Google Photos desktop backups are changing soon – here's how

A laptop showing the new Google Drive desktop app
(Image credit: Future)

Google has announced that it's rolling out a new way for Google Photos fans to back up their photos from desktop computers – and it'll become the only way to automatically sync desktop snaps to the cloud service from October 1.

Right now, anyone looking to automatically backup photos from their computer uses Google's 'Backup and Sync' desktop app, which is available for both Windows and Mac. But Google is now moving away from the app in favor of a new 'Drive for desktop' app, which will act as a unified client for both consumers and business users.

The current 'Backup and Sync' app arrived back in 2017, but in a new blog post Google has said that "in the coming weeks, Backup and Sync users will begin to see prompts asking them to transition to Drive for desktop, which we recommend doing by September 2021."

In the "coming weeks", Google says that 'Backup and Sync' users "will see an in-product notification notifying them they’ll need to transition to continue syncing their files". In other words, this is a mandatory change if you want to continue automatically backing up your desktop photos (and other files) to Google's cloud services.

While the change might be a slight pain in the short-term, it should help streamline a system that's pretty confusing for users of both Google Photos and Google Drive. The two cloud storage solutions no longer handle photos jointly – since September 2019, images uploaded to Drive have no longer been automatically backed up to Google Photos (and vice versa).

Despite this, the current 'Backup and Sync' app confusingly doesn't let you backup photos and videos directly to Google Photos, only via Drive. But Google says the new 'Drive for desktop' app will include this option for Google Photos users, along with some other new treats including a Dark mode.

The new app is effectively an upgrade and renaming of 'Drive File Stream', a separate backup app for business users. Google says that 'Drive for desktop' will "bring together the best and most useful features from Drive File Stream and Backup and Sync", making it a one-stop shop for both consumers and business users.

A laptop screen showing the new 'Drive for desktop' app

Th new 'Drive for desktop' app and its option to either sync to Drive or backup to directly Google Photos. (Image credit: Future)

How will it work?

Google's streamlining of its desktop syncing clients into one app is mainly borne out of a desire to help its business users, rather than offer any major benefit for personal Google Photos and Drive users.

After all, Google did once have a single Drive app, which was then split into 'Drive File Stream' and 'Backup and Sync' in 2017. This apparently hasn't make things any simpler for business users, though, with Google saying that many people have ended up using both applications, creating even more confusion.

The upshot is that all Google Drive and Photos users will have until the end of September to move to the new 'Drive for desktop' syncing app. While that sounds like a dramatic change, Google says that "your files are not affected" and this is effectively just an update to the way you access and sync them.

So how do you go about making the switch? Right now, there isn't yet a way for consumer Google Photos users to pro-actively make the change – instead, Google says it will start the transition from July 19, with 'Backup and Sync' users given notifications and instructions on how to move over to 'Drive for desktop'.

It's definitely something to add to your reminders, though, as from October 1st, you'll no longer be able to sign into 'Backup and Sync'. To continue automatically backing up desktop photos and files to Google Photos and Drive, you'll need to move over to 'Drive for desktop'. Sigh, thanks Google.

Mark Wilson
Senior news editor

Mark is TechRadar's Senior news editor. Having worked in tech journalism for a ludicrous 17 years, Mark is now attempting to break the world record for the number of camera bags hoarded by one person. He was previously Cameras Editor at both TechRadar and Trusted Reviews, Acting editor on, as well as Features editor and Reviews editor on Stuff magazine. As a freelancer, he's contributed to titles including The Sunday Times, FourFourTwo and Arena. And in a former life, he also won The Daily Telegraph's Young Sportswriter of the Year. But that was before he discovered the strange joys of getting up at 4am for a photo shoot in London's Square Mile.