Google Apps Hacks

Not Just Gmail, Using Google’s Web Applications to Simplify Your Life.

One of the new style O’Rielly Hack books, this one looks at how to use Google’s applications through a series of short examples (aka hacks) covering, not just the office applications, but many other applications under the Google banner. For web designers, there’s a lot of material here too on how to integrate Google’s services into your own website.

I expected a book on the core GoogleApps suite (not to be confused with the recent Google App Engine programming environment), that is,  Gmail and the office applications, but App Hacks goes further into not only other Google properties like Bogger, YouTube and GoogleEarth. At the same time, they don’t avoid mentioning non-Google applications, such as Zoho office or some of the other on-line RSS feed readers in the Google Reader chapter.

It took me a bit of time to decide who this book is for –  it has some hacks aimed at web developers, others are useful for anyone, but that seems to be the way these books go. For readers, they’re marked with a PageRank-style bar indicating easy, moderate or advanced, so that gives you some guidance.

On the design, this book is a different, more modern look from the older green/white books. As well as being moved under the Make brand, O’Reilly’s ‘Hacks series of books have undergone a design change in the last year or so, from the compact size to a bigger format – actually, some readers might notice that they seem to have taken the smaller layout and just added a wider right column that can be filled with additional information. The extra space is nice, but for the most part, it seems to be just extra blank space. I like the bigger format, and maybe future books with take more advantage of the extra space.

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After a brief introduction to the apps, installing, the tool-bar and collaboration (one of those small things Google Apps do well) and other tasks common across all of them, the sections are:

  • Meet the Google Docs family
  • Google Documents
  • Google Spreadsheets
  • Google Presentations
  • Become a Gmail power user
  • Customize your Google homepage
  • Manage events with Google Calendar
  • News with Google Reader
  • Manage photos and videos with Picasa and YouTube
  • Create your own home page, blog or group
  • Dive into Google Maps, Earth and SketchUp 3D
  • Google Analytics and beyond

While there are plenty of hacks that are intended for web developers or programmers, ranging from straightforward cut-and-paste jobs like integrating various apps onto your blog, all the way to creating a CMS system using Google’s spreadsheet. A lot of the hacks show how to use various apps together, for instance, Hack 11 shows how to compose a blog post in Documents and then publish it to Blogger, WordPress or LiveJournal. The Gmail section, wisely, does not rehash the basics but shows you lots of ways how to manage your mail (including some interesting ways Google’s engineers have made use of e-mail formatting). This section taught me a lot of stuff I had no idea about – being a regular Gmail user, I’d almost recommend the book for those chapters alone. There are no other books, that I’m aware of, devoted to Google’s office applications currently on the market, so if you are looking to get the most out of the applications this is about it- and it covers a lot of the beyond the basics nicely. As for the hacks, the author does point out several times who came up with the hack, so it there’s been commentary on it, you can go, um, “Google it.” Worth picking up for power users.

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