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Taking for granted that Google will always be there might be a huge mistake.

Image above: Remko va Dokkum / Feature image: cambodia4kidsorg

I’ve never lost any critical files myself (knock on wood). Lost a couple emails, maybe some MP3s, sure. But I’ve worked in the IT industry long enough and have had enough users whine to me about losing data to know that it’s common and it’s a major problem. The thing is, we usually only have ourselves to blame.

As Google rolls on with their Earth domination plans, many of us are becoming more and more reliant on their online services. We at Matador use Google Docs to store articles and to collaborate with other writers and editors.

We can’t rely on Google to keep our documents safe. It’s up to us.

But what would happen if Google just up and died? However unlikely that is to happen, it’s very possible. They don’t have an unblemished record. How about Gmail going down for two hours back in February? And this recent news item: “Google suffers major failure“?

If you’re a heavy Google Apps user, your eyebrows better be raised right now.

So what do I do?

We can’t rely on Google to keep our documents safe. It’s up to us. We need to get a copy of all those files onto our local hard drives and into our control. LifeHacker has some great tips in downloading Google data. I’m gonna share with you the method I used to get my Google Docs down to my computer.

It’s true you can save each file, one-by-one, but unless you have a lot of time on your hands or love monotonous work, you’ll prefer to do it all in one go. This may seem lengthy, but after the initial setup, each backup after will be a two minute job.

First off, get on the Firefox bandwagon

Firefox has some wicked and useful plugins, such as the ones we’re about to install. So, I’ll give you five minutes to download and install Firefox…..okay. Done? Let’s go.

Install the GreaseMonkey plugin

1. You can do this right at the Firefox GreaseMonkey plugin page

2. Click Add to Firefox, then Install. Restart the browser and you should now see a cute lil monkey face in the bottom right corner.

Next, install Google Doc Download (a GreaseMonkey script)

1. Visit the Google Doc Download page

2. Click the Install Now! link, then Install

3. After restarting Google Docs, you’ll notice a new option — Download Your Documents — in your Google Docs control panel:

Not done yet. We need to be able to download all the documents in one fell swoop. Keep reading…

Last, install the DownThemAll! plugin

1. Go to the DownThemAll! plugin page and click Add to Firefox, then Install.

2. Restart Firefox. That easy.

Now the cool bit

You’re now ready to back up your Google Docs. If not already, log into Google Docs.

1. Click on All Items to display all documents.

2. Near the bottom, click on Select All so that all your documents are highlighted.

3. Click that shiny new option I mentioned earlier — Download Your Documents — and choose as Microsoft Office Files.

4. A new tab will open up titled Google Docs & Spreadsheets Downloads and will list of all your documents. In Firefox, click Tools > DownThemAll! Tools > DownThemAll!

5. Choose your destination folder in the Save files in part and then click Start!

Now watch in wonder as all of your docs get downloaded into Microsoft Office files.

One last step

This is optional, but since computers are known to crash, a good idea. Now that you have all your docs on your computer, back them up to another medium such as CD, DVD, external hard drive or USB memory stick for safe keeping.

Since this is not an automatic backup process, you’ll have to make it a habit to manually do this every now and again. Obviously, the more often the better, but once is better than none.


Do you have any horror stories of losing precious documents? Or more tips on safeguarding our data?

Please share below!

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About The Author

Carlo Alcos

Carlo is the Dean of Education at MatadorU and a Managing Editor at Matador. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He lives in Nelson, British Columbia.

  • Tom Gates

    Well, we don’t really know each other that well but…I guess I officially love you. This was a ridiculously helpful & useful article. I just saved a PDF of it to my hard drive, so there’s a backup :)

    • Carlo Alcos

      Wow. Best comment ever.

  • Hal

    Word, Carlo. This is incredible.

  • Julie

    Carlo- This is so helpful! The only problem is… I have to get up the motivation to do it. Any chance you can help me out there??

    • Hal

      Takes literally 3 minutes, no motivation necessary!

      Carlo, can you make this a regular column? I’d love for you to be my guru of cool PC s**t.

    • Carlo Alcos

      My “YES You Can! 10 Steps to Self-Motivational Bliss” is in the printing press as we speak.

  • Shreya

    Fantastic article Carlo, thanks a bunch!

  • Rob

    I did as instructed Carlo; however, when opening excel files with MS Excel 2007 it says: “FILE FORMAT NOT VALID” Is there anyway around this? Thanks.

    • Carlo

      Hi Rob…that’s interesting. I have two PCs, one with 2003 and one with 2007. I tested this on both and it worked fine on both, no errors. What does the icon look like after you’ve downloaded? Does it look like a proper Office file? Maybe they got corrupted in the download? Did you try again?

      How about Word docs? Do they open OK? Just did a quite Google and found this: – give it a try, see if that’s maybe the issue?

      Also, found this one, stating Google had added support for Excel 2007:

      So, not sure what’s going on there? Lemme know how it goes!


  • Fabrizio

    Try GDocBackup

    It’s free and opensource.

    • Carlo

      Thanks Fabrizio…just reading through it, it looks a bit technical, but I’ll give it a go and see how difficult it is to use (most of us need simple tools!). But it looks like it does “real” backup duties…i.e. it synchronizes changes, so will only download files not already on the harddrive or ones that have been modified.

  • franklynp

    This is a very useful article. However, I would like to draw your attention to an alternative solution. Check out Gladinet Cloud Desktop at Its free and makes it very easy to backup google docs and spreadsheets. You can mount your google docs folders as local folders on your desktop and then move files back and forth between google and your desktop like you would with any other local folder. You can also create scheduled backups of local content to Google Docs or a Redundant Array of Cloud Storage.

    • Carlo

      Thanks for your comments. I checked that site out and also lifehacker’s page about the s/w. Looks pretty decent! And there is a lite free version. It appears to be beta right now, so the jury is still out on it, but I’ll download it and give it a try. If it does all it says it does, it would be a very handy tool. Especially if they integrate Flickr into it too.

  • Paolo

    I’ve released the first version of my php script (based on Zend Framework) to backup Google Apps data. Now it is limited to Google Documents but I think it could be interesting.


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