8 free apps that pump up Google Drive

Google Drive can do much more than you realize. Ready to unlock its productivity potential?

Drive, baby, Drive

Drive, baby, Drive

Google Drive may seem like a simple storage service, but don't be fooled: With the right set of add-ons, it can serve as a powerful hub for cloud-based productivity.

Google has quietly been allowing third-party apps to connect with Drive for a while now. The apps add various features to the Drive interface, ranging from advanced file management tools to utilities that let you edit things beyond basic documents and spreadsheets.

We sifted through mountains of options to find the most useful ones available.

(Note that Google's sharable links for Drive apps all appear as add-ons for Chrome -- but once an app is installed, it'll connect directly to your Drive account and work in the cloud from any browser. If you want to install any of these apps without involving Chrome, click the gear icon in the upper-right corner of the Drive website, select Settings, followed by Manage Apps, then click "Connect more apps" and search for the titles there.)

CloudConvert

CloudConvert

Dealing with messy file conversions can make you want to smack yourself silly, especially on a cloud-based service. That's where CloudConvert comes into play. The free app connects to your Google Drive account and makes it dead-simple to do all sorts of on-the-fly conversions.

The list of supported file types includes numerous document formats along with audio, video, and e-book files. You could go from PDF to DOCX, MOBI to PDF, or AVI to MP4. You could extract Zip or RAR files right into your Drive storage and even merge multiple documents and images into a single PDF.

Once the app is installed, all you do is right-click on any file and select "Open with > CloudConvert" to begin. You'll also see an "Open with" option at the top of the Drive interface anytime you're viewing a compatible file.

Wappwolf Automator for Google Drive

Wappwolf Automator for Google Drive

Don't let its weird name scare you: Wappwolf Automator for Google Drive is one of the most powerful apps around for dealing with files (and maybe also wolves) in the cloud.

Wappwolf is kind of like an IFTTT for Drive: It allows you to set up recipes for advanced automation based on files being added to specific folders. You could create a Dropbox folder, for instance, and tell Wappwolf to upload any files placed in that folder to a matching folder in your Dropbox account.

Wappwolf also works with Amazon Cloud Drive, Basecamp, Box, Evernote, Facebook, Skydrive, and an array of other services. In addition to cloud-to-cloud syncing, it can automate a variety of Drive-contained actions, such as converting files, removing EXIF info from images, and stamping logos onto images.

The app allows up to 10 automations to be configured for free, with up to 10 files a day being processed. If you want to increase that allotment, you can opt to pay for a higher-level plan (starting at $8 per month).

Pixlr Editor

Pixlr Editor

Google Drive has its own apps for editing documents and spreadsheets, but what happens when you need to tweak an image in your cloud-based storage?

If you don't have access to a traditional PC editing suite, the cloud-dwelling Pixlr Editor can get the job done. Pixlr integrates with Drive and allows you to open any image files via the aforementioned "Open with" menu. It then gives you a Photoshop-like editing interface for doing both basic and more advanced manipulations.

When you're done, you can save your file directly back into Google Drive -- no downloads or complicated transfers required.

DocHub

DocHub

Another type of file Drive can't edit on its own is the PDF, but fear not: DocHub has the prescription you need.

DocHub lets you mark up, manipulate, and annotate PDFs directly from your Drive account. You can insert text, drawings, and images; add highlighting and comments; and even add signatures or initials to an existing PDF document. DocHub also has a drag-and-drop interface for reordering, adding, and deleting pages along with a one-click tool for merging multiple documents into a single file.

Once your editing work is complete, you can resave the PDF to your Drive account, download it as a PDF or DOC file, or email it to someone else right from the app.

HelloFax

HelloFax

The fax machine is an absurdly antiquated type of technology; no one's gonna argue about that. Despite admirable efforts to kill it off, though, the damn thing won't die. What's a fax-despiser to do?

The answer is easier than you might think: Connect the HelloFax app to your Google Drive account and say adios to ambiguous error codes forever. HelloFax won't get rid of faxes altogether, but it'll at least let you send the physical machine packing.

HelloFax makes it possible to fax anything from your Drive storage to any number -- U.S. or international -- without ever leaving your browser window. All you do is right-click on a file and tell Drive to open it with HelloFax, then type in the recipient's number and any other pertinent info. HelloFax takes care of the rest; the app will even store a copy of all sent faxes in a dedicated folder within your Drive account.

The service includes up to five faxes per month for free. You can get more monthly faxes along with extra features like the ability to receive faxes (which can be emailed to you or uploaded directly into Drive) at a dedicated phone number for $10 per month and up.

Drive Notepad

Drive Notepad

Word processors are great for traditional document editing, but sometimes, you need something simpler.

Enter Drive Notepad, a plain-text editor that works right from Drive. Install the app, then click the big red New button and navigate down to More to find the link.

Drive Notepad is designed to function with any type of plain-text file but is enhanced specifically for coding work, with numbered lines and automatic syntax highlighting for a variety of scripting and programming languages.

Let the games begin!

Gantter for Drive

Gantter for Drive

For business-level scheduling where Google Calendar isn't enough, Gantter for Drive may be exactly the tool you need. Gantter is a full-fledged enterprise project-scheduling app that integrates seamlessly with Drive -- kind of like a free version of Microsoft Project for the cloud.

The app is compatible with Microsoft's software, too, so you can import existing schedules without issue. With an autosave option combined with Drive's own sharing functionality, collaborating with colleagues couldn't be easier.

Lucidpress Layout and Design

Lucidpress Layout and Design

Let's face it: We don't all have graphic artists or design departments at our disposal. If you need to make a nice-looking newsletter, flyer, poster, or brochure -- whether for print or for digital use -- Lucidpress Layout and Design has the tools you need to do a reasonable-looking job on your own.

Lucidpress provides a wide assortment of ready-to-use templates for all sorts of purposes and makes it simple for anyone with basic mousing skills to move elements around and drop in custom content. Plus, the app's Drive integration means you can open files directly from your Drive storage and continue to save your work in the cloud as you go.

Lucidpress has a free basic plan that should be fine for most casual users. The app also offers subscriptions starting at $8 per month for those who need more advanced features.