Essential Add-ons for Firefox #2: Socialite Edition

firefox_addons_poweruser_thumbIn the second installment of Techerator’s Essential Add-ons for Firefox series, I’ll be covering add-ons that help unleash the social maven deep inside of you.  Whether you’re the core of your internet social circle or just want to use your email and Twitter better, this guide will give you the tools to use your browser to its full potential.

Shareaholic

firefox-socialite-sociableShareaholic is the best add-on I’ve found to connect you to all your social networks at once.  Shareaholic allows you to send links to Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Digg, and over 50 other social networks (with the option to disable sites you don’t use).  This add-on can be set to display in your browser toolbar, your URL bar (my preference), and your right click menu, which keeps your networks just a click away.

After installing Shareaholic, click the green Shareaholic button in your browser’s toolbar and select ‘Manage Your Services’ to get started.  You can also control where Shareaholic is displayed by clicking the ‘Appearance’ tab at the top of the Services window.

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Gmail Manager

firefox-socialite-gmailmanagerIf you use Gmail, Google’s free email service, Gmail Manager provides great access to multiple accounts simultaneously.  Even if you just have one Gmail account, Gmail Manager alerts when you receive new messages and lets you preview your inbox (by hovering your mouse over the statusbar icon).

If you only need notifications when you receive new email, check out the Gmail Notifier add-on.

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Better Gmail 2

firefox-socialite-bettergmail2Another add-on for Gmail users, Better Gmail 2 is a fantastic collection of former Greasemonkey scripts combined into a single Firefox add-on.  Better Gmail 2 provides features that Gmail probably should provide (and many times Gmail has adopted features used in the add-on).

The most recent version of Better Gmail 2 lets you display your unread message count in Gmail’s favicon, highlights message rows on mouseover, displays icons for specific email attachments (like images or Word documents), and adds Folders4Gmail (which lets you create hierarchical labels which behave like the folders shown in the picture).

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TwitterFox

firefox-socialite-twitterfoxTwitterFox gives you full access to your Twitter feed right in your browser’s statusbar.  This add-on features notifications of new tweets (which can be disabled for less distractions), support for multiple accounts, two color schemes, and typical Twitter functionality like replies and retweets.  I use TwitterFox the most when I’m away from my home computer (in lieu of installing a full Twitter client), and it provides a great way to stay connected to your network.

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StumbleUpon

firefox-socialite-stumbleStumbleUpon helps you discover new and interesting websites based on your personal tastes, and is a great way to ensure you’re never bored while using Firefox ever again.  After picking categories that interest you (I chose topics such as “video games”, “internet tools”, and “science/tech”) and creating an account, you can click the “Stumble!” button in your browser toolbar to be instantly taken to a website that fits the criteria you selected.

StumbleUpon lets you vote whether you liked or disliked the site (using the thumbs up/down controls in your toolbar) and lets you share your discoveries with your friends.

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Delicious

firefox-socialite-deliciousDelicious (formerly del.icio.us) is a free service that lets you synchronize and share your bookmarks online, making them accessible anywhere you have an internet connection.  The Delicious add-on for Firefox gives you access to your bookmarks and lets you easily share, tag, and bookmark new websites from within your browser.  If you’re new to Delicious, the add-on lets you import your current Firefox bookmarks to get you started.

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Taboo

firefox-socialite-tabooIf you like tabs as much as we do, then you’ve probably found yourself with dozens of tabs open and not enough time to view them all.  Taboo lets you save a list of your currently open tabs (with screenshots of each site you have open) so you can easily access them later.  This add-on also features a search feature which helps you quickly find your saved tabs.

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Yoono

firefox-socialite-yoonoYoono is the ultimate add-on for a true digital socialite.  It combines almost every social network and instant messenging service in your Firefox sidebar, letting you set your status and share links across Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and many other services all at once.  Yoono also includes a website discovery feature (very similar to StumbleUpon), so you’re almost guaranteed to be kept busy with this add-on.

Yoono does duplicate functionality of several add-ons featured in this guide, so you may want to disable them if you suddenly find yourself being overwhelmed by social networks.

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firefox-collections-logo
If you’d like to install all of the add-ons in the Techerator Essential Add-ons for Firefox #2: Socialite Edition pack, check out our Firefox Collections site.
 

For more great addons, check out Essential Add-ons for Firefox #1: Power User Edition.

Do you have any add-ons for the socially-centered that we missed?  Share them with us in the comments!

Think You’re Using the Best Search Engine? Try a Blind Search Test

google-bingWith Google and Bing both competing to be the most popular search engine on earth, perception can be more of a deciding factor than search results.  Bing (being the new kid in town) has made a particularly strong marketing attempt over the past month, but many people still prefer the simplicity and proven track record of Google.  So what if perception was taken out of the equation?

Blind Search allows you to perform a web search with Google, Bing, and Yahoo simultaneously and then lists the results together on one page.  One catch – the results have no branding or any way to identify where they originated.  A ‘Vote’ button appears at the top of each search column, allowing you to vote for the engine that you feel provided the best results.  Once you’ve voted, you’ll immediately find to your surprise (or horror) which search engine you selected.

This site might indeed make you question your search engine loyalty.  After performing a blind search for Techerator, I felt two search engines definitely provided better results than the third.  I was even surprised to find that after several searches, the engine that I thought was Google turned out to be Bing.

blindsearch-results

Over 500,000 votes have been cast to decide which search engine reigns supreme.  As of this writing, Google leads with 41%, Bing follows with 31%, and Yahoo trailing with 28%.  While these results provide a general idea of which search engine provides the best results, it should be noted that only the more tech-savvy web users probably participated in the survey.

Does this end the Google vs. Bing debate?  Not exactly. Even though search results play a huge role in which search engine is the best, things like design, user experience, and speed are still significant.

Were you surprised by the search engine you picked?  Has brand perception warped our opinion on how search engines perform?  Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Essential Add-ons for Firefox #1: Power User Edition

firefox_addons_poweruser_thumbOne of the most useful features of Firefox are add-ons, small applications that can add new functionality to the browser or change its appearance.  Unfortunately, there are literally thousands of add-ons available, meaning that many of the good ones get lost in the noise.

In part one of our featured Essential Add-ons for Firefox series, I’ll be covering add-ons that I feel are vital to getting the most from your browsing experience.

Tree Style Tab

treestyletab_thumbThis add-on quickly skyrocketed on my of “Things I must have in Firefox” list.  Tree Style Tab changes your horizontal tab bar into a vertical bar with a tree hierarchy, which can give you more vertical space on a widescreen monitor.  Although it takes a little getting used to (I still instinctively look to the top of my screen), you will be able to manage many more tabs at a once.  Tree Style Tab is very customizable and works well with other tab modification add-ons.  Check out our full guide to Tree Style Tab.

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LastPass

lastpass_genpassLastPass is the ultimate in cross-platform, cross-browser password management.  This add-on securely stores your passwords in an online vault and locks them with a password that only you know.  This allows you to create dozens of complex, random passwords without having to remember them.  Since the vault is accessible online, you can access your passwords on any computer or browser (using a JavaScript bookmarklet in browsers without plugin support).  Check out or full guide to LastPass.

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IE Tab

firefox_addons_poweruser_ietabWindows only: Let’s be honest – there will always be a few websites that only render properly in Internet Explorer.  We can hope that web developers follow best practices when creating websites, but in the mean time IE Tab allows you to render any website in Internet Explorer from within Firefox.  You can even set it to automatically render certain websites, which works great for *.microsoft.com domains.

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Right-Click-Link

firefox_addons_poweruser_rightclicklinkOccasionally, I’ll encounter an unclickable link.  Normally, a person would copy and paste (or type) the address in the URL bar, but Right-Click-Link allows you to right click the dead link and open it without the extra work.  This is a great example of the “little things” that can be improved with add-ons.

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Locationbar²

firefox_addons_poweruser_locationbarHighlighting URL roots was popularized in Google Chrome, and now Firefox users can add this feature with the Locationbar² add-on.  This add-on highlights the root domain of the website you are browsing to help identify phishing or spoofing in URLs.  Even better, it makes subsections of the URL clickable when you hold the CTRL or ALT keys, so you can click directly to the root of a website.

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Multiple Tab Handler

firefox_addons_poweruser_multipletabsMultiple Tab Handler adds one of my single favorite features: Close Other Tabs.  This allows you to right click a tab (or tabs) you want to keep open and close all other quickly.  It also adds features to close, reload, and duplicated selected (or all) tabs.  This add-on doesn’t work perfectly with Tree Style Tab yet, but the developers appear to be working together to improve this.

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Greasemonkey

firefox_essentials_poweruser_greasemonkeyGreasemonkey allows you to install small scripts which can dramatically change the way a website looks or functions.  This add-on is one of the single most useful on this list, and many Greasemonkey scripts eventually work their way into independent add-ons.  Greasemonkey can help you manage multiple gmail accounts, turn you into a Facebook power user, and let you automatically watch YouTube videos in high definitionCheck out our full guide to Greasemonkey.

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Personal Menu

firefox_addons_poweruser_personalmenuPersonal Menu can save you some serious space in your browser (which is great for netbooks).  This add-on lets you remove Firefox’s standard menu toolbar and replace it with highly customizable buttons.  You’ll have an independent button for history and favorites, as well as the Personal Menu button which can contain any of the menus present in the standard toolbar.

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Xmarks

firefox_addons_poweruser_xmarksXmarks (formerly Foxmarks) is a great way to keep all your bookmarks synchronized across multiple computers.  This add-on provides seamless synchronization between your browser and the Xmarks servers, allowing you to access your bookmarks anywhere.  Xmarks has the unique ability to sync bookmarks from Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari, and also provides a secure password sync (but I recommend sticking with LastPass).  Check out our guide to making the most of your bookmarks.

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Download Statusbar

firefox_addons_poweruser_downloadbarThe default download manager window in Firefox is clunky and can get in the way.  Download Statusbar replaces the standard download window with a small, sleek toolbar that exists at the bottom of your browser.  This add-on is incredibly customizable (with more features than the standard window) and can be set to auto-hide to save space.

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URL Fixer

firefox_addons_poweruser_urlfixerThis great little add-on will automatically correct typos in your URL bar.  If you accidentally type techerator.con it will automatically suggest techerator.com (and the notification can be disabled for seamless correction).  URL Fixer works for common misspellings of .com, .net, .org, .edu, .gov, .mil, and many other URLs.

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AutoPager

firefox_addons_autopagerAutoPager will make it so you never have to click ‘Next Page’ on a website ever again.  When you reach the bottom of a page (such as Google search results), the next page will automatically be loaded seamlessly with the current page you are viewing.  AutoPager supports hundreds of popular websites and will dramatically improve your browsing experience.  Note: AutoPager includes advertisements by default, but they can be easily disabled by following this guide.

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firefox-collections-logo
If you’d like to install all of the add-ons in the Techerator Essential Add-ons for Firefox #1: Power User Edition pack, check out our Firefox Collections site.
 

For more great Firefox Add-ons, check out Essential Add-ons for Firefox #2: Socialite Edition.

Browse Safer: Expand Shortened URLs

expand_urls_featURL shorteners are everywhere, and have exploded in popularity with sites like Twitter that have a character limit per message.  While URL shortening services provide a great way to share links quickly with friends – there is also a significant security risk of being sent to a malicious website.  For example, check out this great link: http://is.gd/2dPpA.

This risk can be mitigated by using a URL expanding service called LongURL, which can help you avoid viruses, phishing, and malware by expanding a shortened URL before you click it.  LongURL supports nearly every popular URL shortener, such as tinyurl.com, is.gd, ping.fm, ur1.ca, bit.ly, snipurl.com, tweetburner.com, metamark.net, url.ie, x.se, 6url.com, yep.it, piurl.com, and more.

Using LongURL via LongURL.org

LongURL can be used in any browser through LongURL.org.  Simply copy and paste (or type) your shortened URL into the box and click expand to be presented with a screenshot of the website, its title, and any details that can be discovered.

expand_urls_expandedUsing the LongURL Add-on in Firefox

LongURL provides a useful add-on for Firefox that seamlessly integrates the service with your browser.  Simply install the LongURL Mobile Expander add-on and you can expand any shortened URL by hovering your mouse over it.  To view additional information about the link, click the ‘More’ button and you will be taken to the LongURL website.

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Using LongURL in Greasemonkey

If you prefer to use Greasemonkey (a Firefox add-on that allows you to run user-created scripts to modify websites), check out the LongURL Mobile Expander Greasemonkey script.  After installing the script, any shortened URLs will automatically be expanded when you hover your mouse over them.  To view additional information about the link, click the ‘More’ button and you will be taken to the LongURL website.

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Have any tips for safer browsing?  Share them with us in the comments!

How to Share Your Screen with Skype

skypeHave you ever been talking to someone on Skype and exhausted your vocabulary trying in vain to describe something on your screen to the other person?  I’ve found myself in that situation many times.  It used to be that the only option was to have the person remotely connect to my computer, which was cumbersome at the least, and at most kept me from sharing it because it would have been impossible to walk the other person through the connection process over Skype!

The latest release of Skype includes a feature that allows you to share your screen natively within the application.  Not only is it a great feature, but the people at Skype have really outdone themselves by making it intuitive, smooth, and of high quality.

If you already have Skype installed, make sure to update it to the most recent edition by going to Help –> Check For Updates and let it install.  If you do not have Skype installed, you’ll need to install the Skype client and set up an account.  This is very straightforward to do: download the client at http://www.skype.com, run the installer, and follow the on screen prompts.

Once the client is installed and Skype has started, it will prompt you to log in.  If you already have an account you can login immediately, if not, you can create one from within the program.

skype_screen_sharing_loginAfter you have logged into Skype, you will need to add some contacts.  That is outside the scope of this article but Skype is fairly intuitive and has decent help if it isn’t making sense.  After you have added a contact, call them!

To start sharing your screen, right click on a contact’s name either in the contact list or at the top of the call screen.  In the drop down menu, you will see a selection that says “Share Your Screen”, where you can choose whether to share you entire screen or just a specific area.

skype_screen_sharing_selection

If you picked “Share Selection” a window will pop up that allows you to pick the selection.  The window can be resized and dragged around just as any other window to include whatever you want to in your selection.  Once you have what you want to share in the window (don’t worry if it isn’t perfect, you can adjust it later) click on “Start Screen Sharing.”

skype_screen_sharing_SharedAfter you click the button, the window will change to a red outline and the selection will be shared.  If you want to change the selection size, simply click on the down arrow and drag to resize the window.  You can make the selection size full screen by clicking the ‘full screen’ button.

The quality of Skype’s screen sharing feature is very impressive.  When sharing a word document or a web page, the text is easily readable by the other person and for the images are just as good if you were looking at the page on your own computer.  There is a minor amount of lag when scrolling and changing pages, but it isn’t disruptive.  Viewers also have the ability to take screenshots of the screen you are sharing, which is a great feature.

As a test of the transfer rate, I tried watching a video through the screen share.  When the video did not contain much movement it worked well, but during large amounts of movement, the transfer rate decreased significantly.

One thing to consider when using Skype is you’re the speed of your broadband connection.  I was using a fast connection, but if you’re on a slower line (or are using other bandwidth-intensive applications like VOIP at the same time), you may have a decrease in quality.

I am very pleased with the new screen sharing feature in Skype.  Not only does it allow for easy, high quality screen sharing, but it also has seamless integration into the Skype user-interface.  And the best part? It’s free!

Aviary Makes Online Image Capturing and Editing Easy

Aviary LogoOne problem I have come across again and again online has been the struggle of how to capture screenshots of web pages to show my friends, co-workers, or family.  Stumbling upon the relatively new Aviary.com was the solution to that very problem. 

Aviary.com is one of the most significant websites I’ve seen in a while.  It offers multiple image editing applications online, right from their site.  Best of all, their main set of image editing applications are provided for free, like an online Photoshop suite!

I could talk about all of Aviary’s features for quite some time, but the feature I’ve found to be most important is the Falcon application, or web capturing feature.  I don’t claim my past methods of capturing web pages were the most efficient (i.e. using Vista’s Snipping Tool or worse yet, copy/pasting Print Screens together with Microsoft Paint), but I’m sure none are easier than using Aviary.

Here’s an example of how Aviary can be used: YouTube’s front page is constantly changing with the statistics of the videos within the ‘Videos Being Watched Now’ and the ‘Most Popular’ sections.  If you load up YouTube and become upset when you see that “Fred” is taking up more than 3 different areas of the Most Popular section, you might want to share your concerns with a friend.  If your buddy isn’t able to get to a computer at the moment, you can use Aviary to quickly give them your proof.

Simply type in “http://aviary.com/” before any standard URL (such as: http://aviary.com/youtube.com) and you will be provided with a capture of the entire page without your operating system or web browser buttons interfering.  With the optional Talon Add-on for Firefox, just right-clicking an area of the website will give you the options to capture a region, visible portion, or the entire page you’re currently on, which makes using Aviary for captures easier yet.

Aviary FF Addon

After capturing an image using the Take Screenshot option in the right-click menu, you will be given the option to copy the image to your clipboard, save it to your desktop, or choose to edit the image (which redirects you to Aviary’s image editor).  If you click to edit the capture, you can use the editor (Falcon) to add lines or other indicators to point out your focus of the page to whomever you’re sharing with.

Aviary’s site is filled with many useful, Photoshop-style applications and features that make image editing and screen captures a breeze.  Though all the tools are officially still in the Beta stage, I’ve experienced no problems yet while using the site.  If you need help, several tutorials are available to help you kick-start your editing skills.

Aviary provides a simple and effective way to capture screenshots of web pages, and I recommend test driving the site and it’s free web-based applications next time you need to edit or capture an image.

How To: Install WordPress Locally in Mac OS X

wordpressMac only:  This guide will show you how to install WordPress on your local computer, which will allow you to test tweaks or modify a theme for your current website without making live changes.

To get started, you’ll need to download the following files:

Step One – Installing XAMPP: Once both downloads have completed, you can install XAMPP by double clicking the .dmg file and dragging the application to your Applications folder.

After installation, double click the XAMPP Control icon, which is located in Applications/XAMPP.  Click the Start button for both ‘Apache’ and ‘MySQL’, after which you will be prompted to enter your administrator password.

mac_wordpress_xampp_settings

Step Two – Configuring WordPress: Now that Apache and MySQL are running, it’s time to configure the WordPress database.  In your browser, navigate to http://localhost/xampp/index and click phpMyAdmin on the left sidebar.

In the phpMyAdmin window, create a new database by entering its name in the Create new database field (“wordpress” will be fine) and set MySQL connection collation to “utf8_unicode_ci”.  When finished, click ‘Create’.

mac_wordpress_phpmyadmin

Step Three – Installing WordPress: Start by extracting the WordPress file you downloaded earlier, which can be done by double clicking the file and moving the ‘wordpress’ folder to /Applications/XAMPP/htdocs.

Once the files have been moved, you need to edit the wp-config-sample.php file located in the ‘wordpress’ folder.  Open the file with your favorite text editor and change the values as shown below (make adjustments if you have changed any naming schema).

mac_wordpress_sql_settings

Note: You will notice that the database password is blank, which is the default setting for XAMPP.  This is a security risk, so only leave it blank if you will be working on your local computer on a private network.  To change your database password, return to the phpMyAdmin panel and choose a secure MySQL password.

When you have made all changes to the file, you must rename it wp-config.php (removing the “sample”).  You can then navigate to your local WordPress site (http://localhost/wordpress/wp-admin/install.php) and start using WordPress as usual!

Google Wants to Help Make Your Website Faster with Page Speed

google_logoFirefox only:  Google has just released Page Speed, a website performance tool for Firefox/Firebug that is similar to the previously covered Yahoo YSlow add-on.  Google has made it clear that speed is one of their highest priorities for modern-day internet, and Page Speed is their attempt at getting web developers personally involved in the process.

Page Speed is an open source tool that that allows web developers to evaluate the performance of their web pages and receive suggestions on how to improve them.  Page Speed runs several tests on a website’s server configuration and front-end code, providing web developers with a score for each page and suggestions for improving performance.

Google’s hopes are that if individual web developers improve their site’s performance, users will be more engaged, bandwidth will be reduced, and the internet as a whole will be improved.  Google has outlined a list of web performance best practices, which details techniques such as caching, minimizing page size, and optimizing browser rendering.

Installing Page Speed

  1. Install Firebug (required to run Page Speed).
  2. Install Page Speed.
  3. Restart Firefox.

Testing A Page’s Performance

  1. Go to Tools > Firebug > Open Firebug.
    pagespeed_openfirebug
  2. In the Firebug Window, click the Page Speed Tab.
    pagespeed_button
  3. Navigate to the website you want to test.  Wait until the page has fully loaded before proceeding.
  4. Click Analyze Performance.
    pagespeed_analyzebutton

After a page has been analyzed, you will be given a detailed list of performance best practices and the page’s individual score for each category (sorted by importance).  Clicking any of these rules will provide you with suggestions for improving that specific area.

pagespeed_summary

While Page Speed is not as robust as YSlow in this initial release, it makes up for that with performance standards designed by the company that makes some of the web’s most efficient sites.

For more information about Page Speed and web performance best practices, check out Google’s guide.  Page Speed is a free add-on for Firefox.  [Google Page Speed]

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.