New Features Added to Google Presentations — Can I Finally Ditch PowerPoint?

Google recently announced some improvements to their Docs platform, particularly to the Presentation app, a free alternative to Microsoft PowerPoint. New drawing tools, slide transitions, collaboration features… and suddenly I’m left wondering “Can I finally ditch Office for good?”

Google Docs has been making steady gains over the years and I’ve finally gotten to the point where I use Documents and Spreadsheets instead of Microsoft Word and Excel, but the major hangup in my quest to abandon the Office suite has been Google Presentation. Oversimplified, slow, lacking features… it just hasn’t been a good replacement. But with these new improvements, maybe that has changed.

Perhaps the best addition to Presentation is the new set of drawing tools that allow you to sketch anywhere on your slide while giving tight vector control of shapes, line thickness, color, and size. This is a very nice feature that is missing from PowerPoint and makes it easy to highlight content on your Presentation slide. While PowerPoint has an advantage with SmartArt, these drawing tools (which I would use often) help to even the scales.

Scribbles, curve, and polygon tools are convenient additions

A sorely missing feature from Presentation was slide transitions. Thankfully, Google has added a few simple and attractive slide transitions from which you can choose. Are transitions absolutely necessary to a presentation? Of course not — but sometimes transitions add a bit of polish, and it’s nice to have the option. Good work, Google, especially on the rotating ‘Cube’ effect.

Google has finally brought collaborative tools to Presentation so that multiple users can alter a slide simultaneously and communicate in a conveniently integrated chat pane. Does Microsoft Office have something like this? I’ve looked and looked and found nothing. At any rate, it’s certainly not a feature available to the average user. These collaborative features are hugely useful for team presentations…and now that I’ve had a taste, I don’t know if I can go back!

Collaborative chat

But here’s the real test, prefaced by a story. I’ve only given a single presentation using Google Presentation in my life. In most ways it was unremarkable, except that I had to deliver it from a computer that wasn’t my own. I started flipping through my slides and I was impressed…but about halfway through my talk I was interrupted by a distressing error: “Network connection lost.” OH CRAP. I was unable to re-connect and was forced to reschedule my presentation. Needless to say, I haven’t used Presentation when it has mattered since then. So, what happens when I start a presentation and then flip off my wi-fi?

Error! Error!

Drat! Google, come on!! Fix this!!! You have no idea how scarred I was when this happened in a room of 40 people.

So, what’s the verdict? Obviously Google Presentation is not ready for the big show, but I think it’s tantalizingly close.  The tool set has developed to the point where I don’t miss PowerPoint at all, and in fact, it is very easy to pick up and use without any training. It’s a simple tool that I plan to use a lot in the future… but I won’t trust it in front of a crowd quite yet. Don’t keep me waiting, Google!

Back Up Your Google Docs, Reader, Calendar and Contacts with CloudPull for Mac

CloudPull is an app that will back up the contents of your Google Docs, Reader, Calendar, and Contacts, but is available exclusively to Apple users using Mac OS 10.6 or 10.7. Sorry, PCs. It’s available for a 30 day free trial, but costs $24.95 if you’d like to use it permanently.

This is your home screen.

Once I logged in, the app was an absolute breeze to use and setup. CloudPull did its job perfectly. Once you download the app, there is no installation to go through. Instead, you just navigate to your downloads folder and drag the CloudPull app into your applications folder.

When you launch CloudPull, you will be asked for the username and password to the Google Account that you would like to back up. Enter your information and look below to find a few check marks that let you choose which Google services you would like to back up to your computer from the following list: Docs, Reader, Calendar, and Contacts.

Once you’ve submitted your choices, the app begins to work automatically, pulling all of your files from Google’s cloud and saving them into the app. From there, you can keep them stored within the app, which means they are saved in the following location by default:


/Users/(Your Home Folder)/Library/Application Support/CloudPull/backups/

Or you have the “Restore to file…” option that lets you save specific files to your hard drive in a location of your choosing.

Additionally, there is the Preferences panel which is accessible from the top menu bar: CloudPull > Preferences. In this area of the program, you can add multiple accounts that you would like backed up (as shown below).

There is also the Advanced tab where you can set a specific folder that you would like to have your items automatically saved. I changed mine to my Documents folder, for example, and created a “Google Back Up” folder within it so that it would be more accessible. The Advanced Tab is also where you can change the frequency of back ups, as well as the length of time that you’d like to store outdated files. Another option you have is to toggle whether or not you want CloudPull to start automatically when you first sign in to your computer and whether or not you’d like it to run in the background.

I highly recommend the CloudPull, especially if you don’t completely trust Google with all of your important stuff. It does exactly what it says it will and it does it very, very well.

Curious About Google Docs? Now You Can Try It Without a Google Account

Instead of purchasing expensive office suites like Microsoft Office, many people are using free online services like Google Docs to do their word processing, presentations, and spreadsheets.  The best thing about Google Docs is that your files are available anywhere you have an internet connection, and they can be instantly exported into common formats (including Microsoft Office formats).

To use Google Docs, you were previously required to log in with a Google account – but not anymore.  If you want to check out Google Docs to see if it’s right for you, simply visit http://docs.google.com/demo and you will have full access to the Google Docs word processor, spreadsheet, and drawing applications.

While using the demo version, you have the ability to collaborate with others in real time by sending them the link at the top of the document.  If you make a change to the document, your collaborators will see it instantly!

Documents you create using the demo version of Google Docs will only be available for 24 hours, so if you think it could be a sufficient replacement for your current office software (or you just want to have the opportunity to use it in the future), you should create a free Google account.

Google Docs is a great way to create, manage, and share your documents, and you can check out the video below for a brief introduction.

Watching the Oscars Tonight? Google Docs Has a Simple Voting Template

The 82nd Academy Awards ceremony will be taking place tonight and many movie enthusiasts like myself are making predictions for the recipients of this years’ awards.  If you want to make your own predictions or set up a wager with your friends, Google has created a special Google Docs template just for the Oscars.

To use the voting template, just head over to the Oscars template page and click Use this template at the top.  You will then be taken to Google Docs where you can customize the title of the form and add a message.

The voting sheet has already been populated with nominees in each category, so when you’re finished customizing just click Save.  You can view the form by clicking the link at the bottom of the Docs page.

If you want to share the voting form with your friends, simply click the Email this form button from the Docs page and enter as many email addresses as you like.  The form will be sent right to their inbox so they can easily fill it out.

After your friends have submitted the form, you can click the See Responses button from the Doc page.  Here you can view a summary of results (with graphs) as well as a complete spreadsheet of all data.

It's going to be a close competition...

The 82nd Academy Awards ceremony airs tonight at 5 pm pacific/7 pm central/8 pm eastern time.

Image credit: Dave_B_

How To: Create, Edit, and Share Documents Online with Google Docs

I feel like the guy who showed up late to a really good party.  Google Docs has been around for quite awhile now, but it wasn’t until last week that I actually tried it for the first time and I can’t believe I had been missing out on this fantastic service.

googledocs_createGoogle Docs is a web-based office suite that contains applications for word processing, spreadsheets, form creation, and presentations that can easily be shared anywhere in the world.  No software (besides a browser) is required to use Google Docs, and since your files are stored online they can be opened anywhere you can access the internet.

googledocs_offlineIf you don’t have an internet connection, Google Docs is available offline using Google Gears.  Simply click the Offline link at the top of Google Docs, install Google Gears, and you will be able to access your documents offline.  There are a few limitations, however: word processing documents can be viewed and edited offline, but spreadsheets and presentations will be read-only.  Obviously, group collaboration and sharing features are unavailable offline as well.

googledocs_sharingAny document in Google Docs can be shared with anybody around the world with easy sharing features.  All you have to do is select a file and click the Share button, then send it to any email address.  You can choose whether the recipient can modify or only view the document you are sharing.

Another landmark feature of Google Docs is the ability for a group to view and edit documents simultaneously in real-time.  Documents keep a revision history so you can see who edited a document, when it was modified, and what was changed.  Unlike editing a document shared on a network drive, you will never have any file ownership conflicts or mulitple copies of the same file.

googledocs_revisions

Most importantly, you can open and save documents in most popular document formats.  Google Docs supports DOC, HTML, TXT, RTF, XLS, ODS, CSV, TSV, TSB, PPT, PPS – and as of recently the Office 2007 formats DOCX and XLSX.

googledocs3

While Google Docs may not be a complete replacement for desktop office suites such as Microsoft Office or OpenOffice.org, it does provide a surprisingly robust way to view, edit, and share your files worldwide.  Unlike some web-based applications, Google Docs supports drag-and-drop as well as right-click functionality in certain areas which makes it just as intuitive as desktop software.

Google Docs is a free (account creation required) web-based office suite.  Check it out online, view the official tour, or watch the video below.