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5 best free Gmail add-ons

New widgets to boost Google's webmail service

Google Docs Gadget

How it helps do no evil: While some of you might say "pry my Microsoft Office from my cold dead hands", the Google Apps developers have spent a lot of time during the past year building upon their web-based Documents, Spreadsheets and Presentations apps.

While each still lacks some of the features in Office, Google Docs has some upsides. Mainly, it doesn't require that you store files locally (so if you lose your laptop, you're only out the hardware, not the files). It also has amazing version control. If you liked how a document looked 20 minutes ago, you can revert back.

For the full web-based version of Google Docs, you've typically needed to click on the 'Documents' link in the top left side of Gmail, launching a new tab in your browser. Now, with this Google Docs Gadget, you can see your recent documents as a widget beside your Gmail inbox. It has a 'new' tab that immediately allows you to begin a new document, spreadsheet, presentation or form writer.

How it works: Go to Gmail Labs, click enable, and save. The widget will appear on left column of your Gmail page.

Doing No Good: The document list in the widget doesn't always update very quickly after you add new documents. I can deal with this, but it'd be nice to have some sort of 'refresh' button to force the issue if I wanted.

Google Calendar Gadget

How it helps do no evil: One of the fundamental problems with web-based email and productivity suites is a lack of integration, where each app is walled off from one another. One of the most important aspects of any on-premise email system like Lotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange has been the integration with your calendar. By adding the Google Calendar gadget, you have that capability in Gmail on the left side of your page. You can add events to your calendar (the full version can be found by clicking the 'Calendar' link in the upper left side of Gmail). In the widget, under options, you can click to show a mini-calendar of the current month.

How it works: Go to Gmail Labs, click enable, and save. The widget will appear on left column of your Gmail page.

Doing no good: When you start to add an event, you can't add many details other than the time and the activity (Tuesday, 7pm dinner with Anna at Nick's Crispy Tacos). If you click to add more details, you're sent to a more robust page with fields for addresses, numbers, etc. (that will open as a tab in your browser). While that's really not a huge deal, a smaller pop-up beside the widget might be preferable.


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