Google keeps killing products users love. Here are some great alternatives.
Credit: Google image via AHMAD FAIZAL YAHYA / Shutterstock.com
Google strikes again. The search giant announced that it will be discontinuing Google Helpouts, its live video chat help platform, on April 20. This short-lived service, which launched on Nov. 5, 2013, lets users provide one-on-one consultations over videoconference, giving business owners a chance to help current and potential customers. But this isn't the first time Google has pulled the plug on a major product.
In 2014, Google discontinued Quickoffice and killed all Authorship functionality on search results. In 2013, the tech giant also nixed services users loved, such as iGoogle and Google Reader. And remember Google Buzz? How about Google Answers? Picnik and Knol? You guessed it — Google got rid of those, too.
Granted, people couldn't care less about some of the services Google has axed in the past, with many they may never even have heard of. But then there are services that people actually use and need, such as Google Talk, which was replaced by Hangouts; the Google Voice app for Blackberry that completely disappeared; and Google Apps, which once was free, but is free no more. [Google for Business: A Small Business Guide]
Here are some alternatives to Helpouts, the Quickoffice app, iGoogle and the other Google tools you miss.
Helpouts will soon be saying goodbye, but there are other ways that you can provide live consultations to customers and potential clients and help your business grow. Here are four popular Google Helpouts alternatives:
- LiveNinja is a real-time video coaching platform that lets you reach customers all over the world. In addition to live one-on-one video chats, LiveNinja also lets you host webinars and other group events to further monetize your expertise.
- 24sessions.com lets business experts hold secure, live video-chat consultations on a wide range of fields, from marketing to finance, legal, strategy, sales and more. Like Hangouts, you can set your own schedule and pricing. The service also lets users post consultation requests, so you can find new clients — in addition to them finding you — to broaden your reach.
- Clarity.fm also provides on-demand business advice for other business owners. Share your business expertise and help fellow entrepreneurs make wiser decisions and grow their companies. Currently, Clarity.fm does not have video functionality and only allows voice calls.
- Coach.me is a community-driven mobile coaching platform that lets you offer one-on-one help using your iPhone or Android smartphone. Categories include personal growth, fitness, learning new skills (for instance, playing the guitar), productivity and more.
Quickoffice app alternatives
Google has officially pulled the plug on this mobile productivity app, but have no fear. There are many ways to open Microsoft Office files on iOS and Android devices, as well as Windows Phone and tablets. For those looking for a true Office experience, Microsoft has released standalone apps for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Skype and OneDrive, which you can find here. Additionally, there are a handful of third-party Microsoft Office-friendly apps available to help you get the job done:
- Soonr, a secure file sharing and collaboration platform that lets you edit Microsoft Office documents on iOS, Android and BlackBerry devices. There's no need to download a third-party app, and data can be stored locally or on the cloud, as well as synced on- and offline.
- Documents to Go, a mobile Office suite for viewing, creating and editing Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. Includes Adobe PDF support. Documents to go has been around for 15 years and comes preloaded on most devices. Available on iOS, Android and BlackBerry smartphones and tablets.
- hopTo, a cloud-based iPad app with full Microsoft Office compatibility. Users can create, view and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files on their iPads, then store them in the clodu for anytime, anywhere access.
- iWork for iCloud, Apple's own browser-based productivity suite. Just log in to iCloud and start working on Word, Excel and PowerPoint files.
[For a side-by-side comparison of the best cloud services visit our sister site Top Ten Reviews.]
While it seems like nothing will ever replace one of the few Google legacy products — where users could customize their Google homepage, view Gmail, the weather, newsfeeds, to-do lists and other Google Gadgets all in one dashboard — there are several iGoogle alternatives to help users cope with the loss:
- igHome, which mirrors iGoogle's layout, was meant "to create a site that looked and worked like iGoogle as much as possible to make the transition easy for users," said igHome developer Mike Sutton. Like iGoogle, users can also add gadgets and quick-access links to Google services such as Gmail, Calendar, Drive and more.
- Netvibes, a more advanced version of iGoogle, has nearly 100,000 apps and thousands of themes to personalize your iGoogle-like homepage. It also includes social media integration and all types of widgets, such as RSS feeds, bookmarklets and more. Personal accounts are free, but enterprise accounts are also available for $499 a month.
- My Yahoo, Yahoo's customizable home page, lets users "Get your headlines, email, quotes and more — all in one page." Much like iGoogle, My Yahoo offers personalized widgets, from weather apps to recommended newsfeeds, RSS feeds from your favorite websites, sports scoreboards and more. Although Google products are not accessible through My Yahoo, the service does allow users to import iGoogle data and settings.
- my msn, Microsoft's take on iGoogle, also does not integrate with Google products, but will do the job if all you need is a content-based home page. After signing in with a Microsoft account, users can add RSS feeds and up to four recommended content categories, such as health, technology, entertainment, news, sports, money, lifestyle and videos.
Postini is one of the most popular spam-filtering and email-archiving tools. It was founded in 1999 and acquired by Google in 2007. By the end of 2013, however, Postini's 26 million users will have to say goodbye to the program forever and make one of two choices: transition to Google Apps — Google's paid, cloud-based productivity suite, which will take over Postini — or migrate to a different provider.
"This is likely a strategic move by Google. By retiring Postini and transitioning users to Google Apps, Google is able to leverage their brand and gain a larger share of the market," said Julie May, founder and CEO of bytes of knowledge, a software programming, Internet marketing and managed IT service provider.
Making the decision to switch to Google Apps or an alternative solution — then finally making the move — is never easy. But now is a better time than ever to evaluate your business needs and your satisfaction with Google Apps' offerings, May said. For instance, if Google Apps does not provide the features or level of email security you need, then it makes sense to switch to a different service, she said.
"Depending on your budget and the size of your business, it may benefit from or need additional services, such as email continuity and encryption, neither of which are included in either of Google Apps' new services," May said. "The key is to ask yourself if you are using the right technology for your business' needs."
Ensuring a smooth transition requires preparation, May said.
"It's important to plan ahead and make sure your new spam provider is in place by the time your Postini contract is up," she said. "This way, you won't lose important emails or have your inbox flooded with spam."
Google Reader alternative
As alternatives to Google Reader, the company suggested several apps, such as Feedly, Digg Reader, InoReader, NewsBlur, Flipboard and the Pulse mobile app. Feedly quickly became the top choice amongst former Google Reader users, primarily due to its simple interface, which most resembles the Google Reader of yore.
"Having quick access to massive amounts of information — latest events in tech, acquisitions, funding, etc. — is crucial to running our business," said Ryan Kulp, who runs marketing at ShuttleCloud, a New York City-based cloud data-management and migration provider. "When Google Reader shut down, we were a bit frantic."
Feedly, it turned out, was exactly what they needed. "We discovered Feedly and have been very happy with it," he said.
In addition to RSS aggregation, Feedly also offers modern upgrades lacking in Google Reader.
"[Feedly] is actually faster, cleaner and better designed than Google Reader, along with [offering] more integrations to popular sharing tools, like Buffer and Pinterest," Kulp said.
Google Adwords Keyword Tool alternatives
Much to the dismay of most website owners, bloggers and search engine optimization (SEO) pros, Google recently pulled the plug on the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. The service, which enabled anyone to research keywords for free, has now been replaced by the Keyword Planner.
"Keyword research is an essential method for developing content tactics for our customers or for targeting AdWord campaigns on Google — inexpensively," said Jeff Reynolds, marketing director at VivioSoft, an Ohio-based Web solutions provider.
The tool was originally meant to assist advertisers in choosing which keywords or keyword phrases to use to bid on and plan effective AdWords campaigns. However, the program offered enormous assistance in researching and planning for a variety of different online behaviors, Reynolds said.
"We were devastated by Google's decision to take away the very useful keyword popularity tool, Reynolds said.
Describing the new tool as "blah, at best," Reynolds said the new Keyword Planner no longer serves his business' requirements for discovering "juicy" and inexpensive keywords or keyword phrases to attract customers.
"In addition to requiring users to register and login to their AdWords account to access the less-than-adequate tool — the original tool was accessible without a log-in — the majority of usefulness and research functionality are all but stripped away," he said.
VivioSoft then tried to find the best Keywords Tool replacements. "We suggest that all smart business owners and marketers alike should add the following to their arsenal of resources and research tools: SEO Book, Ubersuggest, WordPot and Wordtracker."
Once upon a time, Picnik was Flickr's default photo editor. In 2010, Google acquired the editor; two years later, the search giant added Picnik to its growing list of Google Graveyard residents.