Google Product Changes - Wow, I can call from Gmail, and other Thoughts

Google Doodles & Large Hadron Collider (LHC)Image by Régis Gaidot via Flickr
Anyone else noticing a ton of changes to your favorite Google products?  Every day I open Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Blogger, Images or anything Google, there seems to be something new in store. While I usually welcome and embrace change, I can imagine how the casual user may get overwhelmed with the "new" icon flashing everywhere. For your convenience, here are some of the new features you'll find in your favorite Google products.

Voice - free calls from your Gmail. Wait a second, I had to do a double take initially, so let that sink in for yourself. Yep, I just tested this by calling my wife from my computer while in Gmail. Call quality was solid, and connecting was easy. This now allows users to call from anywhere they have a computer and a connection. Unlike a lot of the other new features, I can actually see this getting used immediately and without much of a learning curve. I had a Google Voice account setup already, so I'm pretty sure that's why I had the feature already enabled. Note that while domestic calls are free, ones to other countries come with a fee.

Gmail - your whole left sidebar suddenly got shifted downward one day. Why? Google decided to add 3 quicklinks to the top left. The top features of Gmail (Mail, Contacts, and the newest child, Tasks) are prominently displayed, and Contacts features a whole new look as well. Overall, I like the quicklinks, and I appreciate the new "Compose Mail" button that appears below the links. You want the sidebar to provide quick access to the links you use the most, and this change accomplishes that.

Calendar - some minor changes here, but the new title bar jumps out a bit, and the "Find a time" option has the potential to add strong collaboration capabilities to the mix. Since I only share my Calender with my wife, I probably won't need to be so formal with my scheduling. However, corporate environments would surely benefit from an improved method of scheduling meetings with interested parties. This is very similar to the Schedule Meeting feature in a certain competitor's product (rhymes with "Bicroloft Toutbook").

Docs - there have been a lot of improvements in Documents, and I seem to get an update every day from the Apps team. However, none of them have been as eye catching and potentially game changing as the live text capabilities of Google Docs. Taking the best feature from Google Wave (rest in peace), the ability to see what other users are typing as they type it is very cool and moderately useful. What's more useful is the included chat feature on the right panel, which allows collaborators to discuss edits while they make them.

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