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Google Apps: A Guide to the World of Google

By Matt Harlow (from SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine)

What is Google Marketplace?

Google Marketplace is an online store filled with online applications (Google Apps), all of which are available via a single user account (your Google Apps account) and many of which integrate with the Google office suite (Google Docs) and potentially your website. Let’s take a look at the many opportunities available to small business owners, through Google Apps, as well as some concerns.

Four Distinct Advantages:
1. Low Cost – The Standard Edition of Google Docs (the Google Apps office suite) is free for up to 50 users at the same domain. The Premier Edition is $50 per user per year for an unlimited number of users and has other advantages as well.

2. Cloud Computing – All Google Apps are part of the cloud computing movement. That means they exist primarily on the Web and are designed to store your data there as well. You can access your documents by simply logging in to a website. Your data is no longer tied to one computer. You can work from home, work or a cyber café on Maui, all with the same access to your documents. That also means you can work on nearly any type of hardware that can access the Web: a PC, Mac, smart phone, net book or tablet PC can access your Google Apps account and all your documents. As a bonus, should your hard drive crash or your computer die, your documents are 100 percent safe. You can be up and running again as soon as you are logged in to a different machine.

3. Collaboration – If you email a file to three people and ask them to make edits, and they send them back to you, you then have to manually assemble all of those edits into a single document. You then have five versions of that document (the original, three edits and the consolidated final). If you grant access to an online document to the same three people, they each make real-time changes to the document as it exists in the cloud. When they are done, a final truly collaborative version exists. But what if one, or all of them, makes changes you don’t like? Google Docs stores prior versions of each document during the process, giving you access to a document before and after each set of changes was made.

4. Upgrades – Because they exist only on the Web on Google’s servers, all Google Apps are upgraded the instant a new upgrade is released and at no cost to you. As long as you are using Google Apps, you and everyone in your company will all be using the most current version of the same products at exactly the same instant.

The Disadvantages:
1. Security – Many IT professionals question the security of documents that are not on servers they control and are accessible from all over the world via the Web.

2. Backup – Since the files are not on your computer’s hard drive or company server, you don’t have the control to make sure they are backed up.

3. Need for Web Access – While access to the Web is becoming more ubiquitous, there are still places where Wi-Fi or even a 3G cell signal is unavailable. While some cloud applications have versions you can save to your hard drive, many do not. When you can’t get online, you can’t get to the cloud.

4. File Compatibility – Once you switch to a cloud-based application, your old files generated on desktop software may not be compatible. At the very least, you might want to keep one computer set up with your old desktop software as a safety net.

5. Learning Curve – Just like any new software, cloud software takes time to become proficient in. In some ways, cloud software works differently than traditional desktop software.

Here’s a Rundown of Some Specific, Basic Google Apps
Gmail – An online email program that you can use with multiple accounts (not only Gmail) and set up with your own URL, not just “name@gmail.com.”

Google Calendar – An online calendar that can handle multiple schedules (home, work, your daughter’s soccer team) and can publish them to the Web to share with others.

Google Sites – A simple website development tool that can create fairly basic websites. You don’t need to be a Web programmer to use it, but it is fairly restrictive in the designs and features you can include on your site. It does have the advantage of being 100 percent compatible with all Google Apps.

Google Docs – Google Docs is Google’s answer to Microsoft Office. The applications are not nearly as powerful as Microsoft’s leading office productivity software, but most of us barely scratch the surface of the capabilities our software does offer. Google Docs can generate and edit the following types of files:
● Document – Basic, dependable word processing. Probably the easiest of the Google Doc types to migrate to.
● Drawing – Simple drawing program
● Form – Program that creates forms that can be posted to Google Site. As the forms are filled out, the information is saved into a Google Docs spreadsheet.
● Presentation – Simple presentation program. If you are well versed in Microsoft PowerPoint or Apple Keynote, you’ll be able to use this. However, you may not be satisfied with the simplicity of a Google Docs presentation.
● Spreadsheet – A fully functional spreadsheet but with a lot fewer bells, whistles and prepackaged formulas than Excel.

This brings us full circle back to Google Marketplace. Here Google offers many applications in general productivity, entertainment and even industry-specific applications. And all of them (at least theoretically) will work hand-in-hand with the basic Google Docs suite and your Google Sites website.

The best way to learn about Google Apps and Google Marketplace is to go online and play with them. You can sign up for the basic Google Apps at www.google.com/apps/intl/en/business/index.html  or Google Marketplace at www.google.com/enterprise/marketplace. You can even sign up for free demos.

Matt Harlow is director of account service for Perry Ballard Incorporated and is Google-trained to speak on Google Apps and Google Adwords. With more than 25 years in the advertising industry, Harlow offers a variety of marketing-related seminars to local business, marketing or advertising organizations. For information about how PBI can help you with advertising, sales support or website development, call 1-800-800-9547 or visit www.perryballard.com.
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