Google is (or was, depending on who you ask) a favorite among free software lovers because of their tendency to “don’t be evil.” Whether you feel that way or not, the company still offers some pretty great services, easily accessible via a web browser (and particularly good if accessed via Google’s own Chrome).
Maybe I’m in the minority, but I like “fat client” programs. All other things being equal, I’d rather get my e-mail in Thunderbird, download and RSS feeds in a reader, and edit documents in LibreOffice. Google is quite good about letting these types of programs access their services, and while instructions to do so are plentiful for Windows- and Mac-based programs, it takes a little more to find them for Linux. This guide will show you how to hook up the programs on your Ubuntu desktop to the variety of Google web apps, for the nice, Linux-y experience we’re all looking for.
The “big four” of personal data – schedules, tasks, contacts, and e-mail – are hosted in Google Calendar (for the former two) and GMail (for the latter two). Access to these is fairly open, and easy to tap with default or installable applications from the Ubuntu Software Centre:
In a stock Ubuntu install (starting with Precise), there is no standard calendar component installed (I assume that they assume that you’ll be using a web-based calendar), but you do get Thunderbird. Add to Thunderbird the Lightning extension or, if you like a separate calendar application, install Sunbird. Then add to that the Google Provider, enter your Google credentials, and you’ll be able to add, edit, delete appointments on your Google calendar.
Google Tasks has long been a neglected feature of Google Calendar, rather than the awesome productivity tool Google could certainly make it to be. Although there are a number of Android apps taking advantage of the available API, there aren’t yet any stable Linux apps that do so. But Getting Things GNOME is working to add Google Tasks as one of the many services you can use to store and retrieve task information.
Thunderbird is the default e-mail client on Ubuntu systems beginning with the current 12.04 version, and it will ably handle your GMail via either POP3 (i.e. downloading your mail to your local machine) or IMAP (synchronizing a local copy of your mail with the server). With all the devices (iPhones, Android tablets, notebooks, etc…) most people have, there’s little reason not to take advantage of power of IMAP, and have your mail whichever you happen to be using.
In Thunderbird, setting up Gmail is very easy. Under the “Add Mail Account” settings, you just have to enter your Name, Email Address and Password and it will do the rest of the configuration for you.
Unlike the Lightning extension for calendars, Thunderbird comes out of the box with a capable address book. Install the Google Contacts Provider, enter your credentials, and you’re off and running. Once you do so, as shown in the figures below, your Google contacts will show up as an Address Book in Thunderbird.
Google is a big fan of Linux. While their development of desktop applications still favors Windows and Mac, they’ve at least created gateways for us Linux lovers to get our Google on! In the next installment, we’ll get files (including documents, music, and pictures) linked up with Google as well.