Jul 11, 2012

Chrome Apps: Helpful software, usually cheap

In the technology business, sometimes it’s difficult to figure out which group of Evil Overlords has the best secret conspiracy strategy for world domination. At times it almost seems that the Evil Microsoft Overlords, the Evil Apple Overlords and the Evil Google Overlords have agreed to take turns wearing the Most Evil Conspiracy Ever championship belt. (Probably to keep the Evil Facebook Overlords-in-Training out of the game.)

Every now and then, though, something useful happens when one of the conspiracies goes awry. Apple has produced some interesting TV commercials, for example, and Microsoft offers its Visio software, which can be a lot of fun if you get your hands on one of those “crime scene diagram” templates. Another one of those happy accidents is Google’s Chrome Web Store.

Crime Scene Template

Visio: Come on, you know you want to.

In this instance, I’m looking specifically at the “Office Applications” category of the web store, where you can find a number of browser-based applications that may actually be useful in day-to-day business. Some of them closely replicate the function of more expensive software, while other apps are fairly unique. All of them are either free or fairly low cost. Here are a few that might come in handy for you:

DocuSign

For most businesses, the idea of a paperless office is a dream — sort of the way my kid dreams about being the first astronaut on Mars. The main difference is he’s only 7, so his dream still might work out.

DocuSign can help your business move one step closer to achieving the paperless dream, though. It’s a secure eSignature application that’s completely browser-based and integrates with Google Drive. It allows you to send digital documents to customers that they can sign electronically — a legally binding signature — and return to you.

E-signature technology has been around for a while, but DocuSign is a service that makes it easy. In the past, to make eSignatures work you needed a special security certificate and had to exchange encryption keys with customers. That’s no longer the case — DocuSign handles the entire process on their servers.

A 30-day trial account with DocuSign, which allow up to 10 digital documents, is free. Paid accounts start at $15 per month.

LucidChart

Everybody likes charts and diagrams, right? That’s LucidChart’s specialty. Flow charts, org charts, mind maps, process diagrams; you can use this program’s drag-and-drop interface to create all kinds of useful stuff.

In the past, I’ve used a fully-licensed version of Lucid to create programming flow charts and user interface wireframes. It’s pretty handy and easy to use. The Chrome App version actually has a free account level — not just a time-limited free trial — but the free account doesn’t have full functionality. The “Basic” paid account, which is $3.33 a month, doesn’t really have full function, either. If you want to do web page and interface wire frames in LucidChart, you need to bump up to the $8.33 per month “Pro” account in order to access the templates and objects you need.

Gantter

This project management application gives me nightmare flashbacks. Not because it’s troublesome — it’s actually pretty good — but because in a previous life I did a lot of project management. I get post-trauma cold sweats at the mere mention of Microsoft Project.

Gantter is a well-done application that delivers a huge chunk of the functionality you’ll find in Project at a much lower complexity level. It doesn’t do everything Project does, as you may expect, but for most businesses it will do the job just fine. If you’re the project manager for a new high-rise building construction or a zillion dollar software project, you’ll probably have a reason to invest in Project — but otherwise Gantter will get you there.

It integrates very tightly with Google Drive. The Drive integration means the application demands a lot of account permissions — which you may or may not be comfortable with. On the positive side, it is absolutely free.

 

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