January 26, 2006

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Techie: Free software made simple

Google Pack bundles original and third-party programs

By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

You may have heard of a little tech company called Google.

They have a Web page where you can search for things online.

Thing is, there’s only so much you can do with a white page and a search box. The programmers at Google got bored.

So they made a bunch of software.

It started with the Google Toolbar — a handy add-on for Internet Explorer that removed the need to trudge all the way over to www.google.com to start a search. Then they made a version that stayed on your desktop, so you didn’t even need to open Internet Explorer.

Then they started going nuts.

Picasa, originally developed by someone else, offered to organize, edit and distribute the digital photos scattered across your hard drive. Google Desktop extended search capabilities to all your files and e-mails. Google Earth let you fly around maps of the entire world, zooming in and out as you pleased (as long as your computer was up to the task). Google Talk thought it had a prayer of unseating instant messaging king AOL.

Downloading all that software could be a pain, though. Google’s all about reducing the number of clicks you need to perform, so them clever folks said to themselves, they said: Let’s bundle everything up together! For free!

That’s what they did. Complete with a Google Updater to keep the software current, Google Pack is available at pack.google.com. In addition to the programs mentioned above, they threw in the Google Pack Screensaver, which uses your photos as screensaver material. Nothing new, really. But they also included a bunch of software from other vendors.

Mozilla Firefox: If you’re not browsing with Firefox instead of Internet Explorer by now, I’m sorry to say, you’re really, really unhip. It blocks popups really well, offers tabbed browsing and, most importantly, doesn’t invite malicious programs into the heart of your operating system. There’s even a Google search box.

Ad-Aware: Mostly necessary if you haven’t switched to an alternative browser, Ad-Aware detects spyware that’s sneaked onto your machine.

Norton Antivirus: Viruses crumble against it, but your free virus signature updates end after six months. Plus it slows your system down if you keep it running in the background.

Adobe Reader: You might have this already and not even know it. It’s necessary to read PDF files, which are often posted for things you’re likely to print, like rebate forms or pirated term papers.

RealPlayer: Another necessary evil for some multimedia files. The program will tell you it needs to run all the time, but don’t you believe it.

Trillian: An instant messaging program that lets you chat with AOL, ICQ, MSN and Yahoo! users.

GalleryPlayer HD Images: Some nice pictures. Seriously, that’s it.

You can select which programs you want to include in your download, so if you never chat, you can leave Google Talk and Trillian out. Google Updater will leave out programs you already have installed, as well.

Google has come up with some good stuff. Their search engine rules, Gmail organizes discussion threads elegantly and Google Earth is a trip and a half. The company is starting to loom large, though, and rumors have been swirling that it’ll eventually release its own operating system to compete with Windows. There’s just no way anyone can remain pure when contemplating such a battle — Frodo Baggins was fictional, and even he had his moments.

 Comments? Thoughts? Discuss these articles and more at hippoflea.com

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