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10 must-have tools for cloud power users
Give Google Calendar a jolt of electricity with https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/hkhggnncdpfibdhinjiegagmopldibha, a free Chrome extension that takes the service to a whole new level.
Checker Plus lets you keep up with Google Calendar even when you don't have it open in a browser window. The app puts a customizable icon next to Chrome's address bar. Hovering over the icon shows you a list of your next few appointments; clicking on it brings up an interactive view of your full calendar, allowing you to peruse and manage events without ever leaving the Web page you're viewing. Checker Plus gives you customizable event reminders that appear on your desktop, too -- it can even read event details aloud as part of its notifications. And the app makes adding new events a snap: You can right-click on any email or highlighted text from a Web page and copy the info directly into your calendar from there. You can also add new events from Chrome's address bar, either by typing or by speaking the details aloud.
Cloud email gets an IQ boost with Boomerang, a browser-based add-on for Gmail. http://www.boomeranggmail.com/ lets you write messages in advance and schedule them to be sent at specific times in the future. It also allows you to "snooze" items in your inbox, temporarily sending them away; Boomerang then brings the emails back to your attention at a time and date you specify.
Boomerang has one other nifty feature worth mentioning: It can monitor outgoing messages and remind you to follow up if you don't receive a response after a certain number of days.
Boomerang integrates directly into Gmail by way of a Chrome or Firefox extension; you can also access it extension-free by going through Boomerang's mobile website. The service is free, though after a one-month trial, you'll be limited to 10 actions per month and no mobile-based access unless you decide to sign up for a subscription plan. Subscriptions start at $5 a month or $50 a year.
No matter how much you may like Gmail and Google Calendar, sometimes you need to use a desktop tool like Outlook or Lotus Notes. A little IMAP magic can get your messages synced, but what about all your other data -- you know, calendar, contacts and tasks?
That's where http://www.companionlink.com/ comes in. Its software wirelessly keeps the app of your choice in sync with Google, letting you view, edit and add information as if your desktop were part of the cloud service. CompanionLink supports both one-way and two-way syncing, so you can keep your local data in sync with Google's servers, too, if you want.
CompanionLink's Google-Outlook syncing software costs $50; the Google-Lotus Notes program runs at $80. The company offers a variety of other syncing options, too, including software that works with services such as GroupWise, Zoho and Salesforce. On the mail server side, it offers product options to connect with Windows Live in addition to Google. CompanionLink's programs are currently available for Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7, with Mac support said to be coming soon.
Google's new Chrome Remote Desktop tool, still in beta, lets you access and control any PC remotely, right from your browser. All you need is the free Chrome extension; no additional software is required. That means the service works seamlessly on practically any operating system -- Windows, Mac, Linux or even the cloud-centric Chrome OS.
Chrome Remote Desktop currently requires someone to accept the start of a new session manually on both sides. As such, it's geared primarily toward troubleshooting someone else's computer -- a boon for all of us who act as the family help desk. Google says it plans to eventually expand Chrome Remote Desktop to allow for unmanned remote access too, which should make the tool even more useful.
Tune up your cloud experience with http://chromeunderground.blogspot.com/2011/04/pandora-extension.html, a third-party Chrome extension for the Pandora music-streaming service. Anesidora gives you the full Pandora experience without the need to keep a Pandora tab open in your browser.
The extension works by adding an icon to Chrome's toolbar area. The first time you use it, you'll need to sign in with your Pandora credentials; after that, clicking the icon will instantly pull up a full control panel for your personalized Pandora pleasure. The panel appears over any Web page you're viewing, so you never have to interrupt your workflow to navigate away.
Anesidora allows you to do everything Pandora does: choose stations, play and pause music, skip songs, and thumbs-up or thumbs-down tracks as you go. It even gives you access to Pandora's "Why was this song played?" feature.
Cloud computing and hassle-free music? That's rock 'n' roll, baby.