The Google package of services represents the company's efforts to serve and integrate a diverse assortment of dynamic applications online. These Web 2.0 tools include those for e-mail, mapping, scheduling, instant messaging, managing RSS feeds, bookmarking, and vertical search. Because many of these free products remain in beta testing, this list will continue to evolve as Google updates its products. See our favorite 10 Google apps here.
Or if you're eager to hawk your wares online, Checkout provides simple sign-up for small and large merchants and shares details about how customers respond to your Google AdWords campaigns.
How does Google Checkout work? Perform a Google search for whatever you desire, such as LCD monitor or silk pillowcase. A Google shopping-cart icon appears within participating sponsored links along the right side of the screen, indicating that you can pay with Checkout. Or, you can directly visit any of the dozens of merchants that have already signed up with Checkout, which, so far, include Starbucks.com, Buy.com, and Levis.com. Google Checkout will appear as an option alongside those Web sites' individual shopping-cart forms. However, there's no international support, so forget about spending euros on Belgian chocolate via Checkout--for now.
Ready to shop? You must first link your Google login to a Visa, Mastercard, Discover, or American Express credit or debit card account. Visit Checkout.Google.com to log in and enter those details. Once you sign up, be sure to safeguard your Google login with a solid password. During sign-up, Google visually displays whether your password looks strong, so you can immediately beef up your password with numbers and symbols if it appears weak.
Individual merchants won't see your credit card number, which you might prefer. On your credit card statement, Checkout transactions will display both Google's name and the merchant's. Google Checkout's Purchase History page handily displays everything you've bought, as well as the shipping progress of any packages on the way to your door. However, shopping with Checkout places your Web surfing and shopping history directly into Google's hands.
Even better, Google pledges to protect you from credit card fraud. If someone uses your Google login for an online shopping spree, you can contest the wrongful purchases within 60 days. Similar to eBay's reputation rankings, Google Checkout lets you rate merchants and comment for others to see.
You can also choose to block your e-mail address from merchants while you're shopping, lest they try to send promotions to your in-box. To do so when you place an order, check the option labeled "Keep my email address confidential", then uncheck the option that would sign you up for promotional e-mail from that store.
An additional safeguard lets you clear your billing information from Checkout after you buy something. To do so, visit your Purchase History page and delete your credit card data from the Edit Billing Information area. However, we find this step somewhat overcautious and cumbersome; you'll have to manually retype your credit card information the next time you shop, defeating Checkout's aim to streamline your shopping.
You can use only one credit card per Google account, so organizations or families that want multiple members to charge to a single credit card should designate a shared Google login specifically for shopping. Nor is there an option to use multiple credit cards within one Google account, so you can't switch between paying with your Mastercard or Visa with, say, a quick flick of a check box.
Want to use Checkout to sell those old hard drives you've been hand painting? Anybody can enable Checkout on their Web site by cutting and pasting some HTML code from Google. Google will take a cut of 2 percent of your sales plus 20 cents per transaction. This may be a bit higher than PayPal's fees, but it's less than the cut taken by most credit cards. If you have an AdWords account, Google waives those fees for as much as 10 times your ad spending. There are plenty of things you can't sell, including copyrighted media or software (no threat to eBay there), illegal weapons or fireworks (of course), and adult goods.