As most of you know I use Google Apps to run MiramarMike.co.nz and thoroughly enjoy the freedom that I have when it comes to accessing and using my company information from wherever I am in the world (Wellington mostly) – as long as I have a good connection to the World Wide Web 🙂

A little aside before I plough on. For those that thought Google was only a search site you might find the rest of this article a tad, “Wow, I never knew that”. To find out which of the many Google products and services (above and beyond search) that may work for you visit their Prouduct Help Page (A-Z version) … and I’ve just discovered something called Google Radio Automation and Knowledge Seach that is only available in Russian, who knew!?!?

Google Apps is “cloud computing” at it’s finest (in my opinion) and there are many advantages** to running everything via a web browser such as the applications are constantly improving without me having to download a single thing. I am always* running the latest version.

This is a much faster and reactive environment than the slow, monthly security updates from Microsoft and is in another universe when it comes to PC product releases (be it Microsoft or Apple). Of course this means it can be quite a task to keep up with the updates, new features and general tinkering around that the Googlers release to us.

Having said that, you don’t actually need to keep up-to-date with all the updates – most are bug fixes, making things work slightly better than they did or making them work with other services (be they Google’s own or others out there on the Web). The big releases are the ones you want to be made aware of.

Tip: Keep a look out for the red ‘New!‘ top right on the main page of your Google App. It’s where the big stuff gets announced.

Thee rest of this post is a pointer to the big items that Google have released to Google Docs, GMail, Calendar and Sites over the past few weeks .
Oh, and because I didn’t see the need to give all my money to NZ Vodafone and haven’t bought an iPhone there is a lot of mobile features/updates that I won’t be listing – but I’m sure you know where to go to find them.

Google Docs [Create, share and collaborate on documents in real-timeofficial blog]
Biggest new thing here is the many (300+) templates you can use to start your document, spreadsheet or presentation from. With the previous update of using CSS to control the formatting of your documents this was always on the cards but I am still a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of templates to choose from, and it’s only going to grow – check them out!

Also you may not know that Google Docs now supports PDF – upload your PDF file and view or share it on-line.

Publish a Google Doc to everyone and you’re adding a page to a web site (and the reasons for using Google Docs blurs/merges with Google Sites) to which you’ll probably want to get some visitor stats – now you can with Google Docs/Analytics integration.

And finally, everyone should be able to use Google Docs offline powered by Google Gears.
Yes, you can now edit your documents without having to have an Internet connection and it’s all synchronised when you next plug back into the Web.

GMail [Email with up to 25 GB of storage per custom email address, mail search tools and integrated chatofficial blog]
Whilst nothing big has been released out into the wild world since their big upgrade, late 2007, there have been movements with their tidying up of how Contacts are handled (not everyone is chucked into your contact list just because they pass through your InBox – takes 5 goes before it’s automatic).

Another feature I, as a nomadic consultant around town, love is the ability to see where I’ve left myself logged in and, if I want, log myself out remotely. Very handy for those on the go.

They have also released a GMail Labs set of functionality which you can ‘suck and see’. These are obviously features that the GMail team think are probably useful but not sure … and I suspect they also want to see how much information then can glean from them before letting them lose on the world.

And on that note I’d keep an eye on new features coming to the Chat that comes with GMail as I see Google taking a very smart path down a let’s keep all types (Chat, Talk etc) the same which will mean (I think) more features for the GMail version.

Google Calendar [Coordinate meetings and company events with shareable calendars]
Biggest feature I newly discovered is the ability to tell Google Calendar your mobile phone number and then choose to have reminders txt’ed to you – awesome! In fact I now answer the question, “Where are you off to next Mike?” with, “Don’t know yet, Google hasn’t told me”. Here’s how you set up your calendar to send SMS so you can chose which of the v important events it txt’s (note: they say it only works on Vodafone here in New Zealand but I’m sure I had it working on my Telecom mobile)

Not a lot of other news – a little bit of updating with the printing of calendars (good for my non-iPhone/PDA run down the street to my next appointment)

Oh, and I’ve set-up an unofficial Worser Bay School calendar (iCal) so we can all keep a track of the their productions, holiday times and parents visits.


Google Sites [One-stop sharing for team informationofficial blog]
Still the baby of the team at Google Apps but already starting to get it’s own cool features.

The number one feature for me (when it comes my way*) is the ability to customise the Sites URL (“web page name”) of a site – instead of http://sites.google.com/miramarmike/clientA I can now have http://clientA.miramarmike.co.nz … much nicer.

Not far behind that is the integration with Google Analytics – you can now track your visitors to your Google Sites.

Start Page
The “start page” is the Google App version of iGoogle which is a customised “web desktop”. iGoogle recently had a major release* which I really like but unfortunately this hasn’t been reflected in Google Apps – it will come, I’m sure.

…………………..
And that’s it for the Google Apps updates that I’ve noticed. However the Google suite is much more than that although you may need a different login for the following (much to Ben’s annoyance 🙂

Google Reader [Keep track of your favourite websitesofficial blog]
I have the sense that this mainstay in my on-line life is morphing beneath my feet as it starts to connect me with people that I share things with and with content around the web – watch this approach start to appear in other Google products (GMail and Calendar …)

For me the top news is the ability to share items that haven’t come through from a feed – very handy (if usually unremembered) and could, maybe, start to encroach on my use of Delicious.

Google Maps [official blog]
Apart from being used find where my meetings are being held and then linked to a calendar entry the only other thing to note is that Google Maps is opening up it’s content. YOU can put whatever you like onto a map, you can even edit other people’s … like a Wikipedia on the world stage.

Blogger [official blog]
News of note – ability to create scheduled postings, I love it and I wouldn’t be able to blog as much without it.

Feedburner [official blog]
Two big releases:

  1. AdSense in your feed – you knew it was coming!
  2. Create your own ‘networks’ – I’ve joined Mauricio’s Technozone network, be interesting to see how it goes

Google everywhere
And nearly everything Google owns has had one small but significant change – the wee icon (called a ‘favicon’) displayed in your browser next to most Google products has changed – read all about the new blue lowercase ‘g’

*phew*, what did I miss?

* not quite true – Google, like most large scale Web service providers, can target roll-outs of their applications by geography, language and the like. Not everyone may have the very latest at any given time … but you know it is only a matter of time before it’s served out to you.

** there are disadvantages to running applications via a browser with the most notable being you nearly always have to be connected – no connection, you have nothing. There are also other “emotional” issues such as going against the way it’s done, generating a level of trust so that you are comfortable allowing someone else to store your information and believing that there will be no “leakage” of information.

This is a cross posting by Mike from his work blog: MiramarMike.co.nz

Mike Riversdale

I (Mike Riversdale, aka Miramar Mike) have worked all my professional life alongside users of information with my work with software vendors (Business Objects, Sydney), New Zealand government agencies (Department of Corrections, Ministry of Health, Christchurch City Council), charitable organisations (skylight) and private/public companies (Fronde, Etam). My focus is always on the real users and their information demands - I have been called the "people's poet"! Working for Fronde and as an independent consultant my role is to introduce the concepts, educate around the challenges and ultimately help deliver available, findable and useful information to those that need it. I am experienced in the full gamut of Enterprise 2.0 tools and, despite a leaning towards open source, I am totally vendor independent - whatever works for the client!

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