Posts tagged google

Google Will Bring The Internet To You!

In June ’09 Google posted a letter in support of the FCC’s forthcoming National Broadband Plan that starts with,

Open, ubiquitous broadband connectivity holds the promise to catapult America to the next level of competitiveness, productivity, education, health, and security — but how do we get there from here?

The letter goes on to make a number of recommendations most of which are centered around ways to increase the installation of fiber optic networks nationwide.

Last week Google announced their intention to put their money where their mouth is launch an fiber optic broadband networks in various locations to “experiment with new ways to help make Internet access better and faster for everyone.”  Google wants to deliver gigabit connection speeds to between 50 and 500 thousand people at “a competitive price.”

The big G’s plan is to spend a couple billion dollars experimenting with techniques to efficiently roll out the networks and get the most out of the networks by enabling new technologies then share those findings to help the rollout nationally.

No doubt Google plans on making money through this endeavor and the idea of Google controlling another major aspect of the internet experience is scary, but they have remained pretty un-evil thus far and there are reasons to believe them on this one.  Google benefits from every additional internet user in the world so by working to rollout high-speed connectivity to more users they are creating a larger market for their services (this follows their strategy of giving away base services for free and making money elsewhere).

I’d expect there to be a gISP, but even if that’s not a major element of the strategy a national 5Mbps network (as called for in the letter) would deliver current and yet to be developed applications at blazing speeds to a lot more people.  Google has been a vocal advocate of net neutrality and has emphasized that any networks they own will be operated with open access policies.

The rollout of fiber optic networks nationally is a big deal.  The United States lags behind Europe and Asia in broadband speeds and many people argue that it hurts our economy in many ways.  Delivering that kind of bandwidth means a whole new set of applications and services that can be developed and brought to users in the home (including IP based TV and advanced mobile wireless broadband networks).  In theory, this should all encourage competition and drive down prices while delivering additional value to the users.

Google’s active involvement in increasing broadband rollout is great, but the really interesting stuff will come to light when the FCC brings the National Broadband Plan to Congress on March 17th.  How will the government jump start this rollout?  I don’t know, but I sure hope I get fiber optic access in my area soon!

For now, Google is looking for interested communities (and unless your community doesn’t care about the internet, you should be interested).

Until there is more news you can check out the Google Blog and the LA Times.

Google Docs Lets You Share Any File For Free

Back in October ’09 the Google Docs team announced shared folders which was a much needed addition to the gDocs featureset.  Now the team has announced the ability to upload any file type you please, essentially making Google Docs into an online file sharing repository.

Users can upload up to 1GB of data and make the files available for viewing and download to anyone they want.  Additional storage is $.25 / GB / Year.

There are many ways out there to share files with friends and coworkers (including creating a Google Site or manually uploading to your FTP site), but being integrated directly with Google Docs makes the process much cleaner, simpler and safer.  Users can leverage their existing accounts to take advantage of the sharing and security features that come with Google Docs.

This isn’t a mind blowing feature, but the next time you need to distribute a file that is to big to e-mail you should think of Google Docs.  It’ll save you a ton of time.

via [Google Docs Blog]

Google Voice Now On the iPhone with HTML5

I’ve talked about using Google Voice in your daily life before, but Tuesday Google quietly released a new version web based version based on HTML5.

I’ve already been using a gVoice program for my Palm Pre (gDial if you were wondering…and yes it’s updated with this release), but iPhone users were stuck in limbo without an app that Apple would approve.  So, the Big G has basically gone around Apple’s app store and created a web based version that iPhone 3.0 users can take advantage of (accessible at m.google.com/voice).

Users get the ability to make calls from their gVoice number at Google’s rates as well as text message for free.

If you haven’t tried Google Voice yet you need to find someone with an invite for  you and get on it.

The really interesting subtext to this is Google avoiding the Apple app store and the power of HTML5.  If Google can put together as robust a web app as this then there are going to be a lot of people that will opt for HTML5 rather than jumping through Apple’s hoops.  HTML5 provides excellent power and is OS agnostic so developers won’t need to develop for Android, WebOS and iPhone.  They’ll be able to work in HTML5 and deliver their product to multiple platforms much more easily.

via [Google Voice Blog]

Keep Personal Errands and Work Projects on Track With the Right Tool

Everyday people have tasks they need to complete.  Be it at work, at home or somewhere in between there are chores, tasks, issues, assignments, to-do’s, … on and on.  There are basically as many ways to track and organize all of these from the always classic Franklin-Covey planner to a well organized spreadsheet to enterprise level project management platforms (and yes, in the end, I believe all of these serve the same purpose).  Most of them have individual pros and cons and it’s up to the user to choose the right one.

Today we’ll talk about solutions for different applications ranging from managing daily errands to project management for medium to large-ish projects.  There is a lot out there, but we’ll focus on the ones I’ve had the best experiences with while trying to keep my life and projects organized over the last decade.

A quick talk about my organizational philosophy…  For a tracking system to work, first and foremost, it has to fit with what you are trying to accomplish.  A 1,000 line project plan and gantt chart aren’t necessary to get your grocery shopping done and your dry cleaning picked up, but a checklist isn’t going to get you through a a significant development project either.  Next most important is that the tools fit the process.  A person without a smartphone is probably not a prime candidate for an online task list and you can’t use MS Project with anything agile project management.  In the end, I like a solution that is just barely powerful enough to support what you need.  This usually helps keep things streamlined and prevents the tool from becoming a crutch (this is obviously a fine line, but is something to always watch out for).

So, without further ado…

The Spreadsheet

The simple spreadsheet is a category unto itself…  The beauty of the spreadsheet is that it can be as simple or complicated as you need/want.  When you think about it, all the other tools you might use are really just pretty front-ends on some really complicated spreadsheets (I may have just oversimplified the concept of a database, but I’m going with it).

For most people just writing down the things they need to get done for the day, a party, or even a research project is an extreme improvement in productivity.  Create a spreadsheet with columns for a task name, task description, priority and due date and you’ve got a powerful little method for keeping track of your tasks.   For example, input the list of chores for the day and rank them as 1s, 2s, or 3s (don’t agonize over it, you can change it later) and set the due date for all the tasks to today.  Now you can use the sort function of your spreadsheet app (I recommend Google Documents) to sort everything into a prioritized list of tasks.  Review your tasks, rework your numbers, sort again and keep crossing things off the list until it’s all done.

Maybe you need something a bit more complicated to keep track of tasks at work?  Add  ‘last action’, comments, and ‘assigned to’ columns and now you’re ready to track yourself and other across a broader range of tasks.  If you want to get fancy learn a little bit about conditional formatting to highlight what is late, who is assigned to what or what is the highest priority.  In no time you have a quick, reasonably powerful, and well organized document you can use for yourself or share with others to keep you and/or your team on track.

I’ve gone as far as using spreadsheets to run small projects with great success.  The point is, the spreadsheet is the most flexible of the options because, small or large, it is what you make it.

Personal Use, Get your errands done or your party planned

RemembertheMilk.com is basically a project management platform for your life.  It offers organizable lists with due dates and priorities in a simple web interface with a great deal of integration and power behind the scenes.  You can setup different lists to group tasks, prioritize the tasks within that group then schedule all manner of updates to be sent to you through e-mail, sms, etc.  There are iPhone and Android apps (where are my WebOS apps!) as well as a number of ways to integrate RTM into your life.  It’s an excellent platform for people serious about using an application to stay organized.  Jump into the the RTM Tour and signup for an account (it takes about 15 seconds) or hope over to Lifehacker’s extensive rundown of the features.

A far less powerful, but still very useful tool is Google Tasks.  Integrated into gMail it offers a simple way to create and manage lists.  For now it’s about as simple as can be and due dates don’t show up on your gCal, but it’s Google and you can expect gTasks to grow like any other Google product.  If you want a quick and simple task list accessible on almost any platform, Google Tasks is a great option.



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Small to Medium Project, Getting things done with other people

Redmine is my personal favorite for a project where I get to choose the tracking platform.  It’s open source, easy to setup and offers the flexibility necessary to work on many different types of projects.  It’s simple to keep multiple projects going on the same installation of Redmine while limiting access across projects to only those people that need it.  In particular I like the ways that Redmine manages tasks across users and projects in summary views while also allowing for very granular resource and activity tracking.  Checkout Redmines site and demo to get a feel for the application.

Redmine is not a hosted solution and requires installation on a web host.  Anyone that has ever FTP’d a file to a webhost can get this setup in about 10 minutes and any SysAdmin worth his salt should be able to do it in 5 (if yours can’t then I suggest you find a new one).  This done mean there is a little bit of effort upfront to setup the site, but it also means no monthly fees (beyond your hosting) and unlimited accounts.

For a hosted solution ProjectOffice.net offers an excellent feature set at a reasonable per user price.  I always prefer to host my own apps, but not everyone can do that.  Project Office is clean and simple without a lot of overhead or clutter.  In addition to the basic project management features there are some gantt charting abilities and Blackberry integration too.

Conclusion

Both in your personal life and in business the key to the right tool is to choose one that fits what you’re trying to accomplish.  There are literally hundreds of solutions out there and I’ve tried A LOT of them.  I’ve touched on my favorites here, but what works for me might not work for you (heck, what works for me on one project might not work for me on the next) so it’s up to you to try things out and tweak them until they do what you need (which is why I love spreadsheets so much).  The key is that you try different solutions and continuously improve on your methods as you gain experience.

No matter what the venue or goal following the basic best practices of writing things down, assigning tasks and setting due dates will always lead the charge.  Start there and add-on accordingly until you’ve found the limit of what you need to track to be effective.  Follow that method and, at the least, you’ll always end up with an efficient system for your needs.

Heat Index – 4 Technologies to Watch in 2010

It’s 2010 and there is a lot to look forward in the world of technology.  With CES kicking off tomorrow there is an overwhelming amount of new products, applications, services, and general news.

To help you focus on what is important Tech to Live By is highlighting 4 technologies to keep an eye on and what to expect in 2010.

4G – Heat Index: Luke Warm

4G wireless is supposed to bring us gigabit wireless internet…someday.  Realistically it’ll be much slower than that, but your wireless connection will be at least as fast if not faster then your current cable connections at home (definitely faster than DSL, probably not as fast as fiber).

WiMax and LTE are the leading technologies in the next generation of wireless broadband connectivity.  Clearwire and Sprint are leading the WiMAX charge.  Verizon is the major LTE player in the US.

WiMAX started rolling out test markets a couple years ago and have fully launched a handful of markets in the US.  LTE is barely getting started and Verizon is just getting underway with their test markets.

Look for both of these technologies to search for traction in 2010.  Sprint is expected to announce WiMAX capable devices at CES and Clearwire intends to rollout 70+ markets.  Verizon knows it’s behind and will be making a strong push into 2011 to get it’s infrastructure into place.

The Lowdown: One or both of these technologies are the future of wireless broadband in the US (CDMA and GMS co-exist, these 4G equivalents may as well).  2010 will probably not decide a winner, but there will be huge advancements in both this year.

3D – Heat Index: Hot like a good Jacuzzi

3D technology has existed since the 1800′s (back to stereoscopic photographs), but only recently has it made its way out of the blue and red glasses that gave us all headaches as kids.  New recording and projection technologies combined with special glasses have raised 3D to a new level.  Each week more movies are released to theaters in various types of 3D and viewers are flocking to see them.

There are different types of 3D each with it’s own pros and cons and it remains to be seen if one will win out over the others.  All 3D technology relies on technology designed to deliver slightly different images to each eye thus resulting in the brain interpreting this input as a single image with depth .  If you want more details check here.

There are multiple keys to the growth of 3D:

  • In the Theater – The technology isn’t ‘experimental’ anymore.  I mean, have you seen Avatar?  Movie makers are using 3D and there are 0ver 3,000 screens in the US. According to Wired Magazine Cameron was at the forefront of pushing 3D tech and waited to make his movie until all the pieces were in place.
  • In the Home – High refresh rate TVs and the recently announced Blu-ray 3D standard (including the PS3) give content creators and home viewers the opportunity to watch 3D in the home with minimal effort (think popping in a DVD + putting on sunglasses).  Expect 3D capable TVs from numerous manufacturers at priced lower than the original plasma screens.
  • In the Home – DirecTV and ESPN have both announced plans to broadcast in 3D.  In fact, both have announced the launch of dedicated 3D channels in 2010.

The Lowdown: With in-theater 3D leading the charge, in-home 3D is following fast.  In 2010 expect to see a boom in 3D movies and the beginning of consumer level adoption of 3D technology (and if you’re going to be one of the lucky bunch to have 3D in your house by this summer… CALL ME, I want to watch the World Cup in 3D!).  This will be the year the masses are introduced to 3D.

[Editors Note: I'm floored over how amazing IMAX 3D really is and you should definitely check it out.]



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Geo Location – Heat Index: Hot Like a Nuclear Reactor on Overload

Geo-Location and Location Based Services have been available as commercial applications for decades.  The growth of PNDs in the last 5-10 years has been huge, but it is the adoption of GPS in cell phones and the improvements of cellular triangulation that will put geo-level consumer enabled applications over the top.

We all know everyone carries a cellphone now and it’s only natural that rather than a separate device, like a PND, we would look for our lifeline cellphone to fill that void.  The adoption of GPS combined with increased battery lifes, bigger screens, smaller processes and most importantly better mobile broadband (3G and someday 4G) are making geo-location based information readily shareable and accessible to the mass market.

We’re already seeing the growth of applications like Loopt and Latitude step into the market while others like Foursquare are gaining momentum rapidly.  Twitter has even gotten in on the game by announcing new geolocation features and the acquisition of Mixer Labs’ Geo API.

The Lowdown: The growth of advanced handsets (smartphones, etc) combined with the availablity of application interfaces from major players like Google and Twitter will result in a much better user experience and, in turn, significantly increased availability of user generated geo-location data.  Expect at least one friend in 2010 to try and get you to do a geo-location based scavenger hunt.

Google – Heat Index: Hotter than the center of the sun.

I know Google doesn’t count as a ‘technology’, but you name a technology arena and they probably have a piece of it.

On the wireless side, Google has put the fear of Goog in many of the major players.  In particular Google’s expansion into 2 different operating systems (Chrome and Android) and launch of numerous pieces of hardware (most notably the Nexus One and Droid) have put the Big G in a position to take control of it’s users experiences almost from end to end.  Taking full advantage of increased bandwidth and the growth of advanced handsets Google will deliver more data to the user in an integrated platform (almost all of Google’s apps play nice together) in an almost unprecedented way.

In the web world Google is still the dominant force.  Search and advertising have both expanded effectively to mobile devices and Google’s consumer apps (gmail, gtalk, gdocs, etc) are growing rapidly (thanks in no small part to the launch of the operating systems and hardware).

Sister site inTELEMATICStoday.com covers why in 2010 your navigation system might finally be brought to you by Google.

The Lowdown: If you use the internet (wireless or otherwise) in 2010 you wont be able to avoid Google.  No question about it Google is in a position (by owning hardware and software backed by DEEEEEP pockets) to not only challenge Apple, but also define a new generation of technology (like the iPod did).  Watch for Google’s apps like Navigation and the Google Apps Suite to take off while ads continue to pay the bills.

Tech to Live By’s Favorite Sites

If you like technology and/or cool stuff in general then you’ll want to add some of these sites to your regular reading list:

Engadget.com + Gizmodo.com – Listed in the same bullet because they are almost the same site.  Top notch content from around the technology world.

Lifehacker.com – Part of the Gizmodo family and focused on tips and tricks to make life easier.  Like TechtoLiveBy but not as focused on technology.

PreCentral.net – The leading site for info about Palm and the WebOS

AndroidandMe.com – The most useful resource for information about the latest and greatest around the Android OS.

WiredMag.com – Because everybody interested in technology with a splash of pop-culture should read Wired.

Joystiq.com – For the gamer in you.

inTELEMATICStoday.com – Focused on automotive telematics (internet in the car – for lack of a more simple explanation) this site may not be for the general consumer, but it has tons of great information about the automotive electronics industry (and I can’t ignore my sister site!).

What are your favorite tech sites to read?

6 Very Cool Uses for Google Spreadsheets

google-spreadsheets-formIn case you don’t know, Google Spreadsheets  is basically an online version of Microsoft’s Excel.  It’s got most of the basic functionality and a few of the advanced features with the added benefit of being hosted online and accessible to/editable by multiple users at the same time. If you need super hardcore analysis features, Excel is still your best option (though I’ve been known to start a document online then export to Excel at the end for the one feature I needed).

I’ve used Google Spreadsheets for everything from making to do lists and managing projects to collecting information from friends.  Today I’m going to talk about a handful of features that can be used in fairly powerful ways (some of these features are things you could also do with Excel and some are not) to make you and your business more efficient.

List View

List view is a very simple, clean and fast way to interact with a spreadsheet.  It keeps the formatting of the spreadsheet and functions more as a static page with filters and basic add, edit and delete functionality.  This makes for a nice way to present a table to end users while the administrator of the spreadsheet can use the standard view for easier/quicker updating and changes.

You can read a bit more about this feature here.

Use Live Google Search Results in your Spreadsheet

The GoogleLookup function has got to be one of the most under discussed but potentially powerful features in all of the Google arsenal. Using a simple 2 argument function call in a cell will return data from a Google search.  For example, let’s say you need to get the distance from the Sun of all the planets into a spreadsheet.  You could quickly search this information and type it into a spreadsheet OR you could use the GoogleLookup Function. All you would need to do is type the planet names into columnA and in columnB type ‘=googlelookup(“A1″,”distance from sun”)’.  Bada-bing Bada-boom you’ve got your data.  For anyone that uses spreadsheets a lot or had to do lots of data lookup there are an almost infinite number of uses for this feature.  It is worth noting that you can use the function GoogleFinance in basically the same way to get live stock prices into your spreadsheet quickly.

I’ve only recently stumbled across this feature, but you can sure bet I’ll be looking out for a good ways to put it to use.

For now, you can read more about these functions here and here.

Surveys and Forms

If you’ve ever needed to collect data from a group of people be it administering a survey or collecting t-shirt orders for your kickball team then these features are for you!  Using a Google Spreadsheet as the back-end you can create a custom form with custom fields including drop-downs, radio buttons, calendar pop-ups, and more.  All you have to do is share the form with anyone you need answers from (or just make it public for the whole world) and sit back.  You can even go as far as requiring login and having the users information automatically captured (along with date and time).  All of the data will show-up nicely in your spreadsheet ready to be analyzed, downloaded, edited, etc

You can read a bit more about this feature here.

What can you do with all this newly collected information?  More on that coming up!



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Visualizations

The Google Visualizations API allows developers to create gadgets and visualizations using Google Spreadsheets as the data source. Basically Google has made it easy for people to create ways to display data.  There are obvious options like gantt charts and pie charts but there are also much cooler options like the geographic heatmap and the piles of money.  The visualizations are basically Google Gadgets and can be embedded in your spreadsheet or directly in a web page or Google Site.

Google already has a substantial library of visualizations, but you can also create your own.

I’m thinking that when combined with the GoogleLookup Function and embedded somewhere useful the visualization API could be used to create some powerful and meaningful dashboard and tracking widgets.

Embed Spreadsheets and Charts Almost Anywhere

Pretty much all of the Google Apps provide you with code to embed that app (or some piece of it’s functionality) almost anywhere you can post HTML.  This is useful when you want to create a form (as described above) because you can use the same form on a website as in an e-mail.   Calendars can be created under your account but embedded in your blog.  Of particular interest is the ability to embed a spreadsheet (including list view) anywhere you might need it allowing you to create a simple to manage and update (and potentially dynamically updated) table or chart that you can place anywhere.

Like I said, all the Google Apps have ways you can embed elements in your website or blog, but for more thoughts on ways you can use this feature check out this list of 20 ideas for embedding a Google Spreadsheet.

Create a Simple Store!

Seriously… Through a combination of Google Checkout, the Google Checkout Store Gadget and the Google Spreadsheets API you can create a simple online store that supports all the basics including inventory updates, product sizes, and, most importantly, secure credit card transactions.

You can read about the specifics of the implementation here, but the fact is that now anyone with a basic website can sell through their site.  This lowers the barrier to entry for a ‘mom and pop’ online retailer to the point of having something up and running in under an hour.  I’m sure there are other simple solutions for setting up a store, but I’ve never seen one that requires as little effort, but still provides as useful a feature set.

I hold this as one of the best examples of Google’s ability to combine seemingly simple features to create something that is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

Well folks, that’s all I got for today.  6 features that range from super basic to setting up an online store, but are all backed by Google Spreadsheets.

If you have any examples of how you’re using these or other features please post them in the comments.  I’m very interested in how other people are putting Google Apps to work.

4 Ways Google Voice Can Help You

Google VoiceGoogle Voice’s tagline is “One number to rule them all! err The way phones are supposed to work err Teach Your Phone New Tricks – Voicemail like email, call routing, voicemail transcription, and more” and that’s only the beginning!

If you don’t know what Google Voice does this will get you up to speed and if you’re not sure it’s for you this will help you decide.

When I first signed up for Google Voice I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d use it, but now that it’s been a while I want to share 4 ways I’m using Google Voice that could help you immediately.

The Use Everyone Should Use … Google VoiceMAIL

“I HATE VOICEMAIL!”

If you hate voicemail and you probably do…Sign up for Google Voicemail NOW! As a feature of Google Voice you can forward your regular cell phone calls to Google Voicemail instead of your carrier’s voicemail service.  Very quickly you’ll get transcriptions of your voicemails, control over what callers hear what message, and much more.  My single favorite feature is that each voicemail is emailed to you both with a transcription and an audio file.  I’ve always hated dialing into check voicemail and with Google Voicemail I’ll never have to do that again (though you do have that option for those times where you don’t have internet access).

This one is a no-brainer folks.  It’s better then your current voicemail, Go Get It!

Most Obvious Use

“I need a second line for work.”

I’ve always wanted to have a second cellular line for a business number but could never justify the extra cost.  Now I’m using my Google Voice number as my business line and my regular number as my personal line.  It’s great! I can manage what voicemail message people here depending on what line they dialed (no more customers hearing unprofessional outgoing messages) and I know when I need to answer a call professionally (vs. answering as the National Porn Archive and the like).

Most Comforting Use

“I lost my phone and I don’t have a landline to check messages with!”

Recently I lost my phone and I don’t have a landline.  It’s a terrible feeling in particular because I was expecting some calls.  I have a Skype account, but that only handles my outgoing calling issues (I don’t use Skype for incoming, though that is another option).  So, using Google Voicemail I was able to get e-mailed transcriptions of my incoming voicemails and call people back more efficiently then if I had to use Skype to constantly check voicemails.  I’ve always been a fan of this feature, but didn’t expect it to be so helpful when my phone was never to be seen again.

Trickiest Use

“My apartment building has a call box at the door but my roommates and I don’t have a landline… Can Google Voice help us?!”

Yessir it can!  As always when there are roomates someone will have to take charge.

  • Signup for a GV account
  • Setup each roommates phone in the account (pick a night when everyone is home to make all the coordination of confirmation codes easier).
  • Have your landlord setup the call box to call your new GV # (consider adding *82 as a prefix to make sure the call box caller ID shows up).  It’s very important that the call box caller ID be displayed.

Voila! If this is all you use GV for and you want all the roommates phones to ring when someone is at the door… then you are done!

If you want to customize who gets called when, then you’re in luck.  Part of GV’s feature set is the ability to manipulate which phones ring based on the incoming number and the time.  For example, I work from home so my phone is set to always ring when the call box is dialed, but since my roommate works a 10-4 9-5 I set his phone to only ring in the evenings on weekdays.

When we moved in we thought we’d need to get a landline (blech!) or have only one phone attached to the account (lame!), but Google Voice gave us the solution we needed.

Conclusion

I hope I’ve demonstrated a few of the ways that Google Voice might benefit you quickly and without any real change to the way you currently use your phone and e-mail.  If you’ve got your own uses for GV I’d love to hear them.

Google Calendar Makes Following Your Favorite Teams Easy

sports_calendars

Earlier this month Google Calendars introduced a new and improved version of a feature they had mysteriously pulled a while back.  “Interesting Calendars” is a subscribe-to-calendar type feature that makes adding common calendars/schedules to your own calendar simple and clean.  Not only can you add the birthdays of your contacts with just a few clicks, but you can also add the entire schedules of your favorite sports teams (and I’m not talking just the 4 US majors).  Over the course of the season you’ll have every game listed in your calendar and during the game it’ll be updated with scores and results in real-time.

It wouldn’t occur to most people to check their calendar to get a score, but when you think about it, it’s actually super convenient.

via [the official gmail blog]

Google Apps = Awesome

GoogleAppsHey Everybody! [Pause for Simpsons Fans]

Today’s topic, and a personal favorite is Google Apps.  In case you’re unaware, Google Apps is a suite of applications that enable users to collaborate through e-mail, calendars, documents and customized sites.  Businesses small and large can use a combination of Google Apps and Microsoft Office to keep themselves organized and productive.

Most people are familiar with gmail and google docs, etc, but Google Apps Standard Edition allows you to setup these and other applications on your own customized domain (e.g. docs.yourdomain.com).  This allows for companies, teams, organizations, etc to create their own set of hosted apps and intranet to keep everyone organized and facilitate communication.

I’ll get into more details of Google Sites in another post, but for now you can see some examples from Google here.  The sites are simple to setup, easy to customize and support integration with numerous widgets that extend the functionality and crossover to other companies (like Salesforce.com).  I’ve used Google Apps as both a company’s intranet as well as a customer facing dashboard and CMS.

Anyway, enough on what it is and on to why you should care…

  1. Google Apps is well known and easy to use.  New employees and customers will probably already be familiar with the applications and how to use them.  And in many cases they can integrate multiple Google accounts.
  2. All the basics are there from document creation, to chatting and collaboration to Exchange-like features (available in the Premier Edition, more on that later) to excellent mobile access.
  3. It’s freakin’ Google! They are constantly rolling out improvements, better cross platform integration, mobile access, etc and it’s all backed by one of the world’s biggest internet leaders.  Generally the upgrades you see public versions of gMail, Google Docs, and gCal are the same you see in your Google Apps setup.
  4. Low overhead.  No hosting on your side (!!!) and if you hire a new employee there is no need to set them up with MS Office, just create an account for them and they’ll automatically have a calendar, document repository, and web based e-mail access (plus all Gmail’s bells and whistles).
  5. Most importantly… Google Apps integrates with everything.  Whatever other decisions you make or platforms you choose in the future Google Apps API and open nature will support, integrate or export to make a transition simple.

These are just some of the reasons that you should check out Google Apps both for apps you use for personal reasons (like I do with jeffshariat.com) and for businesses.  It’s definitely not as powerful as Microsoft Office, but it IS easier to use and still provides the majority of functionality that most people need (and who needs MORE Microsoft in there lives?).

So, to recap, Google Apps = awesome.

In future installments I’ll cover Google Apps Premier Edition ($50/user/year gets you actual real live phone support), Google Sites, Google Labs, and some of the really cool features that Google has recently rolled out in response to customer feedback and need.