flotsam/jetsam


Leading the Google Driven Life; A List by jimmycanuck
October 23, 2006, 6:06 pm
Filed under: links, lists

I’ve recently read a post over at LifeHacker that’s inspired me. It’s a list of the top 10 open source applications. A very cool idea, and it got me to thinking – what other great free programs and services do I use on a regular basis that I can let everybody know about?

As it turns out, an awful lot. Over the next few days I’ll be making a number of posts listing the best free everything on the web. I wasn’t too sure where to start, and Google seemed as good a place as any.

Obviously you know Google. Chances are it’s been your search engine of choice for years. But do you know about all of the awesome things they offer besides searching the web?

1. GmailGoogle’s answer to Hotmail. It’s web based email with a twist – everything you’ve every received is taggable and searchable! Believe me, once you get used to just archiving everything you read and doing a keyword search to find it again later, you’ll never see mail the same way again. Plus when you have it open, it integrates it’s own miniversion of their next great product right into your browser…

2. Google TalkGoogle’s answer to instant messaging. Up until now, like most Canadians, I’ve sworn by Live Messenger (better known as MSN Messenger to those of you that don’t update.) But now I’m slowly but surely moving over to Google Talk. Not only does it seems less obstructive visually (that commonplace sleek minimalist google design is present here as with everything they touch), but Google Talk can tell me when I have new gmail and even make gmail my default mail program! Up until now I’ve had to use third-party programs to get that sort of functionality, but thank to GoogleTalk I don’t have all of those extras cluttering up my system tray. Oh – and did I mention that you can leave people voicemail with it too?

3. BloggerGoogle’s answer to web-hosted blogging. Blogger has everything a novice blogger might want and more. The only things it was lacking which lead to me choosing wordpress.com over it – tagging, point’n’click customization, etc.. – seem to be getting their kinks worked out in the new Blogger Beta. Plus, it’s the only web-based blogging service I know of that will let you get down and dirty and fiddle with your blog’s code to get things looking exactly how you want.

4. Google Web AcceleratorGoogle’s answer to your nano-second-like impatience. When it first debuted, Web Accelerator got a bad wrap. There was a lot of talk of flaws in the system that could expose the innermost secrets of your surfing history – credit card numbers, etc – and as a result, a lot of people wisely steered clear of it. Well, those early days ended pretty quickly, and Web Accelerator has been a solid and stable addition to my desktop for ages. A great way to shave a few seconds off of every page load – and it even keeps track of how much time you’ve saved! Before I switched over to my laptop, I was well over 30 days saved. Really adds up, doesn’t it?

5. Google MapsGoogle’s answer to MapQuest. Not only does Google Maps offer the same basic functionality as every other web-based map program out there (find locations, directions, etc..), it’ll even act as your yellow pages. Want to go out for pizza tonight? Just pop open Google Maps, go to your area (which you can set as a default), and enter “pizza.” You’ll see every place in the area, all with tooltips to give you address, phone number, and a website link if applicable. How we lived before Google Maps, I’ll never know. Plus — there are thousands and thousands of cool user-created hacks involving Google Maps. Everything from finding cheap gas to getting bus schedule information. It’s everything the internet is supposed to be about.

6. Google Docs & Spreadsheets Google’s answer to Microsoft Office. Have you ever been working on a paper or been organizing a budget and wished you had access to it somewhere else? How about a document or a spreadsheet you were working on with others, and you want somewhere central to store it where everyone can work on it? Yep – Google’s got you covered.

7. PicasaGoogle’s answer to amateur photography. Picasa is a strange little program – it does a lot of things, but at the same time it doesn’t do a lot. This may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but really, it is. When it comes to dealing with photos online, I think the “Keep-It-Simple-Stupid” school of thought really rings true for most people. Picasa offers some basic photo editing, basic organization, and basic web albums for sharing online. It’s definitely geared at the entry-level camera owner, but it’s slick presentation and and simple organization of photos offers something that even advanced photo junkies can appreciate.

8. Google DesktopGoogle’s answer to widgets. For one little program, Google Desktop offers an awful lot. So much so that it can be a little overwhelming at first. The reason for this is simple – Google has tried to roll two very different programs into one, and for the most part, it works. First and foremost, Desktop is a search engine for your PC. It automatically searches and stores every nook and cranny of your computer, so when you’re looking for that one file, or just wondering if you’ve ever written down that recipe for Raisin Bread (one loaf of bread, one box of raisins, one hammer) – the information will be at your fingertips. In addition, Google Desktop is also trying to steal some thunder from Konfabulator, aka the widget people. A widget is basically a teeny tiny mini application that does one thing, does it on your desktop, and does it well. Want a laundry timer on your desktop? Done. Want a clock? A weather update? A to do list? Done. Widgets make all of life’s little things more visible, and now Google’s tackled them. With all of that being said, I have Desktop installed for one reason alone – when I double-click CTRL, it brings up a google search bar that’ll search my pc and the web simultaneously. You just can’t beat that level of convenience.

9. Google ReaderGoogle’s answer to newsreaders. Hands down, the best web-based newsreader out there. Not only can you both tag and share your incoming feeds and articles, but Google Reader gives you a snazzy little summary of everything that’s new for you right on the main page. Plus, it comes with it’s own little audio player built in for listening to podcasts.

10. Google GroupsGoogle’s answer to 1992. Remember newsgroups? Places where people got together with like minded interests to chat it up? Places with names like “alt.goats.sex”? Well, they never actually went away, and Google’s made taking advantage of them super easy. I actually went back to newsgroups earlier this year when trying to track down some info on building a home arcade. Nowhere else in the world could I have gotten the quality expert advice I got from rec.games.video.arcade.collecting. On top of newsgroups, Google Groups also offers services similar to those offered by MSN Groups, so if you’re looking for somewhere to find like minded folks to talk about whatever with, this is a good place to start.

Conclusion – There are so many great Google programs that I didn’t have room to list all of them here. Expect a Part 2 to follow one of these days. In the meantime, this should be a good list to get some of you out there exploring the world…as brought to you by Google. 😉

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