Some of the Best Things Are Free: Pt. 2 - More Google Goods

posted Dec 23, 2009, 6:46 AM by John Werner   [ updated Dec 31, 2009, 11:09 AM ]
In the first installment of this series, I talked about some of the free web based applications that have been put together by Google.  In this installment, I'll discuss some more Google products including both some Web Based ones, and some that run on your own PC.

More Google Web Goods

I'll start off with looking at some other web based services from Google.

Google Translate - http://translate.google.com
When I was working for a German based company, I occasionally received links to web pages written in German.  While I studied German in high school, and even claim to still know enough to survive on my own, reading an article entirely in German is still difficult.  Enter Google Transl
ate.

Google Translate provides the ability both to translate individual phrases or entire web pages.  Like most translation software, it is not perfect, but it is usually more than good enough to allow you to understand what was written, even if the phrasing is a bit strange.  Here is an example from one of Germany's magazines, Der Spiegel:  Original GermanTranslated into English.

Google Translate also supports the translating of documents.  The picture below shows part of one of my introductory letters translated into German.  The document was in MS Word format, that I uploaded to Google Translate.  The image at the left shows part of the translation, and you can even see the dialog balloon Google opened to show the original text.  Would I send this out to anyone? Probably not, but it does give a good start.

Google Reader - http://reader.google.com
This is one of those Google tools I use and I don't use.  Google Reader is an RSS news reader. What does that mean?  It means it takes RSS news feeds and presents them to you so you can read them. So what is an "RSS News Feed?"  Quite simply it is a way publishers of web content can let you know about there newest articles and features without having to have you load their entire web page.  I use RSS News feeds to let me know what is going on at sites I love.

One of my personal favorites in the RSS News feed from The Register.  It's IT news with a twist, and it's available here: http://www.theregister.co.uk/headlines.rss.

So why don't I use Google Reader more often? Because I have integrated a "gadget" for it into my "igoogle" page.

iGoogle - http://igoogle.com
iGoogle is simply Google's personalized home page. 
You can add almost any content to it by adding "gadgets" and changing the theme of the page.  The number of gadgets available is simply staggering.  They range from weather applications to news readers to chat clients to calendars to games to a mail reader to...  well, if you have thought about it, someone has probably written it by now.

The image shows part of my iGoogle page, which I have heavily customized.

Google Books - http://books.google.com
While not a complete library, it is amazing to see just how far Google has gotten in its quest to digitize all of the world's literature.  Even I didn't realize just how far they had gone until I was at a major US bookseller's website and found a link to preview a book i was considering buying.  The link went into Google Books.

Other Web Tools

While I have mentioned many of Google's free tools, I have by no means exhausted the list.  Google also have a whole host of tools for webmasters.  I should also mention that one of the Internet's biggest video posting services is also part of the Google empire: YouTube.

Google PC Goods
In addition to it's large portfolio of web based tools, Google has a large number of tools that run on your own personal computer.  Most of these tools are supported under Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.

Picasa - http://picasa.google.com
Picasa is one of the best photo management programs available.  Originally developed by an outside company, Picasa was purchased by Google a few years ago.

Picasa installs on your own computer and can run without an network connection. It allows you to edit and organize photos as well as creating collages and slideshows you can send to friends or blog  You can also create web photo albums that you can share.  Here's a web photo album from a trip to the Daimler Benz Museum in Stuttgart.

Best of all, Picasa is available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.

Google Earth - http://earth.google.com
Depending on your view point, Google Earth is either a "gee-wiz" application or a useful tool.  I find it a little bit of both.  In it's simplest form, Google Earth allows you to explore the world (and the night sky).  When "used in anger," it can become an incredibly powerful tool.  I have used it for everything from getting directions, to exploring an area I was going to visit, to laying out a road rally, to checking on the weather, to looking up APRS users, to finding Geocaches.

And once again, the best feature I like about it is that it runs on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.   There is also a commercial version available that offers even more features.

Google Desktop Search - http://desktop.google.com
If you are like me, you find it very easy to remember that you wrote something in a document somewhere, but you just can't seem to ever find it when you are looking for it.  That's the problem Google Desktop Search solves so very well.  Google Desktop Search puts the power of Google's search engine to work on your own computer so that you can find that document containing the recipe for butter-cream icing that you saved.

Google Talk - http://talk.google.com
Google Talk is Google's Instant Messaging client.  Although I do have a Google Talk account, the Google Talk Client is one of those tools I really haven't used much and don't use very often.  The reason?  It's only really supported under Windows.  Never the less, there are many IM clients that do support using Google Talk, so I still use my account for most of my IM'ing, even if I don't you the PC Client.

Gizmo - http://www.gizmo5.com
Gizmo is a new addition to Google's empire.  It is a VOIP (Voice Over IP) program that allows you to make computer-to-computer and computer-to-phone calls much like Skype.   I use the Gizmo client on Nokian n810 Internet Tablet to receive and make calls through my Google Voice account.  Unfortunately, since the recent aquisition, new Gizmo accounts are not being created.  Hopefully this will change soon.

While exactly what the future holds as Gizmo is being integrated into Google, there are clients available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Onwards
Wow, Google certainly has come a long way from a search engine.

In the next installment of this series, I will look at some non-Google free tools that you may find useful.  These include the cross platform OpenOffice.org, Firefox, Thunderbird, GIMP, and Pidgin.  Further down the road, I will dive into some mouth watering tools that run primarily on Linux, the world's best free OS.

Enjoy,
- John
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