It has been a couple weeks since I have started my tests of the Google application suite. I really had a great time testing and playing with several of the applications that Google has to offer. The vast majority of applications I found to be well-developed, functional, and user friendly. A few applications are bit feature poor and are still at a “beta” level.
Google Apps consist of an e-mail client, calendar, office productivity software, and a web hosting platform. Gmail is a solid e-mail platform but the idea of labels verses folders might give some people a pause. It does a very good job of spam filtering and the ability to use your own custom domain is a nice bonus. I had no problems getting push e-mail working on my Blackberry. The Calendar application was straightforward and easy to use. They should make the import instructions from Outlook more prominently displayed in the calendar settings. I also did not care for look of the e-mails that calendar requests send out (a style issue), but they are functional.
I found not having the calendar and e-mail client in a single integrated interface to be a bit cumbersome and a loss of overall productivity. I kept them open on separate tabs and Internet Explorer and while this was functional it is not ideal. Also, the lack of an individual and centralized task planning system is a major oversight for the application suite.
Google Docs will work well for organizations that are just starting out or do not have a tremendous amount of historical documents they wish to relocate. It will also work well for small companies that do not have complex document formatting in the majority of their work product. I can see a strong role for this application in field based sales staff.
This application, in my opinion, needs the most improvement by Google. It lacks a strong multi-document import function that preserves formatting of documents to a high degree. I also feel the file size restrictions are a bit low. However, with the additional of “Offline” application access you can see their development direction and who they have their ultimate sights on…
The Google Sites web hosting platform is a great, fun, bonus. Creating basic Internet and Extranet sites was an absolute snap. I could see this platform really being functional for the small and field-based companies in communicating with staff. I do not know if I would use his platform to develop a client facing web site. I am sure for specific applications it would function well, however, for corporate client facing websites a traditional development and hosting platform would be a better choice.
Additional products outside of the Google Apps environment:
You must maintain two Google accounts to utilize all of the Google services. For ease of use, I created them with the same user name and password. I understand Google has stated there are technical challenges with the unification of the user accounts, but I believe this is the direction they should be aggressively pursuing. A single unified Google account will improve the user experience and, by removing minor frustrations, increase user loyalty.
This is such a great and fun experiment for me. I’ve really enjoy blogging and I find the Blogger application to be delightful. It is basic and straightforward enough for a new user but allows advanced users to tweak the heck out of it. Blogger integrates with several of the other Google services including Google Docs. Google does have competition with WordPress and WordPress seems to be the more advanced product. I am sure the Google is responding by adding new features to blogger and will give WordPress a serious run for their money. (Update 10/6/08: I have moved my blog to a hosted WordPress platform. A hosted WordPress site, gives you greater flexability.)
Google Reader and iGoogle:
These two applications are the cornerstone of my Google experience. I use iGoogle as my home page and use Google Reader to monitor the RSS feeds of most websites and blogs that I review on a regular basis. With the addition of being able to access these applications from from my Blackberry, it has just ingrained in me that much more into the Google experience. The amount of widgets that you can add to iGoogle is truly impressive. To be honest, these two applications are what really sold me on Google. I find the Shared News function in Google Reader to be a fun and interesting insight into some of my friends’ thoughts.
Google Bookmarks and Notebook:
I access both of these applications from iGoogle. I have moved all of my Internet bookmarks from Internet Explorer to Google Bookmarks. This is a good productivity booster is you use multiple computers as it allows me to access my bookmarks no matter what computer happened to be on at the moment. At first, I had no idea what I would be using Google Notebook’s for, but when I shutdown my Exchange server, I had to relocate all of my Outlook Notes somewhere. Once I took the time to move my Outlook Notes, I began to see some of the power of the Google Notebook application. I started to clip articles and information from the Net, jot down thoughts and ideas, and generally use it as a spiral-bound notebook.
This was one of the biggest surprises for me. This analytics platform has really blown me away especially for the cost. If I was in this market space…I would be worried. I found the setup and integration of the tracking to be a snap and the reports to be very useful. The only challenge I had with the entire account, so far, has been the set up of filters to remove my own web activity on the blog. It did not take me long to locate information to set up the filters correctly but it was a little more difficult than I would anticipated.
This product is so good that I am seriously considering moving my corporate websites analytics to this product from our current provider. I consider this product to be one of the Google’s home runs.
There are so many more products that I haven’t even touched on yet. I have not extensively used the Book Search, Finance Portfolio, Google Talk, Web History, Picasa, or Orkut. It is really amazing at the amount of applications Google has produced. I think many people still see Google as only a web search organization. That is so not the case. I still do not have a true appreciation for the width and depth of the Google application base. I understanding the development tools (Code) that Google offers and hosts are impressive.
I just pulled up the Google application service listing off their website and it truly is crazy just how many products they provide. I did not even know about Google Health, SketchUp, Translate or Patent Search. I have not even gone into Google Labs in quite some time to see what they are cooking up in there.
Hosted applications and Application Service Providers are here to stay and I believe that it is the absolute way of the future. Sooner or later, we will all have to embrace this concept as it will probably be the dominant concept in software design within the next five years. This platform speeds development, improves the user experience, increases security, lowers support costs and should control software piracy all with one blow. Every company is looking to limit and control costs and for software developers, this is just a natural progression of that line of thinking.
These applications are in the 1.x phase of their existence and will improve greatly over the next couple of years. We are already starting to see glimpses of what the next generation of hosted software applications will look like and it is impressive.
The links below are to my other posting about Google’s applications and services.