I’ve been in the rather interesting position these last two weeks of working exclusively from my laptop whilst waiting for a new floor to be laid in my house…and job that was suppose to take 2 weeks and now looks like taking 4. Aside from missing the obvious things, such as my 22 inch LCD Monitor, working from a laptop has presented some other challenges, for example I don’t have Microsoft Office on it to write letters. I’ve had a gmail account for a long time, but I’ve never really embraced a lot of Google’s other offerings. Today, presented with a complete lack of organisation, I’ve made the switch, so I though I’d share.
Google Personal Homepage
I’ve never really found Google’s personalized homepage offering appealing before, but then again that’s when you could only use it in white or white. It now comes in different flavours, only 6 additional choices, but they make the world of difference in terms of aesthetics and usability. There’s something much more soothing about the product when it’s not all stark white with a bit of blue.
Now I don’t subscribe to the meme that Google Personalized Homepage should be used as a RSS reader substitute. It can be, and I’ve added a couple of news feeds to my main page, but you can easily incorporate a Google Reader box as well that allows you to scroll through feeds that way, or switch across. Gmail integrated nicely…sure, I’m still using gmail directly, but it’s nifty for when I first log on in the morning.
Google’s Gmail is still the king of online mail for my liking, however it does lack drag and drop mail sorting/ folder support which I believe the new Yahoo! Mail does, of course others will say that tagging does the trick. Either way it still just works and works well.
I’ve been a Bloglines user for a very, very long time, and despite all of the positive publicity for Reader I’ve held off switching, despite having tried it out on a number of occasions. The killer for me this time was the ability to include Reader on the personalized homepage. I’ve been using it a little over a day, and I think I’m just about won over. It’s not perfect (neither is Bloglines), and my biggest gripe is that the feed text doesn’t use the whole screen but wraps about half way across (stupid) but the rest of it is clean to use and mostly quick. Unlike earlier versions it also imported my OPML file from Bloglines correctly, keeping my folders/ subscriptions in place.
I’ve been using Foxmarks to sync my bookmarks across computers for quite some time, however moving to Google meant taking a look at Google Bookmarks. It’s a simple product that isn’t supported properly as yet by Google, unless of course you use the Google Toolbar (I don’t) where it’s all built in. Thankfully for Firefox users there is GMarks, a nifty plugin that allows you to backup/ transfer your existing bookmarks to Google + allows you to place a nice drop down button in Firefox itself with the Bookmarks showing. Admittedly, for the beginner it will be a little clunky, to setup Gmarks in Firefox you need to be able to customize Firefox itself, but after that it’s all clear sailing. Google Bookmarks also integrates with the Google Personalized Desktop, a very nice touch for when you’re on the go.
Google Docs & Spreadsheets
A bit like Office circa 1997, but for 98% of any documents or spreadsheets you’re going to create or read it does the trick, and for me its been more than sufficient for what I’ve needed it for. For those worried about licensing/ copyright, there’s no need to copy your original licensed Office copy onto your laptop (which I haven’t), Google does the trick. I suppose the test will be when I revert primarily back to my desktop PC…got to say I’m tempted to stay with Google, particularly given the online file storage capabilities…the advantage being that I’ll have full access to documents in the future where ever I am in the world at a given time
I still haven’t quite worked Google Notebook out, but I’m running it none the less. I’m thinking maybe Bookmarks on speed or something along those lines. It integrates nicely with Google Personalized Desktop and has a Firefox plugin as well. I’ve started making note for websites I might otherwise have bookmarked, you know the ones, you see a site and think “wow, that’s a great idea, need to keep a record of that”…I do this regularly then end up with 500 bookmarks of sites of which I have no idea why I bookmarked them the first place. I’m hopping Notebook will overcome that.
That’s as far as I’ve gotten with my Google Desktop so far, but I am looking at a few other things. Google Analytics integrates with the Personalized Desktop, its had problems in the past so I’m not currently a user but certainly I’m tossing up adding it to a few sites I want to monitor.
There are of course other Desktop Widgets you can install. I’ve included a couple of ones I think I’ll get regular use from: a currency converter, metric/ imperial converter, Wikipedia search, Weather (naturally) and Google Tranlsate. I’ve also just started using Google Calender, but only to remind me to put my footy tips in on Friday :-)
I do have one gripe about Google Personalized Desktop however, and that’s the fact that Theme support has NOT been extended to Google.com.au (and presumably to other country specific Google sites), so if I want to use my desktop, with my choice of theme, and with the Australian search option, I can’t. I can however use it without the theme, but as I wrote earlier, without theme support the aesthetics just don’t work for me. This of course isn’t going to be of concern to 99.99% of people reading this, but I needed to point it out :-)
There are other Ajax/ DHTML personalized home page offerings out there, but when it comes to an overall package Google’s Personalized Desktop has won me over. The new look along with the huge variety of widgets/ add ons/ supported services really does making it an appealing choice. Recommended.
If you’ve got any thoughts on Google Desktop, or can recommend any more Google services I should be using, leave a comment.