From a form generator to a trend tracker to a cloud printer app, these free tools will expand your capabilities and save you time and effort.
Google is one of the most powerful cloud-based tools on the market. Whether you use it for personal tasks, school, business, or pleasure, plenty of apps are available. Some of these apps (such as Docs, Calendar, and Gmail) are all widely used and well known. There are, however, other Google apps you may not have run across — apps that can go a long way toward making your life a bit easier. These apps may be less well known, but that doesn't mean they are less capable. Let me introduce you to five such apps that you can integrate into your free Google account.
Note: This article is also available as an image gallery and a video hosted by TechRepublic columnist Tom Merritt.
Forms (Figure A) makes it easy to build surveys you can send to your contacts. These forms can help you plan events, organize your priorities, get answers to important questions from clients/relatives/friends, and much more. The form generator is simple to use. You can build your surveys using text, paragraph text, multiple choice options, check boxes, lists, scales (1 to 10), grid, date, and time answers. You can also theme your forms to make them more visually appealing.
Once you've created a form, you can send it to Facebook, Google+, or Twitter or share a link via email. When people fill out the form, you can track their answers in a Google spreadsheet.
Trends (Figure B) is where you go when you want to know what searches are trending. This app is handy when you need to know what searches are hot (to work popular keywords into a page or piece of online marketing material). The tool allows you to open multiple areas so you can watch for as many popular search terms as you need. When you see a trend that interests you, click on the box to open the full-blown Google search results for that trend.
From the main Trends page you can gauge global interest in a particular subject. Click on the Explore In-Depth link to gain even more insight into trends (and even add specific terms to track). You can also go to the Hot Trends page to see a recent history of trending searches.
When you need to run a Google search against an index of scholarly literature, turn to Scholar (Figure C). It filters out everything but scholarly papers from your Google searches and runs across an array of formats and disciplines. If you're curious which scholarly databases Scholar indexes, take a look at this page for the list.
Scholar lets you include articles (including patents) and case law in the results. When you run a search, you'll notice the results are a bit different from the standard Google return. First, there's a complete lack of advertisements. That alone should prove its worth. Second, the results tend to be heavy on books and PDFs (though websites do appear). If a result links to a website, almost without fail that site is a university or other research institution. Scholar also allows you to track citations, create a library (for use with citations), and view metrics of publications included in Scholar.
4: Cloud Print
Cloud Print (Figure D) is a tool worth setting up immediately — especially if you're an Android user. It enables you to print to your printer from any device from anywhere, once you have a cloud-ready printer set up. (You can also set up a classic printer, so long as it is attached to a desktop and configured through Google Chrome.)
Cloud-ready printers can be shared to other users so that they can easily print to them. Log into your Google account and go to the Manage Printers page, where you can check print jobs, add a cloud-ready printer, add a classic printer, delete printers, and more. If you're a mobile user who's constantly on the go, Cloud Print is a must-have.
Groups (Figure E) has been around for a long time, but with the massive popularity of Facebook, it's often forgotten. However, if you've grown tired of the sophomoric attitudes and sharing on Facebook and want to focus a collection of users into a more helpful resource, create a Google Group.
With this app, you can create a discussion group on a specific topic and leave behind the memes, selfies, and political soapboxing. You can create a group as an email list, a web forum, a Q&A forum, or a collaborative inbox. Once you've created the group, you can even embed it (as an iframe) into an external web page. If you select group members carefully, Groups can become an incredibly powerful tool to use for brainstorming, discussion, and collaboration.
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Have you taken advantage of other Google Apps? Share your favorites with fellow TechRepublic members.