Thursday, March 19, 2009

Google Apps

When someone hears the word ‘Google’, the usual response would be to think of the popular search engine, or, maybe, the familiar online webmail, Gmail.  However, in recent years, Google Inc has truly evolved and offers an array of online Applications (Google Apps), most of them available to use for free on the Internet. 


In January 1996, two Ph.D students at Stanford University, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, started Google as their part of their research project.  Originally the search engine used the Stanford University domain (  The domain name was registered in September 1997.  At the time, their offices were a mere space in a friend’s garage in Menlo Park, California – a far cry from their multi-million Googleplex headquarters in Santa Clara County.  Apart from the hugely successful Google search engine, the company now encompasses dozens of applications (of which Blogger, which hosts this very blog, and Picasa, about which I wrote in January). 

It is not possible for me in this article to go into detail about all the available Google Apps; however I will give a quick overview of the two most popular Apps: Gmail and Google Docs. I will cover other popular Google Apps in due course. 

Gmail and Chat

This is, of course, where it all begins – creating a Gmail account will automatically open the doors to a myriad of other applications available on Google.  If you haven’t yet set up a Gmail account, you can do so at  Gmail provides the registered user with a 7GB (and growing) of storage facility.  It also boasts a powerful SPAM filter which deters the accumulation of SPAM e-mails in your mailbox.   However, there is more to Gmail than just storing your e-mails.

For starters, e-mails are grouped together in Conversations.  The reply to a particular e-mail is automatically grouped with the original e-mail.  Subsequent replies will also be added to this Conversation Bubble.  Each new e-mail can create a new Conversation and Conversations are searchable.  Longer Conversations, with many replies, are shown in short format for ease of retrieval.  This is quite different from the usual html-style layout of other web-based e-mails or Outlook.

More than e-mail…

Google Calendar:  Gmail has its very own Google Calendar, accessible on  It allows the user to organise events and set reminders (which can be sent regularly to a Gmail account).  After the initial set-up process, any additional changes to appearance or events can be accessed to from the Calendar tab on the top-left hand side of your Gmail toolbar.  Calendars may also be shared – either made 100% public, or just to selected contacts – by clicking on the drop-down menu next to your Calendar name, on the left hand side of the screen.  A user may opt to have more than one calendar (for different areas of one’s life, if the need arises).

Lables:  A unique feature of Gmail is the ability to sort e-mails by using Labels.  Labels work rather like Tags, and allow the user to group e-mails together by subject (for example, you might have a label for Work e-mails; another label for Joke e-mails, and so on); thus making retrieval of information easier.  Labels can be created and edited by clicking on the Settings tab and then on Labels.  Accidentally deleting a label will not delete e-mails associated with that label.

Google Talk:  Gmail also has an in-built chat program  - Google Talk  - similar in concept to other IM’s such as MSN or Skype.  Although basic in both features and appearance, it allows users to interact effectively with each other, both with short texts and even with video calls.  One may choose to either Save the chat history or go Off The Record.  Chat settings – including settings for video calls – can be accessed from Settings > Chat.

Google Docs

In an ever-changing world, portability is of essence.  Google Docs allows the user to create, upload, access and edit documents from anywhere (at least, where a connection to the Internet is available).  Google Docs enable users to:

  • Create and edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations online;
  • Upload documents directly from their Inbox;
  • Easily share documents with others, without the need of sending multiple e-mails

To create a document from scratch, go to (remember, Gmail registration is required first!) The user friendly interface will allow you to create your desired document in no time – simply click on New, choose the type of document required, and start away!  If, on the other hand, you already have a typed document that you want to share, simply click on the Upload button and upload the document in much the same way as you would add an attachment in an e-mail.

Amongst the obvious advantages of working with Google Docs – mainly the portability and the possibility to create online backups of your work – are the ability to bring people together and collaborate on an online project.  Multiple persons can work on an online document simultaneously – and tracks can be kept of who edits what, and when.  I have included this short video from The Common Craft Show, which illustrates the most salient uses of Google Docs “In Plain English”…

For more information about Google Apps, visit:

More information about other Google Apps will be uploaded shortly on this very blog.  Stay tuned J

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