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Technology Untangled: Google offers useful and fun features

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technology-bourAlmost everyone is familiar with the popular and useful Google search engine. If you take a closer look at Google’s main page, (google.com) you will see a small menu choice named “more.” I did some exploring into that drop-down list and discovered a wide variety of useful, functional, and fun features. Today we will look at just a few of the many extras that Google offers.

First, let’s look at several other twists on Google’s mainstay, the “search” utility. Instead of searching broadly across every corner of the vast Web, Google offers a search utility known as “directory.” It helps you narrow down your search by organizing the Web by topic into specific categories such as business, reference, technology, etc. As you drill down within a specific category, the search engine ranks possibly relevant pages by the number of hits each has received.

Another intriguing search tool is called Google Scholar. It provides a method to broadly search through scholarly literature across many disciplines. There are no entertainment news articles or dancing kitten YouTube videos here. This search area is for professional, scientific, and academic endeavors. Google’s tag line for the scholar search is “Stand on the shoulders of giants.” For attorneys and paralegals, there are specific search tools for legal opinions and journals, as well as the ability to refine a search exclusively for Indiana court cases or federal matters. The legal search offers even greater fine-tuning through an advanced search page.

For communication, Google Voice is a free application that I regularly use. Voice allows you to set up a single phone number that can be configured to ring through to all, or just some, of your other phones. I have also been impressed by its voice-to-text transcription feature. This technology will automatically save written copies of your voicemails to your inbox. While the transcriptions are certainly not court-reporter quality, they are surprisingly accurate for the typical short and simple voicemail message. The conference calling feature is also easy and useful. The best feature of Google Voice is the free domestic long-distance that can be accessed through any of your other registered phones. I used these features recently in a deposition to patch in a call from an out-of-town attorney who was stuck in traffic. We were able to start the deposition on time and not miss a beat.

As I looked through Google’s many offerings, I clicked on “more,” then scrolled down to a link called “even more.” There are literally dozens of applications. How can anyone possibly decide which to choose? Well, it turns out that Google has thought of that, too. Their answer is Google Pack. You can find it under the “even more” tab, or access it directly at pack.google.com.

Google Pack is a free collection of useful software from Google and other trusted companies. This is surely a cleaner way to load up on good, free software instead of wandering through the Web on your own and downloading random programs from here or there. The Google Pack software bundle helps you browse the Web faster, remove spyware and viruses, organize photos, create and share documents, and more. The package has been verified free of unwanted hidden extra programs and excessive pop-up notifications. Google says you can download and install the entire Google Pack without hassle in just a few clicks. It also has built-in updating features to help keep the software up to date.

I would suggest perhaps trying the Google Pack on a slightly older computer before putting in on your newest primary work computer. It may breathe new life and new functionality into a unit that doesn’t seem as useful as it once did. As I have cautioned before, be sure to set a restore point on your computer before loading new software. That way you can more easily revert should things not turn out as desired. Let’s look at some of the specific programs included.

Google Chrome Web Browser makes browsing the Web faster, safer, and easier. I think this browser seems fast and is probably worth a try. Google Apps includes email, calendar, and document-creation applications. I like the “Docs” collaboration feature that easily allows you to work with documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more online with several others at the same time. Since the documents are stored on the Web, you can edit and view them from any computer or smartphone. Google Earth is a top-rate technical application that is useful and fun. It allows you to navigate easily to virtually any location on earth using high-quality satellite imagery, maps, and street-view camera shots. This tool can be used to retrieve images of accident locations, businesses, crime scenes, and more. RealPlayer is not a Google product, but Google does recommend it. RealPlayer is a good choice for trying to open and play a multimedia file that you may be having trouble opening with your default multimedia software.

Take some time to look at all the extra features offered by Google. I am sure you will find at least a few that you will enjoy.•

Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD, and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s.
 

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