Sunday, October 25, 2009

Google Maps' appearance takes new direction

Google is notoriously slow and calculating about changing it the user interface of its services.

In fact, Google hasn't made any major changes to the look and feel of Google Maps since its launch in 2005.

On Friday, the company launched several refinements to Maps--the biggest changes to its look since launch. While you might not notice these changes immediately--unless you are a hardcore Google Maps user--they are designed to enhance the readability of the maps.

Notice how roads and names are called out more effectively in the new version.

As seen above, the thick street outlines that can make maps harder to read have been eliminated.

Google describes the update here:

(L)ocal and arterial roads have been narrowed at medium zooms to improve legibility, and the overall colors have been optimized to be easier on the eye and conflict less with other things (such as traffic, transit lines and search results) that we overlay onto the map. Hybrid roads have gained a crisp outline to make them easier to follow, and the overall look is now closer to an augmented satellite view instead of a simple overlay.

Google adds more personalization to Reader

Google has added new personalization features to Reader, its RSS feed aggregator, the company wrote in a blog post Thursday.

One new feature is dubbed Popular Items. Using algorithms, Reader will "find top-rising images, videos and pages from anywhere (not just your subscriptions)." From there, the app will lump all those pieces in the new Popular Items section. Based on a user's subscriptions and what someone is reading, Reader orders those stories by what it thinks a person likes best.

Reader's recommendations have been moved to the app's Explore section. Google also renamed it Recommended Sources. Like before, that feature will employ the user's Reader Trends and Web History to find a list of feeds he or she might like.

To make it easier for users to find the information they're most likely to care about, all Reader feeds now feature a sort option called Magic. According to Google, Magic "reorders items in the feed based on your personal usage, and overall activity in Reader, instead of default chronological order." Google said that the ranking is tailored to the user. The more the user clicks the "like" and "share" buttons on stories, the better the Magic sort will be.

Here is the Magic setting in action:

Google Reader

Google Talks Up Chrome Operating System as Windows 7 Launches

Web applications such as Gmail and Google Wave are paving the way for major adoption of the Google Chrome Web browser and fueling the forthcoming Chrome Operating System, says Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management at Google, speaking at the Web 2.0 Summit Oct. 22. In fact, Web apps made it imperative for Google to create Chrome. Pichai's points about Chrome OS and managing user data in the cloud are interesting in relation to Microsoft's launch of Windows 7 in New York.
SAN FRANCISCO—A Google executive said complex Web applications such as Gmail and Google Wave are paving the way for major adoption of the Google Chrome Web browser, which has racked up more than 30 million active users since its launch in September 2008.

Rich Web applications are also fueling the forthcoming Chrome Operating System, said Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management at Google, speaking at the Web 2.0 Summit here Oct. 22.

Pichai called the Chrome browser the modern operating system for those Web applications, powered by the Chrome OS platform, which is essentially Chrome on top of Linux with a new windowing system. The idea is that users of netbooks and other devices running Chrome OS won't need to install, tune or maintain the software on PCs.

"In our model ... they don't manage software, they don't manage data, everything is in the cloud," Pichai said. You should be able to take a Chrome OS netbook, get back your windows, get back your state and go.

Resource Library:
This talking point about Chrome OS managing user data in the cloud took on an interesting light in relation to Microsoft's launch of Windows 7 in New York today, Oct. 22. Windows 7, the latest iteration of the on-premises operating system, is being roundly praised and is considered a vast improvement over Windows Vista.

Web 2.0 Summit co-host Tim O'Reilly asked Pichai whether Chrome OS was on a collision course with Windows, as both seek for more placement on netbooks, those smaller notebook computers that specialize in running Web applications. Windows XP is the leading operating system on netbooks.

Pichai laughed, but didn't take the bait, answering that the industry is seeing "tremendous innovation in personal computing once again." Browsers and operating systems, fueled by Chrome and the Google Android mobile operating system, are becoming modernized, he said.

"Today, a browser is a bolted-on icon on top of the operating system," Pichai said. "We really want to flip that around ... When I look at my behavior—and it's true for a lot of users out here—we spend most of our time on the Web today and the amount of time is going to increase. Within Google, since we use a lot of Google Apps, I never, ever open anything around my browser."

Pichai also said he foresaw Chrome OS appearing on other clamshell devices with a keyboard and touchpad, but declined to be more specific.

Despite allusions to Chrome-related news from show co-host John Battelle, Pichai had nothing new to announce about Chrome or Chrome OS. He didn't even bother to mention the new Chrome artist themes launched today.

In fact, the latest on Chrome OS came during Google's third-quarter earnings call Oct. 15: Schmidt said Chrome OS was being tweaked for a developer release for later in 2009.

Chrome OS-based netbooks are expected in 2010, when they will have to challenge Microsoft's claim of 96 percent share of the netbook market via Windows XP. 

This disparity is even greater than the gulf between the Chrome browser, which has a 3.2 percent market share, and Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, which is losing share but is still easily the leader at 65.7 percent.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Free WiFi from Google - On airplanes

For a couple months, Google is set to give away wireless internet access on Virgin Airlines in the United States beginning November 10th.

Whether it’s using Gmail to confirm an airport pick up time with your brother, doing some last minute gift shopping for your niece on Google Product Search or searching for a good sweet potato pie recipe before touchdown — we hope this makes it a bit easier to stay connected with family and friends while you’re up in the air. — Google Blog

Free internet on planes is one thing that I’m sure people at one time have wished existed. Not only do most flights have no internet, but opening your computer with WiFi turned on is a huge mistake if you listen to the warnings they give you pre-flight. Now that I think about it, does this type of thing actually interfere with airplane communications still?

Google to Offer Music with search results

Google Inc. will soon let users buy songs or listen to them for free, right on its main results page, as part of a broader push to enhance the offerings on the leading search engine, according to several people familiar with the matter.

The music offerings, from four online music services, are to be packaged in what Google calls a "one box" at the top of a results page, similar to the site's presentation of weather and financial results.

Listeners will be able to stream an entire song via a link from La La Media Inc.'s, or a sample from Users who want to purchase songs will be given the option to do so from either of those services, or from Apple Inc.'s iTunes Store or Inc. The music one box may also include an artist's image, lyrics and reviews or other "editorial" content.

The four major record labels—Warner Music Group Corp., EMI Group Ltd., Sony Corp.'s Sony Music Entertainment and Vivendi SA's Universal Music Group—have all licensed their catalogs for the initiative, which is expected to launch next week. Many independent labels also are expected to participate.

People familiar with the matter said revenue from sales would be split between the music services and the record labels. Google views the initiative as a way of improving its search system in order to retain users, not as a direct source of revenue.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A First Glimpse Of Chrome OS In The Flesh

yesterday, it looks like those wily folks at Google have removed the “chromeos” folder from the Chromium build folder. Too bad. But luckily, before they did, TechCrunch reader and Linux user, Jonathan Frederickson, was able to grab the code and managed to install it. He has posted some results in our comments section and even more on his blog.

It would seem that the result is the browser aspect of Chrome OS running inside of Linux. As you can see in the screenshots below, it looks very similar to Chrome, the browser, on Windows (still the only officially released version of Chrome), but there are some key differences.

First of all, it looks like there is a new logo of some kind. If you look in the upper left hand corner, you’ll see a a colorful circle with a white center. This is obviously different from the Chrome browser logo, which looks like the children’s game, Simon.

According to Frederickson, clicking on this logo opens a Google Short Links window. Unfortunately, you need a domain (which he obviously didn’t have) to go any further. It seems reasonable to assume that this page houses a simple link page to all the major Google Apps. But what’s odd is the wording that reads, “Google is not affiliated with the contents of Google Short Links or its owners.” No clue what that means, but maybe that’s just placeholder text.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the window, the far right side, you’ll notice a clock, a network status indicator (the “X”), and a battery level indicator. Of these, only the clock appears to be working at the moment. But all of those things are in line with what has been found in the code for Chrome OS so far.

There is also a drop down menu button. Here, you’ll find the options that will be familiar to users of the browser version of Chrome. But you’ll also notice the new “Chrome OS” tab. Here, you’ll find Network options, as well as Touchpad settings. Okay, this is the point where I’ll admit it was silly to think the “touchpad” may have been some sort of device, rather than simply a notebook trackpad. I noted that was probably the case yesterday, but I also let my imagination get a little carried away.

Too bad we scared Google’s “chromeos” folder off, this is getting interesting!

Click on the images for larger versions (obviously, pay no attention to the Linux OS (Ubuntu) in the background of the pics)





Update: Another reader, Adam Shannon, took the image below. He also had this info to share:

Also, some basic facts.
– Frequent Crashes
– HTML5 works
– only supports .ogg (No H.264 love)

Browser Info:

Internal Code Name: Mozilla
Browser’s Name: Netscape
Browser Version: 5.0 (X11; U; CrOS i686 9.4.0; en-US)
AppleWebKit/532.2 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/ Safari/532.2
User Agent String: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; CrOS i686 9.4.0; en-US)
AppleWebKit/532.2 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/ Safari/532.2
Browser Language: en-US
Computer Platform: Linux i686


Update 2: But wait, there’s more. Frederickson was able to get a slightly newer build(with the “compact nav bar”) before it was taken down. More pics below.



12 Gmail Labs add-ons every Gmailer needs


Google has made plenty of add-ons available for Gmail. Here are some of the best

Google is famed for its experimentation. One of the most fertile grounds for such testing is the Labs section of Gmail (or Google Mail depending on where you live) and it's possible to completely customise the way you use the service.

Gmail Labs is, in Google's own words, "a testing ground for experimental features that aren't quite ready for primetime".

As such, the items here aren't always the most reliable of add-ons, but these 12 are definitely worth a look. Some are extremely clever or help you avoid email faux pas, while others are simple productivity tweaks. You can turn on any of these features from the Labs tab under Settings in Gmail, or click the green conical flask icon in the top-right of your Inbox window.

1. Don't forget Bob and Got the wrong Bob?
The two strangest-named Gmail labs add-ons are also one of the cleverest. "Forget" will let Gmail suggest other contacts you might want to include on an email based on those people you email most often. Better still "Wrong Bob?" will check if you meant to include Bob Smith rather than Bob Jones – useful for making sure you don't email your boss with NSFW material. Not that you email that kind of stuff, obviously.

2. Clever previews
We've gathered together a few add-ons here, but Labs enables you to preview YouTube, Picasa, Flickr, and Yelp content directly within Gmail. Each is a separate add-on you'll need to enable. So if somebody sends you a YouTube video, you can view it directly from within your email. Lucky enough to live somewhere with Google Voice? You can play messages back directly from the notification email as well.

Gmail labs add-ons

3. Message translation
Turn on this clever new add-on and Gmail will translate any email you receive in a language other than your own. We wonder if it'll work for Americans trying to understand Brit-speak?

4. Title bar tweaks
This is the kind of simple but oh so useful tweak we love Google to provide. It changes the browser title bar from "Google Mail - Inbox (20) –" to "Inbox (20) - - Google Mail". Eh? Well, it means that even if your browser window is minimised (or you have a lot of tabs open), you'll still be able to tell how many new emails you've got.

5. Tasks
Probably Gmail Labs' most essential add-on, Tasks shares a to-do list that's common with Gmail, Google Calendar, iGoogle and on on your phone. If only it would sync with our corporate Microsoft Outlook tasks (sigh). Tasks has actually been so successful that it has now graduated from the Labs to become a Gmail feature proper.

Gmail labs add-ons

6. Undo send
Really? Yep. If you've sent sexy speak to someone you shouldn't have, this add-on prevents divorce/unemployment/being taken to a tribunal. It's a failsafe that can stop messages from being sent for a few seconds after you hit the send button (a little "cancel" appears alongside the "sending" message). One of those things that you hope you'll never need, but it could save your life if you have a little "issue".

Gmail labs add-ons

7. Search autocomplete
A small but potentially extremely handy add-on. Search autocomplete provides search suggestions for contacts as you type in the search box - very useful to find emails from a particular contact quick smart.

Gmail labs add-ons

8. Quick links
This affixes an extra box to the left-hand column in Gmail that gives you a single-click access to a variety of bookmarked URLs. This is most useful for frequently-used searches, though you could use it for other resources you might commonly use.

Gmail labs add-ons

9. Forgotten attachment detector
We've all done it, we've all been annoyed by it. This tool stops you from forgetting attachments by checking your mails for mentions of files in emails with no attachment. Save that face!

10. Create a document
If you've enabled Gmail keyboard shortcuts, you can create a Google Document automatically from an email conversation. Simply press "g" then "w".

11. Multiple inboxes
This clever tool enables you to add multiple lists of emails in your inbox. That means you can show a saved search, or messages with a certain label or starred messages - all at a glance.

Gmail labs add-ons

12. Mouse gestures
We like this a lot. Enable this add-on and you can use your mouse to navigate with gestures. Holding right-click and moving the mouse left takes you to a previous conversation, while an up movement will take you back to the inbox.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Google Docs Gets Shared Folders

Google Docs received an overhaul this week that makes it easier for users to share items, upload documents, and stay organized. The new tweaks also brought a slight change to the Google Docs homepage with a more uniform and simpler look.

Shared Folders

One of Google Docs best features is its ability to let you share and collaborate on documents with other users. In the past, if you had multiple documents you needed to share with one workgroup, Google Docs required you to send out multiple sharing notices for each document.

The new shared folders feature solves this problem, by allowing you to set up sharing permissions for one folder. Just drag and drop the files you need to share into a folder, and then click "share this folder" and invite members of your workgroup. The people in your workgroup will get an e-mail notifying them you've shared this folder. Once they've logged on to Google Docs, members of your workgroup can see the files you've added to the folder, and also drop files into your folder to share with the same group.

The new feature is handy, but there is one few quirk you should keep in mind. Even though a document is in a shared folder, the access permissions for that document are attached to the folder--not the file. So if you pull a document that you own (i.e. you created it) out of the shared folder, your workgroup will no longer be able to access the document.

Managing Your Workflow

Back by popular demand is the "Items Not In Folders" filter that allows you to see any documents you have that are not organized into folders. Google brought back the feature because some people were using this as a workflow tool.

One way to take advantage of this filter is to use it as a tool for tracking documents in draft stage. Then you can move a document into a folder once it's ready for prime time.

There is one detail you should be aware of when using this feature: Let's say John shares a report directly with Mary, but John doesn't have that report in a folder. If Mary puts it into one of her folders, John will see the report has a folder tag, but it will still show up when John filters his documents by "Items Not In Folders." That way, Mary's actions don't interrupt John's workflow. The "Items Not In Folders" filter can be accessed under the "More Searches" menu in the left hand navigation pane.

Google Docs will also let you upload multiple files at once. Just select all the files you want using the "shift" or "ctrl" ("command" on a Mac) keys, and then start your upload.

The new layout of Google Docs.

Google Docs' old layout.

You'll also notice Google Docs has a slightly different look. The new layout is a little boxier, and the visual icons (like starred, share, upload and delete) have been removed in favor of a text-only look.

Sharing Alternative

If Google Docs isn't for you, Microsoft also has two document sharing options. Live Mesh, launched last year, allows you to create a network of devices and sync folders between them. Live Mesh also gives you your own online desktop, called Live Desktop, where you can share folders with people outside of your network or Mesh. To use Live Mesh you have to download a small program, but people you share items with only need to sign up for the Live Desktop. Live Mesh works on both PC and Mac systems.

Microsoft's other alternative is its online storage space called Skydrive. However, Skydrive's sharing permissions are a little too complicated, so I recommend going with Live Desktop and Live Mesh if you are a Windows Live user.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Real time content in Gmail inbox

Gmail added a feature that lets you interact with the messages sent by some companies without opening a new page. It's called "sponsored mail with enhanced content" and here's the description:

If you're subscribed to receive email from certain senders, the messages you receive from them will be enhanced with an interactive gadget that has up-to-date content from their website (you'll also see an icon in your inbox identifying these messages).
For example, if you receive a Pregnancy Bulletin newsletter from Babycenter, you'll be able to view up-to-date content, including the baby name of the day, and browse though the current top 100 baby names within the message. Aside from the convenience of being able to interact with certain websites from inside Gmail, the branded content will help identify that your messages are legitimate and not spoofed (we'll only show branded content when the sender authenticates their mail). We're currently testing this with a small number of senders and will decide whether to make it widely available based on user and partner feedback.

One of these partners is Netflix. "A Netflix email showed up in my Gmail inbox today, and it looked different than I had ever seen- a little Netflix logo showed up right in the inbox view, and when I clicked on it, there was a whole fancy pane below the email containing movie recommendations I could add directly to my queue," noticed Dan McGee.

Google Adds More Features To Counter Bing Threat

According to technology experts, Google is adding several new features to compete Bing’s popularity. Though there has been steady popularity in Bing search engine, but this week, the internet giant, Google has added several new features and gadgets to its already popular service.

Earlier, Google had released ‘instant translation’ service on the International Translation Day. It will be a useful tool for the translation of the websites to 51 different languages.

Now on Thursday, Google made a smart move inducting a new ‘show options’ link near the top of the result page, which would help the searchers to help in an advanced filtration.

Though analysts have differed in their opinions about the users’ response, still they opted for wait and watch policy.

According to Ken Saunders, president of Search Engine Experts, the actual figure will be out within the next three months and only then they can say whether the users want it or not.