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Maximizing the Gmail Experience

March 30, 2011 Leave a comment

When I first was given an invitation to Gmail back in 2004, I was an avid Hotmail and Yahoo user. I was hesitant because I didn’t want to add a third personal email address, and I was quite comfortable with Hotmail as my primary email account. It was a slow transition, but intriguing features such as 1GB storage was unheard of and the conversation format was attractive. It wasn’t until 2005 when I fully embraced Gmail as my primary account, and I have never looked back.

And with the launch of Google Apps, my personal Gmail experience became a professional one as well. I converted my first school to Google Apps for Education back in 2008 and Gmail has been the backbone to school-wide conversions. Today, Gmail offers a wide variety of features beyond the traditional email web-based client of the past. Although I do not have to convince many about how powerful Gmail is as a communication platform, I still felt compelled to finally compile a list of features why Gmail trumps all.

My Gmail Key Features:

  • Communication tools have evolved to include chat, group chat, video chat, SMS texting, status boards, Buzz, Google Talk, and Google Voice. Calling from your browser Nationally for free is awesome!
  • Google Apps migration tools allows for migration from Microsoft Exchange environments. Even Outlook stalwarts can appreciate this feature.
  • Organization features provide users many ways to control their email. Labels (sublabels) and the ability to create filters directly into labels is quite valuable. The new Priority Inbox is offering Google intelligence to email filtering and color-coded starring of email has always been handy.
  • Using Google search engine to find email has always been a key differentiator.
  • Full integration with other Google Apps provides a comprehensive communication, collaborative and document sharing platform.
  • Product roadmap and company sustainability is strong with Google launching updated versions of Gmail and continued partnerships with third party applications.
  • Multiple-Sign In capabilities allows users to link personal Gmail addresses with Google Apps domains.
  • 7GB of storage and counting has always been industry leading. (Of course MSFT responds with 25GB email storage with MSFT Office 365)
  • Google mobile apps provide seamless transition from computer to mobile device.

To add to the Gmail experience, I also wanted to ask my PLN what their top 3 tools/features are in using Gmail? Here are their responses:

  • @mcarrib7 PLN Help: Priority Inbox, filters, stars
  • @jasonschmidt123 Top 3 for me: Priority Inbox, Filters, Search
  • @cbell619 1-filters to apply labels 2 incoming mail 2-boomerang (reminders) 3-superstars
  • @wmchamberlain not a power gmail user but I love labels and search
  • @warrena Top 3 reasons I use Gmail: free, searchable, massive storage(7gb?) #eduit (but all the Google account bonus features help too.)
  • @billselak (from a Google Buzz friend) 1) Best spam filter. 2) Uses labels vs. folders 3) Keyboard shortcuts Bonus) 2-Step User Verification
  • @billselak Gmail is easy to use, it archives everything, & labels make it easy to organize. It integrates with everything (aka my iPhone).
  • @franze98 no worries of shortage of storage space, top line spam defense, & a product that is constantly upgrading. #eduIT#ga4e
  • @jasontbedell Speed, reliability, easy maintenance, and easy access from anywhere. Plus, Exchange is just awful.
  • @peterscampbell Seamless mgmt via labels + filters; Usable search; integrated inbox (I feed all other email to gmail account).
  • @turrean top 3 gmail features: labels, assigning custom colors to labels, and all the different color stars! Love organization tools ūüôā
  • @mrbadura groups, chat feature, folder colors
  • @audreywatters I don’t know if this counts, but I love @rapportive
  • @epaopao 3 gmail tools i use r 1.multiple inbox- to do list & priority 2.custom label colors-lots of labels 3.chat-quick correspondence
  • @nathansudds Some good ones mentioned already but a few more tools are @cldmgc @IntegratedGmail @activeinbox @strube‘s Wav player for #Gmail
  • @mswanson In order; collaboration, storage, easy management
  • @idarknight how about add ons like Active Inbox?
  • @techforschools I’m a huge fan of canned responses

There are probably a hundred other features that Gmail provides to make your life a little easier, would love to hear about it! Leave comments or @socratech to contribute to the growing list. Thanks!

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Google Apps Alternatives

March 24, 2011 3 comments

Google Apps is the predominantly used cloud-based communications, collaboration and document management platform on the web. The free easy to use tools and consistent improved upgrades has provided education organizations solid solutions for email, calendar, document sharing/management and team collaborative sites. In response to Google, Microsoft launched the Microsoft Office Live and Live@Edu products, which will transition into the new Microsoft Office 365. Microsoft Office 365 is going to offer 25GB of storage with access to Office tools online.

While these two juggernauts continue to fight for the number one spot, I wanted to highlight some lesser known communication and collaboration platforms available for organizations.

HyperOffice – The HyperOffice collaboration suite offers tools that not only supports email, document management and calendars, but also project and contact management tools. They also have remote sharing features with their HyperMeeting product. The HyperBase features allows organizations to create customized databases for data collection.

Zimbra – Originally purchased by Yahoo in 2007, Zimbra was reinvented with the acquisition by VMware. The Zimbra Collaboration Server uses the power of VMware to create virtualized and cloud infrastructures for integrated email, contacts, document management, and desktop synchronization.

Zoho – It is probably not fair to call Zoho a lesser known product because this popular web-based application platform offers an abundance of products for organizations. In fact, it probably could compete with Google and Microsoft for the number one spot for web-based tools. The collaborative apps and business focused apps are widely used in many organizations. Zoho even offers integration with Google Apps.

ThinkFree – This solution provides a viable alternative to online office collaboration and document management tools, but doesn’t provide the full breath of communication features as the above products. Nevertheless, this free online office suite works with Microsoft Office tools and touts mobile document capabilities.

Gaggle – This online learning platform provides a more filtered and secure version of web-based applications. It is specifically built for education with ERate and CIPA compliance. The reason it is finally worthy of a comprehensive platform is because of its additions of Gaggle’s Apps integration with products such as Google Apps and Zoho. Gaggle offers safe and secure student email, blogging, document sharing, and social media filtered features.

Here are some other up and coming web-based solutions that warrants further research:

eyeOS – Web Desktop, Cloud Computing Operating System and Web Office

ePals – Safe collaborative technology for schools to connect and learn in a protected, project-based learning network.

Huddle – Project management software, collaboration software & file storage

Onehub – Customizable workspaces for online collaboration

IE9 Browser Review

March 18, 2011 3 comments

With the rise of Google Chrome, Apple rival Safari and steady browser alternative Firefox, you would have thought Explorer would be fourth on the list. So it still baffles me when I hear Internet Explorer still controls 60% of the browser market, but I have to keep in mind that enterprise networks are still Microsoft heavy. Personally, I rarely use Explorer and I rather prefer Chrome and Firefox as my go to browsers. But when I heard IE9 was coming out today, I had to give it a try. Below are some high/low lights from my first drive on IE9.

  • #fail It forced a restart on my computer after installation
  • First impression: Google Chrome knockoff…
  • All the cumbersome¬†buttons have been removed leaving it lighter from a user interface
  • The tabs are smaller and easier to navigate on the tool bar
  • 2 new enhancements:¬†HTML5 support & a faster new JavaScript engine called Chakra
  • You can now pin a shortcut to a website on the taskbar…Like!
  • Searching feature is similar to Google Chrome
  • Haven’t tested the security features, but IE9 touts stronger security capability with native scanning of active downloads for malware and spyware.

Overall, I am impressed with the upgrade of Explorer because of the simpler, faster and lighter new version of browsing. However, I don’t plan on switching from Chrome and Firefox anytime soon. In true Microsoft form, they develop products after a competitor forces them to change. From Windows 7 Phone to Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft seems to be always playing catch up with the Apples and Googles of the world.

CCSA 2011

March 15, 2011 Leave a comment

The California Charter School Association held its annual conference this year at the Convention Center in sunny San Diego. There¬†were about 3000 educators gathered in a variety of sessions collaborating and supporting one another. There were plenty of notable attendees from Mayor Kevin Johnson who emphasized the need for clarity in the “charter movement”, to keynote speaker Salman Khan from the Khan Academy, who inspired the crowd about how tutoring his cousins turned into a revolutionary idea. Khan’s keynote focused on how technology is humanizing the education experience, which was a common theme throughout the conference. The idea of personalizing instruction resonated in both the breakout sessions and vendor gallery. There were many charter schools showcasing their blended learning model and vendors demonstrating their products that support hybrid schools. As a technologists, I was intrigued by a couple of products at the conference: EduTone and Illuminate.¬†EduTone is a single-sign on platform that provides integration with Google Apps environments. Illuminate offers data assessment tools with a comprehensive reporting capabilities. Illuminate’s doc cam scanning capability of bubble sheets will be a huge hit with teachers. While I enjoyed the content at CCSA, I learned more by hanging out with my fellow colleagues and friends who attended the conference…drinks included!

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