Friday, March 07, 2008

Google 101, Part 2

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I attended a presentation put on by Google, Friends of CASA, and the NEW Center about the advantages of several of Google's products for nonprofit organizations. One of the first areas they discussed was the suite of tools called Google Apps.

Google Apps includes Docs, Spreadsheet, Presentation, Calendar, Gmail, Page Creator, and Sites. All of them are useful, but the folks from NEW Center placed a particular emphasis on the first three. They hold particular benefit because they address some of the fundamental issues that many nonprofits face with their IT infrastructure. The list is long:

  • Donated (read "old") hardware. "There isn't enough disk space on this computer to load Office 2007!"
  • Non-standardized hardware and software. "Ralph has a Mac Powerbook. Randi is using an old Windows 95 machine and I've got a Linux computer. What software will run on all of them?"
  • Lack of professional IT staff. "Charlie is our IT guy. He's here every Tuesday. Or was that every other Wednesday? Was this an emergency?"
  • Lack of adequate backup procedures. "Uh-oh, the computer crashed with the only copy of the grant application. Now what do we do?"
  • Un-updated software. "I've got version 2.0 and Sally is using 3.1. Why can't I open the files she's creating?"
  • Complicated procedures to share work effort with standard desktop software. "Who's got the most recent version of the grant application? What happened to all of the changes I made?"
  • Frequent turnover of staff and volunteers. "Bob was the only one who knew where we kept all of the original disks for the software and he left a year ago with no forwarding address!"
Google claims that Docs, Spreadsheets, and Presentations address a lot of these problems. Since the documents are located on Google's servers, you don't have to worry about backing things up. Google also maintains the software (it's always the latest version). As long as the computer can run a modern web browser and has access to the Internet, you can use these programs. They even have a fairly sophisticated sharing mechanism which allows multiple people to access and edit documents at the same time.

Now, to be sure, these applications are not perfect. You don't have access to all of the functionality that modern productivity suites offer. Documents are suited for web display, so if you are writing something which requires specific layout settings, you might have to use MS Word or Writer to do the final formatting. You also won't have access to all of the fonts that you would have on your desktop machine.

That all being said, though, just the aspect of being able to maintain your important documents someplace other than the computer on Shirley's desk is probably a good thing.

So, have you tried Google Apps? For what do you use it?

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