Friday, 12 April 2013

Google apps (Part 1)

I have come to rely on Google for both searching the internet and for many of the applications that I can use online that interlink with one another.  I have moved from the Windows smart mobile devices, to Android, due to the interaction and integration with Google.  I thought I would write a small article to demonstrate the applications I use and summarise how I have come to rely on Google.

In 2011, I switched to Gmail from Hotmail.  I realised that the "techies" around me were all using various components of Google and I was missing out with Hotmail.  I switched to Hotmail, taking my Email, Calendar and Contacts with me.  This led to my decision to change from a Windows mobile to an Android handset.  The integration with Google apps was incredible for a busy and organised person, like me.

Google Contacts
One of my favorite features is the integration of contacts within Gmail and to my mobile device.  My wife synchronises her iPhone contacts with my Google Contacts, so that all of our contacts remain backed up and synchronised.  I could be in a social gathering where someone passes me their new mobile number, which will instantly be synced to Google Contacts, which will then instantly appear on my wife's mobile.  This has a knock on affect of backing up our contacts, so that if we lose or damage our mobiles, we will never lose our contacts.

Google Calendar
The same applies as the Google Contacts for Google Calendar.  We synchronise our calendars so that we know what is happening and when.  We are quite busy, especially with children's parties and social gatherings at the weekends.  If we did not have a shared diary, we would double book ourselves.  As one of us books an appointment, the others mobile will almost be instantly updated, which saves many arguments of who booked the first appointment.

In addition, I have several calendars available to me.  I have added my parents calendar to see what they are up to and have shared mine with them.  My parents live in New Zealand, so it is often difficult to find a time to chat on the telephone, so having visibility of our where abouts is useful. 

I have added a second calendar for my work appointments.  This means I can create and synchronise my work life and see it next to my personal life.  It also means that my wife and parents do not need to see this calendar, but it will synchronise with both my mobile and my tablet, both of which are Android, of course!
Google Calendar has some public calendars that I use, such as International Rugby Fixtures and UK National Bank Holidays which can be set up to link into your calendar view and to synchronise with your mobile devices.

I have good intentions to write two or three articles a week, but is never easy.  Now that I have a tablet and time on my commute, I am free to draft my articles on the train.  This means I am using my time constructively, which is facilitated by the Android app for Blogger.  My tablet has a full keyboard (it is an ASUS Transformer), which means that I can type as easily as if I had a laptop.

Blogger is available on my mobile, my tablet and on the internet.  They synchronise with each other, so I can create notes on my mobile, type the draft on the tablet and then apply any finishing touches, including images on the computer.  I write two blogs and it is easy to switch between each other.

Blogger contains a mini toolkit in the online edition.  This allows you to see how many people have viewed your articles, along with various stats regarding the visit, such as location, browser type and language.  This is quite interesting - in a geeky way - to see who come to the site and which posts are the most popular.

I use iGoogle for my home page when opening the internet.  This has allowed me, for many years, to customise my home page with immediate information.  My home page contains information from Gmail, Google Calendar, BBC News, Local Weather, my Concept2 workout progress and most importantly my bookmarks.  I explain the bookmarks further down in this article.

As soon as I open my homepage, I have a wealth of immediate information.  This is a great time saver.  In addition to this, along the top of the screen if a link to all of the other Google applications that I use, so I can open my Blogger or my Google Drive with a single click.  I cannot understand why Google would decommission iGoogle and I know many people that are quite upset.  I need to find a good replacement.

Google Drive (formally docs)
I do not use Google Drive very efficiently,  I do not like the way that it converts files from one format to the Google format.  I admit I use Microsoft Office products for my work, which means the formatting is modified if I upload them to Google Drive.  This is disappointing, however, I do use Google Drive for certain files.

If I want to share a document with a blog article, I place the document into Google Drive and make it publicly available.  I have a folder that I share with two other people, which we used to pass information and files to each other.  I prefer Dropbox for file sharing with my family, but Google Drive does have it's benefits.

One file that is used on Google Drive on a regular basis is my passwords file.  This is secured and contains a list of all of our family usernames and passwords for many sites on the web.  I need to find a better place for this for additional security, but for now, Google Drive serves its purpose and allows me to access the password file from where ever I am, including offline on my mobile.

Google Bookmarks is one of the most useful features, when combined with iGoogle.  You can categorise your bookmarks to make them easier to find.  Google Chrome has a little add-on which allows you to bookmark a site, straight into Google Bookmarks and categorise it at the same time.  My six year old child can use this function and I have created a category for both of my children to use.

I am worried that once iGoogle is decommissioned, I feel that I need to find a replacement for the Google Bookmarks widget that I display on my home page.  I have seen many iGoogle Replacements, but not of which allow me to continue to use Google in the same way I do now.  I do not want to start using multiple providers to hold my data, which is why I am such a Google convert.  It is great to be able to have all of my information available to me in such an organised and efficient manner.

These are just some of the application I use, almost daily.  As you can see Google is taking a considerable step to combining my daily online presence into a single portal.  I like this and feel that it makes sence to 
combine as many functions into a single source.

I use other applications, which will be detailed in Part 2.

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