Google’s multi-tool mentality

12:00 am Articles, Ask the Geek

I remember when Google was simply a search engine. For me, it quickly filled a need I hardly realized I had. At the time, I frequently found myself torn between multiple search engines such as Yahoo, Dogpile, and Ask Jeeves (before gave Jeeves the boot).

Then there was Google, with its simplistic front page and lightning-fast search results. I learned a few good Web-searching techniques and started finding almost anything I looked for.

Anyone who is much of a Google fan will tell you: Google is much more than a search engine.

Many years ago, my wife gave me a Swiss Army knife for Christmas. It wasn’t the tiny version, nor was it the version that comes with a microwave and hedge trimmer built in. It has a couple of blades, a couple of screwdrivers, a bottle opener, etc. There are the obligatory toothpick and tweezers. It was love at first sight. It quickly became a tool I used on a daily basis, and it was rare that I didn’t carry it in my pocket. I carry it to this day.

I don’t use every tool on my knife every day, but I usually use at least one of them. I might use the long blade that is still covered in packing tape goo from our last move, or the screwdriver blade that seems to work perfectly on computer-related screws. The bottle opener comes in handy for longneck bottles after a long day, and the pliers have gotten me out of a number of snags. (I’ve long since sworn off the toothpick for anything other than poking hard to reach buttons.)

It’s just good to know that, in a pinch, I’ve got a handy tool with me that can meet a lot of needs.

Google seems to approach the information technology industry with this same kind of multi-tool mentality. It seems as though each time my attention is diverted, Google adds another jewel of functionality to its cadre of productivity tools. Over time, I’ve come to use several of its tools on a daily basis. Here are a few of my favorites:

Google News acts as a news portal to articles written across the nation and around the world, and you can customize it to your personal preferences. I’ve made it my home page. Since I’ve become an election-news junkie, I’ve moved the “Election” section to the top of my page and asked Google to show more than the three default headlines. I positioned it beside a “Local” section that delivers Amarillo-related headlines.

GMail is Google’s Web-based e-mail service. The accounts are free, just like with Microsoft’s and Yahoo’s Webmail services. GMail goes far beyond standard e-mail services, though – you notice it immediately after you begin using it. The most dramatic difference is the way GMail sorts your messages. If I e-mail a friend, and he writes back, then we go back and forth a dozen times, it doesn’t clutter my Inbox. Why? GMail sorts our conversation into one simple entry in my Inbox. The functionality of this e-mail service is impressive.

Google Documents lets you create documents, spreadsheets and presentations, which are stored on Google’s servers. It allows you to invite others to collaborate with you on these documents, even at the same time. You can “publish” the documents for others to view without giving them the ability to change the contents. I use Google Documents to store files I might need access to while I’m away from the office, because any current Web browser can access them with no additional software required. Sometimes my wife and I will collaborate on a document throughout the day.

While Google has maintained its commanding lead over other search engines, it doesn’t confine itself to being “just” a search engine. I’ve barely scratched the surface of its other offerings. At the time of this writing, Google lists 45 different services beyond its standard search engine. Take a look at what it’s offering, and soon you might discover a tool you won’t want to leave home without.

Kevin McDonald: Writer and professional computer/network administrator. He lives in Amarillo with his wife and children, and owns and operates Definition Computers. E-mail Kevin at with questions you’d like to see answered in this column.

(This article was originally published in the Amarillo Independent newspaper.)

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