Google Empire, Part 1

This will be a 2 part series taking you through the free tools that Google offers, with the hopes that it will help you make your life more productive.

Not just a search engine

You guys know what Google is right? The company / brand has become so entrenched with daily life that the term Google has managed to turn verb (hey, I googled you yesterday!) and gained itself the honor of an entry in the dictionary. But did you know that Google offers a host of other useful services that are by turn’s fun, practical and productive?

If you have a Google account, you have access to:

  • Gmail
  • Google Reader
  • Google Docs
  • Google Talk
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Google Calendar
  • iGoogle

The Google Advantage

The main advantage of these applications – much like MasterKey – is that they are online. This means you can access them anywhere, you have robust data backup, you are not restricted to one computer to find your data again, and your things are secure.

Example Workflow

Using Google’s services you get an excellent integrated service for a lot of your daily tasks. For example, while abroad you can access your email archives and directly export a number of attached documents to Google Docs.

In Google Docs you can save the document, invite other people in your Gmail contact list to edit the document, and then via Google calendar set a time to work on the document with colleagues. Send them an email with the set date from Google calendar, and wait for confirmations.

When the day arrives everyone can log into Google docs and edit the same document together and at the same time.

If you make mistakes, you can revert to older versions of the same document which are automatically saved and archived, chat with your co-editors using Google Talk and agree on changes, export the document to different formats and email it to whomever.

It’s easy, comprehensive and accessible.

Typically Google

Those words are things that are typically associated with Google. They seem to go to great lengths to make their applications easy to use. As such they are often missing a lot of the user interface glitz and glamour that you see with other applications.

Google likes to keep its interfaces simple and accessible, making sure that first and foremost they are useable, and you can get done what you need to do, which is something that you will come to appreciate.

Let’s go through each one and see what it can do.


Gmail is Google’s online email solution. Gmail’s claim to fame is its 2 gigabytes of online storage (and growing! – there is a little counter on the bottom of the page that goes up slowly).

What Google mail has to recommend it is its simplicity (you’ll hear that a lot about Google applications). Gmail features two systems to help you find and organize your mail: the archive system, and the star/ label system.


Gmail Inbox 

The archive system works on the principal that you don’t need to delete your mail, unless it is spam. Once you have read your mail, just hit the archive button and it will take the email out of your inbox.

In conjunction with the label system, this makes Gmail very powerful. Labels are basically words that you can tag an email with. So for example, you could create Important, Family, Friends, Projects, Documents etc etc labels. Tag your emails with one or more of these labels before you archive it, and you can easily retrieve them later using the Labels box.

The Star system tags emails with the ‘star’ label: how you want to use that is up to you. Emails which are very important and you always want to find easily, or emails which you need to go back to soon and read but don’t necessarily want in your inbox, whatever.

Gmail Labels

What Gmail does for you is simply and easily organize your inbox. That’s not all however.


Gmail also includes a robust filtering system, allowing you to create rules to automatically tag / move / archive emails before they are displayed in your inbox, based on whatever criteria that you want: from, to, subject and keyword,

Included with this is a constantly updated spam filter, updated in part by users – you! This means that Gmails spam filter is one of the most effective in the world.

Conversation Display

Another feature of Gmail is its conversation threading. All replies to an email are grouped together, so you can easily look back and see the thread of the conversation, who replied to who and what was said.

Gamil Conversation 


This can take some getting used to but is an incredibly useful feature that you will grow to appreciate.


Along with these great features Gmail has some fantastic integrated features.

Virus Scanning

Most important for the security conscious is the built in virus scanner, which strips executables from emails (even in archives) making sure that you can run potentially problematic and virus laden attachments.

Spell Checking

A built in spell checker lets you make sure your emails are perfect. The google spell checker includes a number of languages, so you can write your emails in your native language as well as the more common English.

PDF Display

Gmail includes PDF display online, so you can view the text contents in a window without having to open the often slow and cumbersome Adobe PDF reader (this is a really cool feature that I enjoy, I really hate the Adobe reader)

Service Integration

Naturally Gmail has fantastic integration with its other services, such as Google Talk and Google Docs. Google Talk in particular is built right into the email window, letting you chat with any of your other Gmail-using contacts, and if you want, save your conversations automatically to Gmail, so you can look over anything you discussed and retrieve any links etc.


The final wining feature of Gmail are its POP and email forwarding features. You can set up Gmail so that you can use desktop clients like Outlook to read and send email, with Gmail. This allows you to use a home or office computer to send emails, and leaves a backup copy of every email you send and receive on Gmail’s servers for when you are on the road.

Google Docs

Google docs is goggle’s online document and spreadsheet editing software. This is almost exactly as it sounds: a Microsoft word or Excel, but online.

Google Documents

While the Google offerings are not as fully featured as the equivalent desktop offerings from Microsoft, the functionally they do offer are the things we use 90% of the time. As such these Google’s online document editing tools are incredibly useful.

You can upload any current word, PDF or excel documents you have straight into Google docs and get started.

So what can you do?

All the expected tools are there: document formatting; colored text, lists and bullets, tables, text highlighting, undo and redo, inserting images and link and so on


Probably more interesting are the collaboration features. You can share your documents with other Google docs users and let them read and edit (if you enable it) your documents. Revisions to the document are automatically saved, so you can go back through a history of changes and revert to an older copy if you need to. You can even set up an RSS feed of changes to the document, so you can keep up-to-date without having to look at the document itself! (Integrates with goggle’s RSS tool, Google Reader)




The collaboration feature has been given a lot of attention, specifically for corporations and the like to ensure that people can work on a single document simultaneously: you can see who else is reading the document, who is editing it and lock sections you are working on so people don’t inadvertently change something you are updating. You can even set up a chat window on the side you can instant message everyone working on the document and organize what you are doing! (Integration with Google Talk)

Getting the document to others

Google Docs actually has a large number of options in this area. Format wise you can print pages, or save the file in RTF, Word, Open Office and PDF to you local computer if you need to. You can even save it as a zipped HTML page, allowing you to make in-document links, bookmarks and indexes.

Google docs also has an interesting Publish feature, which lets you put the document online, either in a blog or just as a regular web page, so you can share the link with whoever you want.


Lastly, Google has implemented Tags here also, letting you easily organize and retrieve your documents if you tend to have a lot (for example, tag a document company_X, proposal and unfinished, and you can easily find the document again by changing your filtering criteria: sort by company, or by proposals you’ve drafted, or by unfinished documents. Tagging is incredibly powerful)



Part two will go over the Google calendar for organizing yourself; keep track of appointments, birthdays and events, as well as coordinate with friends and colleagues for meetings, and the various Google utility tools (talk, reader and bookmarks), and the app that unites them all: iGoogle


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