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Tag: Google Apps

Photo Credit: freeimages.com/Javier Ramirez
Back to School Night

Back to School Night

Google is taking over Macs in schools!  Chromebooks and Google Classroom seem to be making some serious inroads in the K-12 education.  For every Mac we saw tonight, I saw a technology cart full of Chromebooks.  It is fascinating to see the adoption of technology in the classroom. The students seem to love it and enjoy the content. Teachers were more dubious.  With all new technologies, some glitches were experienced and some people adapt to new technologies faster than others.

A couple of teachers seemed less than thrilled, but everyone else had positive comments as to the role of the new electronic tools. Many teachers prefer the Chromebooks to Macs for the students.  They commented on cost and the benefit of having one for every student.  In addition, they liked how students could start on an assignment at school and finish it at home.  They days of “I forgot my assignment at home” are gone since all the data is stored in the cloud.

It will be fascinating to see how the technology evolves over the next decade.

Photo Credit: Google
Could it be the consumer that actually wins the office productivity software war?

Could it be the consumer that actually wins the office productivity software war?

Google has a new ad campaign that is directly taking on Microsoft’s baby, Office. Google has been doing very well head-to-head against Microsoft’s Internet service offerings; however, office productivity is one area where they may just be out of their league.  This is a serious revenue source for Microsoft, and they will play for keeps.

Microsoft has recognized the threat of Google Apps and has started to move in its lumbering pace towards a confrontation. Look at the deployment options consumers will have in the next release of Microsoft Office. Office 2010 will have a web-based version similar to Google Apps, mobile device support, and a full-blown application for local installation. Microsoft has even announced that it would have an ad-supported consumer version of Office Web Applications, the web based Office application.

I have been using Microsoft’s Office Live Workspace for several months and it is a great service. It is web-based collaborative storage service that integrates very well with Microsoft Office. This foundation is a glimpse of the future Office Web Applications.  Additionally, the Microsoft Web Applications will not have some of the document conversion issues that are encountered when working with Microsoft Office files in Google Apps.

Google Apps is a quality application suite, and I have written positively about my experience with the suite.  I still use Google Apps to host my personal e-mail domain. Even though the applications are well designed and feature rich, they are not Microsoft Office or even Open Office. I am reading and hearing of more deployments of Google Apps in education and at municipal government level.  This has the potential to save these institutions substantial amounts of money, but I am not sure how they are addressing the inherent security issues that come with Internet based data storage.

For me, I have to question Google’s focus. Google is moving forward on many different fronts and against large established competitors. Below is a list of a few Google products and the associated competitors. The more I think about it, it does seem like Google has a target in mind.

Offering

Function

Competitors

Android Mobile Device OS Microsoft, Apple, Nokia, RIM, etc.
Chrome Web browser Microsoft, Mozilla, Opera
Chrome OS Operating System Microsoft, Apple, Open Source
Apps Office productivity Microsoft, IBM, Open Source, Sun, etc.
Gmail Email Microsoft, Yahoo, IBM, etc.
Search Web, Enterprise, Desktop Microsoft, Yahoo, etc.

Microsoft and Google know the value of business consumers, and they will fight long and hard for their dollars. Office productivity is a core technology suite with large budgets in most corporations. In Microsoft’s latest 10-K filing, they report the Microsoft Business Division annual revenue at $18,894,000,000.  Microsoft Office systems generate over 90% of Microsoft Business Division revenue; this is serious business indeed.

No one will argue that Microsoft does not have the strongest brand and market penetration with Office. From a typical business professional point of view, and given that the access methods were similar, which would you choose Microsoft Office or Google Apps? I am betting that it would be Microsoft Office. To the majority of users, it is a known application interface and the file format is globally supported in the business community. Especially when you take into account that under the new Office 2010 business software licensing agreements that employees working from their non-primary computer, like from home, will have access to the non-ad supported web version at no additional cost. This is reminiscent of the good old days when the 80/20 software deployment rule was standard.

Both programs are going to get even better and the product offerings will only improve under stiffer competition. Microsoft should come out on top as long as they do not rest on their laurels. Ultimately, the consumer will have access to better applications no matter where they are located and at lower cost.  Will this application access freedom be an IT headache? You bet it will, and I can see the arguments brewing now.  In fact, I have already participated in a few.

Photo Credit: Michael Cruse
How close are you to having everything online?

How close are you to having everything online?

I sleep well at night knowing that virtually all of my personal information is stored online.  Really, the only personal data that is not permanently stored online are my photo albums and my music collection.  However, these files are backed up nightly to a remote online server (iDrive).  I know that I can move the last of my data online without too much effort, but I really do not see a benefit.

I sleep better knowing that my documents are stored on some of the best storage arrays, operated by some the the best admins, located in good data-centers.  If my house burns down, or is broken into, my data is safe and accessible.

It is critical that you practice very good password management and keep your computer clean from (x)ware.  I do understand that these large companies can lose data as well or even shutdown the service all together.  It is just a lot less likely they will suffer a loss verses an individual person.  As a precaution, every other month, I change all of my passwords and download all my files that I then burn on to a couple of DVDs.  I trust the platforms of Google and Microsoft more than I trust any single computer.

I have moved all of my “Office” type documents to Microsoft Office Live Workspace.  I was using Google Docs for a while, but I did not like some of the minor formatting changes that happened to my historical Microsoft Office documents.  I still strongly feel that Google Docs would make a good choice for a smaller start-up that had limited resources.  That being said, I have found that Office Live Workspace is really suited to my personal and family needs.  I use Microsoft Office extensively and it integrates perfectly with Office 2007.  I can see many uses of Office Live Workplace in smaller companies that have investment in Microsoft Office, collaborative groups, or companies that have a field presence.

I have access to all of my documents no matter where I am or the computer that I am working on, obviously Internet access is required. I can use a web browser or access documents or right from the open menu in Office.  I may not be able to edit some of the documents if I am on a computer that does not have Microsoft Office (or OpenOffice) installed, but I can certainly view them all.  And really, this works just fine for most situations.

Microsoft recently increased the storage of Live Workplace to 5 GB, and this easily handles all of my personal documents.  You create document workspaces, folders, and can share the workspaces with other people.  Right now, my wife and I share a couple of workspaces that contain the common household documents.  I have other workspaces for personal research, blog ideas, old work files from my consulting days, etc.

This is by far one of the most productive, FREE, services that Microsoft has released.  If you take Office Live Workspace with Microsoft’s SkyDrive service, which includes 25GB of free storage, you can really start storing massive amounts of information online. Obviously you want to use some common sense about what you store online, but I have found it to be incredibly useful.

I am about simplifying my life, and my computing needs.  This is just one person’s honest appreciation for quality services.

Photo Credit: Google
Google Notebook and Tasks

Google Notebook and Tasks

Over the last couple of months, I have written a series of postings about my experience with Google Apps. I used Google Apps as a test to assess usability of the hosted office productivity applications and to look for opportunities where they may be deployed in a corporate setting. Over all this was a positive experience, and I thought the Google solution is viable for smaller companies that have limited resources and infrastructure. The more I have thought about the application suite, the more areas I can see where a potential deployment would make sense in a larger company, such as, supporting a field based sales force.

One area that has troubled me was the lack of task manager. In the Microsoft Outlook world, you would use “Outlook Tasks” but I found no direct coloration to a competing Google application. At first, I believed this was a major oversight on Google’s part, but now, I am not so sure.

I started to use the Google Calendar and Google Notebook applications to work as a task manager. This worked OK, kind of, but I never really got the hang of it. I found many web-based alternative products, but I really wanted to stay with Google for my test. I went back and started to search how others were tackling the problem.

This is a long way of saying, that I was not using the Google applications very effectively.

In one of my Internet journeys, I came across a very good article on Lifehacker.com by Gina Trapani about how to use Google Notebook as a task manager. Take a moment and read her article; It is well worth it.

I liked the method she outlined, and I have adopted it for the last two weeks. I found it required some adaptation on my part, but in reality what doesn’t? When used properly, the Google Notebook application is an effective task manager. You must have a planning system, or process, you follow regularly or any task management application you choose will fail.

I am a big fan of FraklinCovey’s methods of planning and organization and found that I could adapt Google Notebook to their planning process without a great degree of difficulty. When you get down to it, the Google Notebook application is very flexible and can be adapted in many different ways to fit your preferred task management method.

The links below are to my other posting about Google’s applications and services.

Gmail Vs. Outlook

Gmail Vs. Outlook

I came across a good article on Lifehacker comparing Gmail and Outlook. If you are considering making the jump from Outlook to Gmail, you should take a few minutes and give it a read.

Outlook vs. Gmail—The Definitive Comparison

Over the last couple of months I have moved my personal e-mail to a Google Apps account (this allowed me to keep my custom domain e-mail address) from Outlook. Overall it has been a pleasant transition but not without a few speed bumps.

Google products – final thoughts, for now…

Google products – final thoughts, for now…

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:
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.

Blogger:
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.

Google Analytics:
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.

Everything Else:
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.

Closing thoughts:
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.

Photo Credit: Google
Google Apps – Part 4 Docs

Google Apps – Part 4 Docs

One of the benefits of looking at online document solutions, like Google Docs, is the shifting of responsibility of backup and archival to a third party. In my corporate life, I have yet to embrace the concept outsourced backup…call it ultimate paranoia. This, however, is off topic so back to Google Docs.

One of the first things I noticed with Google Docs was the lack of an easy way to upload multiple documents. The site directly supports uploading of individual files, but not multiple files. I eventually found an application that would assist in the uploading of multiple documents to the Google Docs website but its user interface needs improvement. Once I had some documents uploaded, it was easy to create and assign labels/folders to documents for effective organization. I then started to open a few of the documents.

The vast majority of documents I work with are MS Word and Excel. I was disappointed at the amount of formatting that was lost specifically in my Word documents. Documents that were very specifically formatted (spaced, fonts, etc.) essentially had to be reconstructed. I noticed only minor discrepancies in my Excel files. Overall, the majority of my Word documents were in acceptable condition. All of them required some sort of formatting adjustments.

I created a couple of new documents this week using the word processor and one using the spreadsheet application. I found for the average user these programs worked as advertised and would be functional for the majority of consumers and small-businesses. I do not see mid to large size businesses dropping Word anytime soon…I know I would not deploy this to my corporate user base anytime in the near future. However, I do see tremendous opportunity in the educational and SOHO arenas.

I found the prior versions feature available for all documents to be powerful and effective. I had incorrectly made a change to a word processing document and was able to roll back to the prior version within moments. I found the general performance of the application to be completely acceptable and I really liked the ability to output these documents as PDF files without having to purchase Acrobat or install any software on the local computer.

For me personally, I see Google Docs as an opportunity to more effectively manage information that I track in spreadsheets. It is very convenient to be able to access information from any computer that is attached to the Internet. It is also convenient for my wife to be able to access these common household spreadsheets on any computer she happens to be on. That is where I see my utilization of Google Docs ending.

The import routine makes too many changes to the formatting of my existing Word documents for this to become a reasonably effective replacement for Word. Google needs to develop a utility that better supports uploading of information to the Web application and preserves the accuracy of the document formatting. Google has the right concept and this is still a “beta” application. I would anticipate over the next year we will see more impressive features rolled out.

Deeper Thoughts:
The one application where I can see this might be effectively used is with a field-based sales and support staff. This would be a very intriguing beta project to roll out to a group of individuals. It could resolve issues regarding archiving of corporate documents on systems that are not attached to the network and at a dramatically lower costs than current solutions. Corporate may be able to push down documents to multiple user accounts or create shared libraries for field-based staff. One of my future testing projects will be to create a document structure for a virtual sales team and see if it could be effectively utilized. A field team that is not reliant upon Microsoft’s Office products would have a lower IT costs for software acquisition, maintenance and support.

Something to seriously think about…

The links below are to my other posting about Google’s applications and services.