Category Archives: "Tech Primer" Series

Tech Primer: An Introductory Guide to Google Docs


This post will be the first in a series of post on using Google Docs and its new interface.  As I’ve written about on several different posts including ones on collaboration, integration, and usability, Google Docs is one of the leading cloud based office productivity suites on the market.

It offers many features and strengths over its competitors, including fast processing times, sharing and collaboration capabilities, and a large base of existing users.  This introductory guide will provide an overview of the user interface for new users of Google Docs

Accessing Google Docs:

In order to unlock the power of Google Docs, you must first have set up a Google Account (unless you already have one).  You can set up an account by going to and clicking on “sign in” in the upper right hand corner.  Google will then ask for information and an account will be set up for you.  This account will allow you to not only access Google Docs but will also allow you to access the numerous other Google products that they have.

Once you have an account set up, you can go to to start using your new Google Docs account.   When you arrive at the Google Docs homepage you will see a screen that looks similar to the one shown in the image below.

Google Docs Main Interface

Navigating the User Interface:

I really like the user interface.  It is clean, intuitive and easy to navigate around.  For user that have used Google Docs in the past but have not used it recently the interface probably looks different.  Google recently conducted an overhaul of all their services’ interfaces to become more uniform.

Moving around the user interface is intuitive and easy to learn.   In the main body of the interface are the files that have stored in your account. The main interface is housed within the traditional Google interface with the search box located at the top and the Google ribbon included at the very top of the screen.  In the screenshot above, you can see that I have two files in my Google Docs cloud storage, one spreadsheet and one document.

On the left hand side of the user interface are two red buttons – one that allows you to create a new file (CREATE) within Google Docs and an upload button that allows the user to upload other external files (like Microsoft Office files, Adobe PDF files, or image files).  I’ve had good success with uploading different file types.

Google Docs using a file management system that is based on tags and collections.  It does not use a traditional folder style file structure like that used by Microsoft or other software companies.   This can take some getting used to but for long time Google users or users that have Gmail accounts, it shouldn’t be much a problem. The file filters are shown on the left hand side of the screen.  Google Docs allows you to filter by owner, starred items, or by user-defined collections.

In the upper right hand corner above the main body there are two other buttons – the ‘Sort’ button and the ‘Settings’ button (that looks like a gadget or bolt.)   The ‘Sort’ button allows the user to sort files by priority, time, size, and owner.  The “Settings” button allows the user to change things like the display and time settings.

Productivity Programs of Google Docs:

The Google Docs suite consists of the following programs:

– Document
– Presentation
– Spreadsheet
– Form
– Table
– Drawing

The mostly wide used of the programs; Documents, Presentations, and Spreadsheets, provide intuitive interfaces and resemble that of other office desktop and web-based suites, (such as Microsoft Office, Zoho Office Suite, or OpenOffice).  The other programs; Forms, Tables, and Drawings are powerful tools that provide users with other useful functionality that can be integrated within the other programs.

Below is a screenshot of what a Google Docs spreadsheet looks like.   I will be providing more detailed posts on how to use each of the Programs of Google Docs.

Google Docs Spreadsheet

Google Docs Spreadsheet

Sharing Capabilities:

One of the great strengths of Google Docs is its sharing capabilities.  Since Google Docs is a cloud-based SaaS program, it is a naturally strong program for sharing and collaborating on the web.  Each of the programs within Google Docs allows the owner of the document to share the spreadsheet with other users.

Google Docs Sharing Window

Google Docs Sharing Window

Google Docs allows 3 sharing settings; 1) Public on the Web, 2) Anyone with the Link, and 3) Private.  “Public on the Web” allows for the most openness as anyone can search and find documents with this setting.  “Anyone with Link” allows additional control over who can view the documents by not allowing it to be searchable over the web.  “Private” allows the most control – only those users that the owner has granted permission to use are allowed to view or edit the document.

Google Docs Sharing Options

Google Docs Sharing Options

In Conclusion:

Setting up a Google Docs account is easy to do and provides a powerful and free office suite.  For long-time Google users, the transition to using Google Docs should be simple and easy.  For long-term Microsoft Office users, there may be a little bit more of a learning curve due to the unique file management structure and different user interface.

Overall, I find Google Docs to be a powerful tool that everyone should look into.  I’m quite impressed with it sharing options and responsiveness. Although Google Docs is not the only cloud-based office productivity suite on the market, it is one of the leaders.

Stay tuned for additional posts on how to use the programs within the Google Docs suite!

For more information, visit the following posts:

Comparing Cloud-Based spreadsheets
Comparing Cloud-Based word processors
Collaborating with Google Docs


Tech Primer: Using LinkedIn for Professional Networking

Overview & History:
LinkedIn is a social networking site that is geared towards developing professional relationships.    It is a valuable tool for creating and connecting with a professional network.   LinkedIn is similar to Facebook and MySpace, but offers a more professional feel.    LinkedIn has been around since 2003 and has over 50 million users worldwide.

How it Works:
LinkedIn is similar in nature to other social networking sites.   You first create an account and develop a profile for yourself.  Typically, a LinkedIn profile is more professional in nature and includes information about your current and past employers, duties, volunteer organizations, education, and any other activities or groups that you are involved with.

After you have profile set up, you can then start building your network.  Every time you add a person to your network, you have then created a “connection” to that person.  As you can see from my profile, I have 80 connections.   Once you are connected to a person, you are then able to view all of that person’s connections (as long as they allow you to.)

Other Features:
LinkedIn also includes several other cool features that allow you communicate and connect with others.  The website allows you to integrate information from other social media and blogging sites, such as twitter and wordpress, connect with outside applications, like, search jobs, and research companies.

Another great feature within LinkedIn are the professional groups.   There are hundreds (if not thousands) of different professional groups that are meant to connect people with a common professional interest.   Anyone has the ability to join or create a professional group.

In Summary:
LinkedIn is a great tool for professional networking and for participating in online professional networks.   I would recommend joining LinkedIn for anyone that is interested in building a network in their industry.

Tech Primer: Using Microsoft Excel Filters

Microsoft Excel filters are a wonderful way to access data that are stored in data lists.   They effectively allow the user to hide rows of data that do not meet  a specific user-defined criteria.   I used filters quite often when comparing data sets that have multiple column headings.

As a result of the Microsoft Office redesign that occurred with Office 2007, the application of filters is slightly different between Excel 2000/XP/2003 and Excel 2007.   Below are descriptions on how to implement them in both Excel 2003 and Excel 2007.

Implementing Filters in Excel 2000/XP/2003

Step 1: Highlight the column headings and go to Data>Filter>AutoFilter. Ensure that the AutoFilter text is checked.   Notice that the column headings now have drop down boxes associated with them.

Step 2: To filter, choose the drop-down bar from the desired column heading. Notice that the drop-down box has several choices that match the row values.  To filter, just choose the desired value.  Rows that do not match the chosen value are automatically hidden.

A more detailed description of the use of filters in Excel 2003 can be found here.

Implementing Filters in Excel 2007:

Step 1: Highlight the column headings and choose Data on the ribbon.  Click the Filter icon and ensure that it is selected.  At this point you should see drop-down bars on your column headings.

Excel 2007 - Filters

Step 2: To filter, choose the drop-down bar from the desired column  heading.  Choose the desired values that you wish to filter by.  Rows that do not match the chosen values are automatically hidden.

Excel 2007 - Filters