The black bar across the Google Universe provides quick access to your apps – mail, calendar, docs – but the GPanion Cloud Companion improves that by integrating your apps into a dashboard. It works with full Google Apps accounts as well as free Google accounts.
The first thing you notice when you log in is your Google Mail preview. This is a handy display of the most recent e-mails in your account. You can display your favorite Google Apps at the top of the page. If you click the small settings icon next the Favorites title, you will scroll through a huge list of possible Google products, some of which I’d forgotten about or never heard of, like Notebook or Mapmaker. GPanion has not kept this list current, so you will occasionally find an app that no longer exists. In some cases, like Timeline, it forwards to News. In others, like Google Fastflip, it just spits back an error page.
You can also select non-Google services like Github and eLance. Not that useful for lawyers, but you can create an “app” for any Web site, so you could have one that links out to Westlaw or to some other Web-based service used by your firm. Once you have selected and created your apps, you can drag them from the app screen onto your favorites. Since each user can have their own favorites, it allows for flexibility in pulling together an individual’s dashboard.
There is a link to search within the dashboard which, like most other apps or favorites, take you out of the dashboard to the Google search page. Links to your big-a Google Apps – mail, tasks, calendar, docs – are listed under a heading for Google Data. I like having quick access to Reader – an RSS feed reader that is free from Google but that does not appear on the black toolbar – as well.
The biggest drawback to this dashboard is that you can’t do anything on it directly. Apps and other resources open in new windows. Although you can preview your mail, you can’t delete it in this view, just click to open it. The same for your documents, where you can open a recent document but there are no other tools available except to create a new one (you can click a compose button for mail too) and it opens up a new window in the appropriate service. There are obvious efficiencies merely by just bringing these services together but it would seem that a bit more integration would make it more powerful.
GPanion bills itself as a business intranet tool – a single user is free but a small law firm will need to pay – and you can see how a cloud-based law firm could use it to create an online interface to many applications. It’s Web-based so it will work on any device that can get to the Internet with a Web browser. If you are an active user of Google’s apps, it’s worth activating a free account and seeing if this makes you more productive.