While Google Office does not exist in name, it does in spirit. Google is hacking away on improving many of its web based applications into fully featured products that will allow anyone on any operating system to be able to work from anywhere they have an internet connection. While several of the items that I consider to be a part of this “Google Office” have been done before by other people, but for some reason Google seems to figure out what is wrong with all the other versions out there and strip out those things while adding new and better features that people will actually use. While it is definitely true that there is nothing new under sun, when people take something already done and do it better, it is always worth our attention. Let us look at some of these Google web applications.
First things first of course. You can not have an office suite without the ability to create, edit, and print documents. Google Docs is our first start on the Google Office tour. Google bought Writely in 2006 and soon integrated it into its own system. Writely was a feature rich, web based word processing application. You could handle most word processing tasks using Writely. Google did not change much when they integrated Writely, a simple branding change as well as a theme change and you have what is now the document side of Google Docs.
Google Docs does not stop at word processing. No sir, in fact, what use is an office suite without the ability to create spreadsheets. Enter Google Spreadsheets. Accessible through the same http://docs.google.com URL, Google Spreadsheets allows users to create spreadsheets and handle most of the common spreadsheet tasks.
While Google Docs only lets users handle the basic and more commonly used features of these kinds of applications, most users will not do anything that they can not do. The average users only utilize a small percentage of the features offered by Microsoft Word and Excel. And as new web technologies emerge, Google Docs will grow and will see more features added. And with Google’s desire to stay on top of new technology, you can bet safely that such things will happen.
Everyone needs email. The ability to send messages to people around the world in just seconds is a process that has revolutionize communications over the last decade. Google Mail (or Gmail as it is called) has only been around for a little over 2 years, but it changed the idea of web mail. When Gmail was first introduced, it offered a revolutionary 1 gigabyte of storage for email. Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail quickly followed suit because they were offer a measly 10 megabytes. Google countered this rise by upping the total storage on Gmail to 2 gigabytes and then instituted a continuous increase that has it at 2.8 gigs (almost 3 gigabytes) of total space.
So with the space issue, Gmail is set apart from the other online web based email services by its spam filter. Gmail has, hands down, one of the best spam filters out there today. So you will see minimal spam in your inbox and will be able to focus on the mail that matters to you.
Since this is Google we are talking about, finding your archived mail is as simple as typing in a couple of keywords related to the mail you are searching for and boom, you mail shows up. Considering that most people have their entire lives in their email, being able to find the message you want quickly is a “must have” feature and Google Mail delivers.
The downside to Google Mail at the moment is that it is currently in Beta in the United States and the only way to get an account is to be invited by another Gmail user.
Along with email, people need calendars. Calendars help us organize what is going on in our life and gives us the ability to see it visually. Without calendars, people would be wondering around trying to remember appointments and events. So Google created a calendar, Google Calendar. With the ability to add multiple calendars and view them on one screen makes organizing your work, life, and play easier than it ever has been. Each calendar can have its own color, making it that much easier to organize and visualize what is going on in your world.
To top it off, Google Calendar and Google Mail integrate to allow you to invite guests to events from your Gmail contact list in Google Calendar or add events from Gmail to a specific Google Calendar. There are even iCal, XML, and HTML links for both the public and private sides of the calendars. These links can be used to access the calendar from several places including RSS feeds or any calendar program that supports iCal feeds. Keeping your offline calendars up to date.
There are other Google products that can help you in your day to day business life. Especially if you are an self employed individual. Things like Google Notebook, Google Talk, or even Google Browswer Sync can really help you organize, discuss, and synchronize your data. Also, if you want to keep up with what Google has in the works, be sure to check out the Google Labs for new and interesting tools from Google.
In closing, I would like to mention that while these web applications are great and very much useable, they are not all feature complete. You will find the occasional bug or missing feature that you find essential to your work. But I think that Google has a good handle on where the application world is headed and is working hard to stay ahead of the curve where ever possible. There are also other people out there doing things like Google and working to release quality products that perform similar tasks to several products mentioned here today. Things like iScrybe, Remember the Milk, and Plaxo are working on the information management side of things. While companies like Ajax13 are working on the productivity side.
Do you have a favorite web application that you are using? Tell us about it by leaving a comment.