Practically anyone over the age of eight knows what Google is. My older brother calls it “Googles” and George Bush calls it “The Google”. It’s a noun and a verb in both official languages (“I googled it”/”Je l’ai googlé”). The fact is it’s very well known indeed.
When you think of Google you probably think of the Internet search engine but Google, the company, is much more than that. In fact it’s a multi-billion dollar corporation that offers much more than just a search capability. If you go to www.google.com and click on “More”, you’ll see what I mean.
If you haven’t yet, you should definitely download Google Earth, a free program which has high-resolution satellite photos of most of the planet. Many people have enjoyed finding their house, their kids school, and historic sites using this free program. If you’re interested in astronomy, there is also a sky map with constellations and deep sky objects on which you can you can zoom in.
There is also Google Maps which most people are familiar with, and there is a hybrid Earth/Maps version that overlays a map over the actual image. Google Earth is now starting to find its way into other applications that require some sort of mapping. At Nicom IT Solutions where I work, we’re looking at the possibility of combining Google Earth with transponders on boats to show real-time positioning of vessels that call on ports. If you’re a small business user, one very powerful tool you may be interested in is Google Apps, a set of business applications targeted primarily at small business.
Google Apps consists of the following facilities:
– Gmail, an email facility with mail that never expires, search tools and an integrated chat – using a new address or your existing one. It can also bring your e-mail together from multiple accounts, which many of us have today.
– Google Calendar, a sharable appointment calendar.
– Docs and Spreadsheets, for word processing and electronic spreadsheets.
– Google Talk, a talk service that uses a microphone or headset to talk to other people on the Internet.
– Start Page, which allows you to access your inbox, calendar, documents, and search facilities from one spot.
– Page Creator, for creating and publishing web pages.
The whole idea behind Google Apps is collaboration and no need to download or install software. If several people are working together on a proposal for example, they can create it and share it in real time over the Internet using any web-connected computer. You can also share your calendar with others, so people you work with know when you are available for meetings.
The Standard Edition of Google Apps is free, and provides you with 6 gigabytes of space for storing email messages. (This can hold a lot of messages, and they don’t expire.) The Premier Edition costs $50 per user per year, and provides for 25 gigabytes of email space, 24 by 7 support, and a number of other tools for integrating with existing infrastructure and making use of other services.
At $50/year for Google Apps, you certainly get a lot of functionality for a much lower price tag than other office programs. But the applications are all scaled down versions and there are some applications, like presentation software for example, that don’t exist at all. The applications are not designed for true “power users”, and are intended to include only the features used by the majority of users. Also the applications only work when you’re connected to the Internet, which is not all the time, and the web-based interface has some limitations when compared to desktop applications. Many organizations love the online data storage, but some may be reluctant to store their data online, even if it is with Google.
Some people make use of some but not all of the Google Apps functionality. Google Calendar, for example is an easy-to use sharable calendar that you can use standalone when you need to coordinate your activities with other colleagues. I use this one on occasion and I must say that I like it. For my day-to-day activities, I stay on our own corporate network with my regular office desktop software. But if you don’t have any office software, the price is right for Google Apps.
The Bottom Line: If you want to do online collaboration and not spend a lot of money, check out Google Apps.