NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, June 2011
More Free Utilities from Google
By Ira Wilsker, Radio Show Host,
Columnist, College Professor and deputy sheriff
(click to email author)


Sometime ago, I wrote about several free utilities available from Google. Google has continued to update and enhance its offerings in its attempt to maintain its dominant position on the internet by offering dozens of free utilities for PCs, MACs, and Linux computers. The comprehensive listing of Google offerings is online at http://www.google.com/intl/en/options.

Many people like to chat while online, and while old classics like AIM, Yahoo Messenger, IRC, and ICQ were partially responsible for the explosive growth of internet chat, Google has joined the fray with Google Talk. Available as a free download from http://www.google.com/talk, this utility provides both text chat and voice chat with others who also have Google Talk. As with the other popular chat utilities, Google Talk is an instant message utility for Windows PCs only that allows users to type-chat in real time, view the status of "friends", and directly transfer files between friends. Google Talk also offers voice chat which is basically a free PC to PC long distance call to anywhere in the world, provided that both parties have the free Google Talk application. Google Talk also integrates with Google's email service, Gmail, allowing for voice chat while in Gmail. For those with Gmail accounts, Google offers a video and voice plug-in for Gmail which allows Windows and MAC users to chat within Gmail directly from a web browser. In addition to Gmail, this video and voice plug-in works with , iGoogle, and orkut.

The browser wars have been heating up with the almost concurrent releases of Internet Explorer 9 and Firefox 4. At about the same time, Google released version 11 of its open source Chrome browser, which has been rapidly increasing in popularity, due to its speed, security, simplicity, and the availability of many apps, extensions, and themes for Chrome. Chrome can be downloaded from Google at http://www.google.com/chrome, and will mutually coexist with other installed browsers (such as IE and Firefox) without interference. Chrome is used for Windows PCs running on Windows 7, Vista, or XP. Several published comparisons have rated Chrome as the fastest browser to load, and among the fastest to display web pages. Many users like the clean and uncluttered browser window when opened, but the simple interface should not fool users, as Chrome is a very powerful full featured browser. Chrome is also compatible with almost all widely used web apps, making it the browser of choice for millions of users.

Google is best known as the ubiquitous search engine of choice for many users, with the trade name often used in common vernacular as a verb, as in "Google it". While it is one of the premier internet search engines, Google also offers a free desktop search utility, that allows a user to search his own computer as easily as he can search the internet. Google Desktop (desktop.google.com) is available for MAC, Linux, and Windows (Windows 7, Vista, and XP), and offers the users the ability to find and directly launch applications, as well as locate any data or other files on the computer. There is also an option to install "Google Gadgets" on the desktop, allowing the user to select any of hundreds of gadgets to display news, weather, sports, games, stock quotes, clocks, calendars, and other gadgets directly on the desktop, without the need to open a browser or other utility.

One of my personal favorite Google utilities is the free version of Google Earth (http://www.google.com/earth). Google Earth integrates Google maps with other enhancements, and lets the user virtually fly anywhere on the surface of the earth, to the depths of the oceans, to outer space. Interactive imagery can be displayed as satellite imagery, maps, terrain, buildings and land features in 3D, Street View, and several other ways. In addition to relatively current maps and images, Google Earth can also display historical images and maps, such as ancient Rome. Google Earth can also integrate with several models of GPS, allowing tracks and other information to be displayed or shared with others. There are many third party applications that integrate with Google Earth, including real time hurricane tracking and predictions, real time flight tracking, business intelligence, voter demographics, and countless other uses.

Google recently released an intriguing new utility, Panoramio (http://www.panoramio.com) which can integrate personally uploaded photographs with Google Maps or Google Earth. Panoramio provides an interactive and searchable map that combines the standard map images with the millions of photos that have been uploaded, allowing anyone to view much more than a typical map or satellite image can display. For example, zooming in on downtown Beaumont using Panoramio displayed dozens of small icons representing photographs taken at those locations; clicking on the icons displays the photos. I noticed a photo icon at a familiar location in downtown Beaumont, clicked on it, and displayed a small photo of the Examiner building! Clicking directly on the small photo opened another window showing a larger image along with a map for reference, and thumbnail images of other photos taken nearby. Many of these photos can be clicked again to display the original format of the photo, often a large image.

Many users like the idea of a single download that can install multiple free utilities, and Google obliges by providing its Google Pack for Windows 7 (pack.google.com). This utility allows the user to choose which programs he wants from a checklist, and download a single installer that will install the selected programs on the computer. Included in Google Pack are a variety of utilities from Google including Chrome, Gmail, Calendar, Apps, Desktop, Google Earth, Picasa (image editor), Talk, and toolbars for Internet Explorer and Firefox. Several security utilities included in Google pack include avast! Free Antivirus, Spyware Doctor with Anti-Virus, and Immunet Protect Antivirus. Miscellaneous utilities included in the pack are Adobe Reader, Skype phone service, RealPlayer, and the WebM for IE9 video player.

Google has developed a reputation for good quality software and utilities, most of which are available for free. Any or all of the utilities above may contribute to the user's enjoyment of the internet by allowing him to do things that he may have been unaware of. Thanks Google!

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