuff we completely take for granted, like for instance how electricity gets from a power plant to your house. So in the hopes that there are others like me out there, I'm going to describe the inner workings of something most of us take for granted: the World-Wide Web.

FAQ: Group Blogs

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What is a group blog?

A group blog is just like a regular blog except more than one person can make entries. Group blogs can be used by professors for classes, by student organizations for publicity, by a group of friends for fun, or any other non-commercial purpose.

FAQ: Blog Server Upgrade

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Hello, everybody--

This week's I'll talk about the new features available since the upgrade of our blog server earlier in the week.

What's the blog server?

Um, right, I guess not everybody knows that. The blog server is a system where anybody at WOU can keep a blog; if you aren't familiar with the idea of blogging, please take a look at the FAQ at If you've never used the blog server before, you probably want to take a look at the original blog server FAQs; part one is at, and contains a link to part 2. Both have been updated for the new blog server version.

FAQ: new WOUPortal!

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Hello, everybody--

This week we're announcing the beta version of the WOUPortal! It's available for use by anyone in the WOU community.

What's the WOUPortal?

It is a web portal, which is a customizable page designed to make many web resources available in one place. The home pages of and are good examples of portals; they include lots of information, links and resources, and if you log in, you can customize them to show what you want, and hide what you don't want. The WOU Portal is available to anyone with a WOU email address, and just like other portals is customizable so you can see the links and information you find most useful. The goal is to make so many useful features available here that you'll want to use it as your browser's start page.

FAQ: P2P and the RIAA

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Hello, everyone--

Since last week's FAQ on peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing, we've gotten some new information. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is beginning a crackdown on illegal file sharing at universities, and we'd like to pass that warning along to you, as well as tell you about an alternative source of free and legal music for students.

Who is the RIAA, anyway?

The Recording Industry Association of America is a group that includes all of the major music recording companies, representing well over a thousand recording labels. In recent years they have strongly focused on preventing illegal distribution of music, and one result of this is lawsuits against people found to be illegally sharing copyrighted music through peer-to-peer software. You can see their website at Note that a similar organization, the Motion Picture Association of America, fills the same role for the movie industry, and has been suing people who illegally share movies.

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