5 Favourite Google Tools

Google has a swagload of tools now. Here are my fave five. 

Gmail 

Gmail was one of Google’s earliest (if not the first?) move away from pure web searching. In the computer world, I tend to use product that is the best (which is why I use a Mac), but this can mean that I sometimes use things only because they suck less than the competitors, not because they are good in and of themselves. (Such as the Mac OSX Finder – much worse in many respects than OS 9’s – but still miles ahead of Windows or Linux file and window managements programs. Even if Mac OSX plunges into unheard depths of crapitude, I couldn’t even start to consider switching until the makers of those systems realise that a global menu that changes according to context is a vastly better idea than redundant menus in every single freaking window).Not only does Gmail suck the least, it is good. Huge space, huge attachments, fast loading, fast searching, great spam catching, lack of irritating ads. The recent adding of chat to the email window is excellent as well (although I believe it still doesn’t work in Safari). The grouping of conversations is brilliant, you can show or hide the individual emails in your conversation at will, and the Labels give you some sort of order to your email should you not simply want to do a Google search on your own emails to find something.

Calendar 

Google’s calendar has replaced iCal as my appointment-making-thing. It can import and read iCal format calendars, is incredibly smart when you add an event (e.g. “Quiz at the pub next Tuesday 7pm” will put it in the right place – you don’t need to laboriously change little boxes for date, day, time, am/pm, length, status etc etc.). It will alert you via email, pop up, or text message (only if you live in the US for the last), does all the public and private, shared and single calendar things you might want, and can send you an agenda every day. iCal can subscribe to your Google calendar, so whenever you open iCal on the Mac, it will connect to the Net and update your iCal with all the appointments you added in Google Calendar

Personalised search 

This tracks your searches (only those searches that you want tracked, in case your “research” tends towards the “artistic”), and based on your past searches it will attempt to give you more relevant search results. Although most of one’s searches will tend to be completely unrelated (fastest bird in the world at one moment, Windows error messages the next: “Reserved error” – useful information there, thanks, Windows.), over time it does start building up a picture. Places that you’ve visited turn up in your results along with the number of times you’ve been there, and for the analysts amongst us, you can see how many searches you’ve done and when (in a blatant misreading of what the graphs show, apparently I search  mostly on Wednesdays in June at 9am…). The tracking includes normal web pages, images, news and headlines. Searching within your past searches is very useful when you come across a problem or query you had in the past, but can’t remember where you went to solve the problem, and saves you from starting your whole search again from scratch. 

Personalised start page 

Yes, I know the idea of a portal is dead and buried – but it died because all the other so-called portals were garish advertisements with a tiny areas for your content. (Can’t remember whether it was Yahoo or not, but I remember one portal/search site where I truthfully could not find where to type my search. At all. I had to leave. That’s crap).Google personalised home page allows you add modules for the things you want, and doesn’t have any ads. You can make it as cluttered or as minimalist as you desire. I have my Gmail, Google Reader, and Google Calendar as the main items, and a few other bits and pieces, such as Word of the Day, Apple’s share price, Links, and so on, which I change as the mood strikes me. Love it.

Sketchup 

This free 3D/CAD/drawing/visualisation package is bursting with potential. Have  a quick look at the tutorial included within it, and you’ll be creating holey buildings and abstract lumps almost instantly. Play around with it a bit more, and you can design anything you care to think of, put textures onto your creations so they look like the real thing, and upload building or places to their actual location in Google maps so others can view your prowess. Floor plans, and building based on those floor plans are obviously its main area of strength, and  it could therefore be very useful to those who are interested in certain game genres

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