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Some Great Google Tools You May Not Know About

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Many of us here at LAist use one or more tools provided by Google every day. For the most part, we all have a Gmail email account and some of us use Google Calendar to keep track of our appointments, story deadlines and most importantly, vacations. You might also have a Gmail account, may be familiar with Google as a search engine to find things on the internet and perhaps you use Google Calendar as well.

However, I wonder if you know about some of the other features that Google has to offer both Macintosh and Windows users. For example, you can use Google's photo sharing site, called Picasa Web Albums, to upload your pictures directly from you Mac or PC and share them with the entire Internet. Of course, there are many other photo sharing sites like Photo Bucket, Zoomer and my personal favorite: Flickr. However, the tight integration that Google provides for its Picasa software (for Mac and PC) and its Picasa photo sharing site makes it a worthy addition to the photo sharing world. The best part is, of course, that its all free.

In fact, all of the services I am describing are free thanks to Google. Other photo sites like Zoomer and Flickr do offer free versions but those version make it so you have to display adds on your pages. They do offer "pro" versions of their accounts but those are not free. In addition to Picasa photo sharing, Google also offers a couple of other services you might be interested in -- especially if you use Microsoft Word or Excel. To what am I referring? Well, its called Google Docs and Spreadsheets and its pretty cool. Essentially, what Google is providing is a web-based tool to create documents and spreadsheets online and then save them in formats that can be read by Word or Excel.

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You can also import Word and Excel documents into Google Docs and Spreadsheets and edit them to your hearts content. One thing to keep in mind though is that complex documents with lots of macros or other custom formatting don't always stay exactly the same when used in Google Docs and Spreadsheets. That said, if you can overlook this minor problem, the tools offer a great deal of flexability and are very useful for most of your word documents and excel spreadsheet creation and manipulation needs.

Another great tool that Google offers to users is something that .mac users have enjoyed for some time: bookmark syncing. Only this time, its not .mac users that have the advantage and its not Safari that this works with, its Firefox. Once you install the Google browser sync extension in Firefox it will sync your bookmarks with the Google server. Then, if you use Firefox on another machine, even if one is a Mac and the other is a PC, you can sync your bookmarks between the two. A very handy tool, especially for people with more than one computer or who browse the net at work and at home.

Still another great tool from Google is something called Google Reader. this web-based app is basically a very functional and feature-rich RSS reader that allows you to track the feed from your favorite websites like LAist. Again, this tool is free and is available at Google website. Once you log into your Gmail account you can access Google Reader. Then, you can subscribe to whatever feeds you wish to read and view them in a web- based interface right in your web browser. At the moment, it works best in Internet Explorer (PC) and Firefox (Mac and PC).

The last thing I want to bring to your attention is Google's free blogging tool called Blogger. Just recently blogger came out of its latest Beta phase and now features quite a few new things sure to interest new and old bloggers alike. Some of these features include customized templates, better feed support, privacy and password options and instant publishing. In addition, Blogger now offers custom domain names and drag and drop template editing. Basically, Blogger is an easy way to get started in the wonderful world of blog writing and publishing. Just think, if you start a blog now, someday soon maybe you can write for LAist.

Even though this seems like quite a few things I've really only scratched the surface of the over 30 applications and tools Google has to offer. In a future article I will explore some of the other things that Google is doing to help make the Internet a better and more fun place to live, work and explore. However, if you can't wait for that, head on over to the Google Labs page to see what they're working on today and for tomorrow.

Just so everyone knows, none of us work for Google or anything like that so we are not getting anything in the way of endorsements, compensation or anything else from them to say how much we like their products and services. That said, I personally always use and test anything and everything I talk about and recommend here and if I like something I'm going to mention it to you. Just like if I don't like something I'm going to mention it here. Google just happens to make great products. Are they perfect? No. Is anything? No. So, enjoy what Google gives us for free and hope they keep up the good work. I sure hope they do. I like free stuff.