Four great Google applications you don't know about.

Innovation, the Internet, gadgets, and more.
Jan. 2 2007 12:23 PM

Google's Buried Treasure

Four great applications you might not know about.

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Google Reader.If you don't already use RSS to speed-read your favorite Web sites, this browser-based RSS reader is a good starter kit. Instead of surfing to each of your favorite sites to see what's new, Google Reader lets you scan an inboxlike list of new articles and blog posts from all of your favorites. The major shortcoming with Google's reader is that it isn't designed to be used offline—I like to go through both my inbox and RSS on buses and trains when I can't connect to the Web. Once again, an installed desktop application is functional in places where Google's broadband-dependent version isn't even accessible.

Google Moon, Google Mars.You've probably spent time looking at satellite photos of your house on Google Maps and/or Google Earth. Now, you can use the Google Maps interface to zoom around NASA data from the moon and the red planet. Due to a lack of close-up detail, these extraterrestrial maps aren't as eye-popping as Google Earth. But remember how we used to hover over the TV and magazines for a few images from NASA's space missions? Next time, we'll expect the whole thing to be on YouTube. 

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Tracking Google's side projects leads to two conflicting conclusions. It's amazing what you can do inside a Web browser nowadays, but Google's online apps won't put Microsoft's desktop software out of business anytime soon. The first versions of Docs & Spreadsheets got pundits excited that Google was building a free "Office Killer" to compete with Microsoft. But Google's apps only work properly with a live Internet connection. Since they rely on constant broadband, Google apps are both cooler and less practical than their PC-bound predecessors, especially if you travel a lot. That's probably why Dell's pre-installed Google applications stick to search tools for your desktop and the Internet.

If you really think Google's going after Microsoft's desktop market, run down the MS Office checklist. Google makes a word processor, spreadsheet tool, e-mail program, and calendar, but there's one item missing: PowerPoint. Techies hate the thing, but PowerPoint presentations are a must for sales and marketing pros. A Googleized version could be a godsend for traveling salespeople. Imagine striding into a client's meeting room without fumbling to connect to the projector. No bloated .ppt files to download, e-mail, or keep sorted on your laptop. Just pop onto the Web, and you're ready to go.

I think the lack of a PowerPoint-like app proves Google isn't serious about taking on Microsoft Office—yet. Maybe all of Google's engineers consider chasing PowerPoint a waste of their 20 percent time. Maybe it'll be easier for Larry and Sergey to buy one of the existing efforts. But mark my word: The day Google Slides (Beta) turns up on the Google Labs page, it's a shooting war.

Paul Boutin is a writer living in San Francisco.

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