Viewed in a couple of years’ time, this review could either look like a startling piece of foresight or something that offers predictions even Mystic Meg would struggle to put her name to. Yet is there any company in the world better based to take on Microsoft than Google? Even if they don’t say it, the thought’s clearly gone through the minds of those at Google HQ. For this pack of free software is aimed primarily at those who have just bought a new computer and need some applications to get it up and running.
It’s an evolving project, but for now it includes Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer, the Picasa 2 photo organiser, the Google Earth planet browsing tool, Google Desktop (for very fast searches and organisation), the Google Pack Screensaver (which allows you to collate lots of pictures into a saver), Mozilla Firefox, Ad-Aware SE Personal, Adobe Reader 7 and Norton Antivirus 2005 Special Edition. On top of that lot, Google also offers optional extras in the shape of Trillian instant messenger, a surprisingly unintrusive variant of RealPlayer media player, GalleryPlayer HD Images and Google Talk (a voice and instant messaging tool).
We’ll focus on the main pack for the purposes of this piece though, and there’s a lot to be happy with. Picasa 2, for instance, is a strong image organising package that hunts down photos and suchlike from your hard drive and allows you to store them in virtual albums, without affecting the source file. Coupled with some simple but quite effective editing tools, it’s a useful application to have around.
Likewise, the Google Desktop Search, once it’s completed the lengthy task of indexing your machine, is a far quicker way to get around your computer than the standard Windows search. Then there’s Firefox, currently our Internet browser of choice, and what was for some time our favoured waste of time, Google Earth. This latter is a package that works with the Internet to bring you close-up maps of large swathes of the planet. You can lose hours, and test the strength of your Internet connection to the limit, with a virtual exploration of the globe.
On the downside, we’d have preferred a genuinely free anti-virus tool rather than Norton Antivirus SE. Norton’s tool is effective, certainly, and as a standalone application we warmed to it more than usual, but there’s only a six-month trial here before they start wanting their subscription fee. Perhaps AVG Free Edition would have been a better choice.
Yet if the aim was to provide a good, solid starter pack of software, then there’s little doubting that Google has done well here. You’d be hard pushed to say that the products are all the best in their field, but with a collective cost of nothing, how can you complain? As for Microsoft, its directors must be watching the Google Pack project with some trepidation, for the inevitable moment when OpenOffice becomes part of the offering. It’s surely just a matter of time…