An unofficial blog that watches Google's attempts to move your operating system online since 2005. Not affiliated with Google.

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August 31, 2009

Google News Suggest

After showing suggestions for web search, image search and video search, Google started to autocomplete your queries in Google News. The suggestions are related to current news, so you don't have to type too many letters to find the latest stories about Opera 10, Walt Disney or Hurricane Jimena.



The interface makes it difficult to select suggestions using a keyboard, since you have to press "Enter" twice to perform a search, but this bug will probably be fixed. Another problem is that you can't disable suggestions by visiting the preferences page and selecting "Do not provide query suggestions in the search box".

Folder Sharing in Google Docs

For some reason, Google decided to release a new version of the Google Docs List API before adding the features to the interface. One of the most important new features is folder sharing.

I've used a Python library to test the new version of the Google Docs API and I've managed to share a folder. As you can see, the "play" folder from the screenshot displayed below has a new icon.


Unfortunately, the shared folder didn't show up in the collaborator's Google Docs interface, but he was able to find it by visiting this hidden section.


Sharing folders is more efficient than sharing a large number of files one by one and the best thing is that folders are treated just like documents. You can share folders as "read-only", but you can also allow collaborators to add new files and to edit documents.

For now, folder sharing is only available using the Google Docs API, but it will be added to the interface very soon.

{ via Google Data APIs Blog }

August 29, 2009

Keep the Default Notifications when You Sync iPhone's Calendar with Google Calendar

If you want to synchronize iPhone's calendar and contacts with Google Calendar and Gmail Contacts, Google recommends to use Google Sync, which "uses the Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync protocol to synchronize the data on your phone with your Google Account".

The option works well and it even supports multiple calendar, but there's an important issue: ActiveSync lets you add a single alarm and Google Calendar converts each alarm to a "pop-up notification". That means you can't receive SMS notifications or email notifications when you create events from your phone.

Fortunately, there's another way to sync iPhone's calendar with Google Calendar: CalDav. It's limited to one calendar for each account *, it doesn't support push updates, and it only works with iPhone OS 3.0, but at least you can use the default notifications from Google Calendar. If you haven't changed your default notification settings, this help page explains how to change them.


Here's an interesting comparison between ActiveSync and CalDav:

Google Sync (ActiveSync)
—————————————

Pros
-Supports Push to devices
-Supported by iPhone
-Supports multiple calendars within one account

Cons
-Can only have one ActiveSync account set up on iPhone at one time
-Can't choose calendar colour
-Not currently supported by iCal (will be in Snow Leopard)

CalDAV
—————————————

Pros
-Supported by iPhone, iCal and other clients
-Supports multiple calendars within one account (use /user on iPhone)
-Allows control over calendar color, and color syncs across accounts

Cons
-Doesn't push updates. Fetch only
-Setting up multiple accounts is a bit clumsy compared with ActiveSync, and they appear as separate services in the iPhone settings and "choose calendar" views.

* Even if it appears that the CalDav sync is limited to your main calendar, you can add multiple calendars. The process is tedious, but it can be simplified by installing a configuration utility.

iGoogle Themes Explorer

iGoogle didn't make it easy to change your themes: you had to visit a separate page, find a theme, add it and then repeat the process until you found a great theme.

Now it's easier to pick a theme: click on "Change theme from [insert current theme's name]" and you'll see a small list of themes. You can select a category, sort the themes by popularity or recency and even type a query like [puppy], [flowers] or [batman] in the search box.

August 28, 2009

Translate Google Documents

Google Docs is now integrated with Google Translate so you can translate documents directly from the word processor's interface. Click on the "Tools" menu, select "Translate document" and choose the destination language. Google will translate your document and offer two options: "Replace original document with this translation" and "Copy to new document".


The problem is that in both cases there's no link between the original document and the translation. To better translate documents collaboratively, Google should integrate Google Translator Toolkit into Google Docs.

If you want to translate documents, but they're not stored in Google Docs, you can upload them to Google Translate.

Tip: Probably the best way to translate a web page, including a Google Docs document or presentation, is using the new Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer. Even if IE is not your favorite browser, you should try it because the Google Translate integration is brilliant. Unfortunately, you can't export the translation.

{ via Google Docs Blog }

August 27, 2009

Google ASCII Art

If you Google [ascii art], you'll find an ASCII representation of Google's logo next to the search box. It's a geeky Easter egg closely related to the witty use of the "did you mean" feature to help you understand recursion.


{ via Marissa Mayer }

Google Health OneBox

Search Engine Land reports that Google added an OneBox for health-related information that's only displayed in the US. If you search for [flu], [ADHD], [autism] and other medical conditions, you'll see an excerpt from a Google Health article and links to other services: Mayo Clinic, Medline Plus, WebMD.

Most likely, some of the keywords that trigger the OneBox are displayed on this page. Google Health's articles combined information licensed from reputable sources with information from scholar papers, news articles and other web pages.


August 25, 2009

Gmail Adds a Contact Picker

Gmail is probably one of the last Google services that adds a very simple feature: a contact picker. When you compose a message, you may want to see the list of contacts so you can select some of them. But this feature wasn't available in Gmail, although you could find it in Google Docs, Google Calendar and in almost any mail client and webmail service. Some people even wondered if you can send messages to more than one address: questions like "Why can't I load multiple contacts when I go to compose?" or "How do I compose using my address book?" were very popular in Gmail's help group.

"Auto-complete is convenient and fast, and usually does the trick. But sometimes seeing your list of contacts can help you remember all the people you want to include on your email," admits Google.

The wait is over and now you can finally use the contact picker in Gmail: just click on "To" when you compose a message, select the contacts and click "Done".


Some of the cool things you can do using the contact picker:

* select contacts from one of your groups: just use the drop-down to choose from "Friends", "Family", "Coworkers" and other groups.

* easily remove the contacts you've picked by just clicking on them.


* manually add email addresses by clicking on an empty space from the picker's "to" box.

* if you've already typed some addresses in the "to" box, the contact picker will include them when it launches.

* add all the results of a search by clicking on "Select all".

* the feature also works for "cc" and "bcc".

Google Maps Mobile Users Send Traffic Data

If you use the mobile Google Maps application on a phone that has GPS, you're sending Google real-time traffic information. "When you choose to enable Google Maps with My Location, your phone sends anonymous bits of data back to Google describing how fast you're moving. When we combine your speed with the speed of other phones on the road, across thousands of phones moving around a city at any given time, we can get a pretty good picture of live traffic conditions," explains Google.

It's an interesting way to use GPS information on a grand scale to solve practical problems. Many other Google services collect data that help Google develop new features: GOOG-411 collects voice samples that train Google's speech recognition systems, Google queries anticipate flu activity, while query refinements improve Google's "did you mean" feature.

Google Mobile's privacy policy includes a long list of information that could be collected by some of Google's services: your phone number, your carrier, basic usage stats about your device, your location, voice samples. It's worth pointing out that iPhone's mapping application "does not support traffic crowdsourcing", so you won't improve Google's traffic data by using it (iPhone's map application is not developed by Google).

Apparently, this new source of data allowed Google to expand the traffic feature to arterial roads. "Commuters have long relied on traffic sites to help them determine their last-minute path around poor traffic on the highway. But if the traffic looks bad on the highways, you'll probably want to know how it looks on the alternate routes through arterials," explains Google LatLong.


For now, Google Maps provides live traffic data for a small number of countries (US, UK, France, China), but crowdsourcing could expand its availability.

New Languages in Google Translate

Google's machine translation service added new languages: Afrikaans, Belarusian, Icelandic, Irish, Macedonian, Malay, Swahili, Welsh, Yiddish. Some of these languages have a small number of speakers: for example, according to Wikipedia, only 320,000 people speak Icelandic.


Swahili is a language spoken in Eastern Africa, Afrikaans is spoken in South Africa and Namibia, Yiddish has 3 million speakers in the Orthodox Jewish communities, Malay is an official language in Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore. Welsh is spoken in Wales, England and Argentina, Irish is spoken by a small minority of the Irish population, Macedonian has less than 3 million speakers and many enemies, while Belarusian has 9 million speakers.


The number of languages supported by Google Translate is 51, which is impressive, but there are still many popular languages that aren't supported. At least not yet.

{ via John Mueller }

August 24, 2009

Interesting Reads in Google News

"Interesting Reads" is a new Google News section that includes opinionated, thought-provoking articles from news sites. Some titles: "The Daughter Deficit", "America's Food Crisis and How to Fix It", "7 Reasons to Avoid Windows 7".

It's not exactly Arts & Letters Daily, but it's an interesting departure from Google's goal of aggregating and clustering news stories.


Update: The feature has been launched and the section has been renamed to "spotlight". "The Spotlight section of Google News is updated periodically with news and in-depth pieces of lasting value. These stories, which are automatically selected by our computer algorithms, include investigative journalism, opinion pieces, special-interest articles, and other stories of enduring appeal. To access the stories in this section, just click Spotlight on the left side of the page," explains Google.

Clicking on a YouTube Video

What happens when you click on a YouTube video? Well, it depends. If the video is embedded in a web page and it's already playing, a click on the video will open a new tab and send you to YouTube's page. Until now, this behavior was annoying because the video started to play from the beginning and you had to pause it or pick up from where you left off. Now YouTube's player is smarter: it pauses the video and opens a YouTube page that continues to play the video seamlessly.

You can try the new feature using the video embedded below. You'll notice that YouTube uses a URL format that lets you link to certain sequence from a video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Umj1lvgoI68#t=1m15s

(where 1m15s is the start time)



Another change is that YouTube's watch page lets you pause videos by just clicking on the player.

August 21, 2009

Google Sitelinks for Wikipedia

Google started to show some special sitelinks for Wikipedia articles. As you probably know, sitelinks are links to popular sections of a site that help you navigate directly from Google's search results pages. Initially, Google displayed sitelinks only for the top search results and only if the query was navigational, but now you can find sitelinks for other results: for example, you'll see sitelinks next to results from IMDb.

The sitelinks for Wikipedia results are special because Google doesn't send you to a different page, but to a section of the article. This is especially useful for long articles that include a lot of information.


It's the first time when Google indexes URLs that include anchors and sends you directly to a section from a page. The feature has already been available at Yahoo Search and Live Search.

{ Spotted by Milivella. }

Google Listen, a Podcast Manager for Android

As you probably noticed, Google releases many interesting services as Android applications and some of them are part of Google Labs: an application that records GPS tracks, a star map, a directory of points of interest. The latest release is an application titled Google Listen, a player for podcasts.

"Listen from Google Labs brings podcasts and web audio to your Android-powered device. It lets you search, subscribe, download and stream. By subscribing to programs and search terms it will create a personalized audio-magazine loaded with fresh shows and news stories whenever you listen."


The application lets you search thousands of podcasts, so it will be interesting to see if the podcast search engine will have a web interface. For now, Google Listen is an experiment and Google still has work to do to improve "networking, sdcard management, download storage, subscription updates, search quality, indexing more web audio, additional languages, and user experience".

And speaking of Google's Android apps, Anil Dash made an interesting point last month: "Google's recent development work on applications for mobile devices has often been delivered exclusively as applications for their own Android platform instead of as iPhone applications, despite the fact that iPhones are roughly forty times more popular in the marketplace."

Edit Albums Collaboratively in Picasa Web

As Picasa Web Albums gets closer to Google Docs (and the upcoming Google Drive), it's natural to add the most useful feature available in Google Docs: collaborative editing. Now you can create photo albums and add collaborators that upload photos, videos or edit captions.


To add collaborators, visit one of your albums, click "Share" and make sure that the option "Let people I share with contribute photos" is enabled.

"Contributors will need to sign in to their Google Account to add photos or videos. Their content will be attributed to them, and they can make edits such as adding captions to, rotating, or even deleting the pictures that they've uploaded. Of course as the owner of the album, you have complete control over who can contribute content. You also have the ability to edit this content as if it were your own. You can manage collaborative access for contributors on the 'Shared with' list by just toggling the 'plus' icon Add Contributors next to their name. A green icon means that user can contribute," explains Google.

"A limitation worth noting: contributors won't be able to upload to collaborative albums from the Picasa software," mentions the Google Photos blog.

August 19, 2009

Import Messages and Contacts from Old Accounts to Gmail

In May, Gmail launched a feature that lets you import messages and contacts from other mail services like Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL. Google promised that the feature will be rolled out to all accounts, but it was only enabled in new accounts. The good news is that the feature is now available in all accounts and you can find it if you go to the "Accounts and import" tab from the settings page.

You may wonder if it's a good idea to use this service powered by TrueSwitch instead of Gmail's mail fetcher. Here are some differences between the two service:

* Mail importing saves to your Gmail account the existing messages from other accounts and continues to check for new messages only for 30 days. Gmail's mail fetcher downloads the existing messages and checks for new messages indefinitely.

* Mail importing saves to your account messages and contacts, while Gmail's mail fetcher doesn't import contacts (you can manually import contacts).

* Mail importing works for mail services that don't support POP3 (for example: the US version of Yahoo Mail), but the mail fetcher requires POP3. Mail importing supports a small number of popular mail services.

"Copying mail over usually takes a couple days, occasionally up to a week — but eventually it all arrives. And once it's done, you can forget your old account and enjoy having everything in one place," says Google, but I disagree. You'll import the old messages to your account, but after 30 days the service will no longer fetch new messages.

August 18, 2009

Google Groups Integrates with Google's Web Apps

Google Groups is one of the services that would benefit a lot from an integration with Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Sites and other Google apps. It makes sense to create a document and to collaborate with other group members or to create a calendar and share it with your group.

Google blog announced that the integration is already available. "As an example, imagine you're organizing a local intramural softball team tournament. You use Google Docs to keep track of the rosters for each team as well as each team's performance. You want all the players, but only the players, to have editing access. You already have a Google Group set up with the tournament participants, so you simply share the spreadsheet with the group itself, granting the group members permission to edit."

To share a document, a calendar or a site, use the group's email address (groupname@googlegroups.com) in the sharing dialog.


And if you want to unsubscribe from a group, Gmail makes it easier by adding an "unsubscribe" option when you click on "show options".

Filter Images by Aspect Ratio in Google Images

As promised, Google Images added the option to restrict the results by aspect ratio. If you go to the advanced search page, you'll be able to choose one of the four types of images: tall, square, wide and panoramic.


This is one of the last missing features from Google Images Search that were available in Microsoft's Bing. Google Images has improved a lot lately by adding advanced options that help you refine the results (Creative Commons search, searching by size) and options that require image analysis (finding similar images, searching by color, detecting faces).

Sync Google Chrome Bookmarks

The most recent Google Chrome dev build added a feature that lets you synchronize your bookmarks with a Google account. Because of a technical issue with Google's new sync technology and because Google Chrome uses folders instead of labels, bookmarks will not be displayed in Google Bookmarks, but in Google Docs.



How to try the new feature? Make sure you use Google Chrome's dev channel, which includes a buggier and less polished version of Google Chrome. Then create a desktop shortcut for the browser, right-click on the shortcut, select "Properties" and edit the "Target" field by appending:

--enable-sync

(make sure to add a space before pasting the flag). You should see something like this if you're using Windows Vista:

C:\Users\Ionut\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\Application\chrome.exe --enable-sync

Restart the browser and you should find a new option in the Tools menu: "Sync my bookmarks". Enter your credentials and the sync process should start immediately. You'll be able to access your bookmarks in a weird location: a read-only folder in Google Docs (things will look less weird when Google Docs is transformed into Google Drive, a general-purpose online storage service). Install Google Chrome's dev build on a different computer and you'll be able to access your bookmarks, edit them and all the changes will be saved online.

Google will release a sync API so that developers can add similar features for other services. "To make this sync infrastructure scale to millions of users, we decided to leverage existing XMPP-based Google Talk servers to give us "push" semantics, rather than only depending on periodically polling for updates. This means when a change occurs on one Google Chrome client, a part of the infrastructure effectively sends a tiny XMPP message, like a chat message, to other actively connected clients telling them to sync," explains a Chromium document.

Tip: import the bookmarks from Google Bookmarks by clicking on the Tools menu, selecting "Import bookmarks and settings" and choosing "Google Toolbar" from the list.

Update: The file that implements the syncing algorithms (syncapi.dll) includes many references to GDrive, so it's likely that Google will use the same technology to synchronize all the files stored in Google Drive.


{ Thanks, Pascal. }

August 14, 2009

A Simple Way to Specify Image Licenses

Google has recently added a Creative Commons filter in Google Image Search, but it didn't explain how to specify the license so that your images are properly identified.

The trick is to enclose the image and the license's link in a div tag and to use RDFa's about attribute to specify the resource. For example:

<div about="image.jpg">
<img src="image.jpg" alt="" />
<a rel="license" href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/">Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0</a>
</div>


August 12, 2009

Google Reader's "Send to" Feature

Google Reader added a new feature that lets you share posts in other services: Twitter, Facebook, Digg. The feature is opt-in, so you need to go to the settings page, click on the "Send to" tab and pick your favorite services.


After selecting an item, use the keyboard shortcut Shift+T to quickly open the "send to" menu. Google Reader opens a new tab when you choose one of the "send to" options and most of the necessary information it's already pre-filled.


If your favorite service is not included in Google Reader's list, you can add it from the settings page by clicking on "Create a custom link". Here's how to add a "send to" option for Google Bookmarks.

Name: Google Bookmarks
URL: http://www.google.com/bookmarks/mark?op=edit&output=popup&bkmk=${url}&title=${title}
Icon URL: http://www.google.com/favicon.ico

And here's how to use AddToAny, a service that lets you select between many social sites.

Name: Add to Any
URL: http://www.addtoany.com/share_save?linkurl=${url}&linkname=${title}
Icon URL: http://www.addtoany.com/favicon.ico

Google Reader added two other options: you can now subscribe to sites added to your contacts' profiles and mark as read items older than a day, a week or two weeks. The second option is useful if you have a lot of unread items and you only want to read the recent news. As you probably know, Google Reader automatically marks as read the items that are older than a month and this can't be changed.

August 11, 2009

More In-Your-Face Google Ads

Barry Schwartz mentioned last week that Google tests a new position for search ads. The ads stay closer to the organic results and they're no longer next to the scrollbar. The experiment was probably successful and the change should be visible to everyone.



Google also started to show related searches below the ads and the suggestions are commercially-oriented. It's a good way to show more relevant ads and to determine the user's intention.

Some of the ads display product listings from Google Base and Google shows a thumbnail next to the list of products.


Update. Daniel Dulitz, from Google, has an interesting comment: "It would be easy to just increase revenue. What is hard is to make ads appropriately visible when you want to see them without being in your face when you don't want to see them. People are smart -- users ignore banner ads because they've proven useless over time -- so if you just make ads more visible, without regard to their utility, it's doubly self-defeating. Very tricky business."

From iPhone to G1 and Back

Andre Torrez switched to HTC Dream (also known as T-Mobile G1) after using Apple's iPhone for two years. "I've gone from absolutely loving Apple as gatekeeper to my device's software to just flat out hating it. The past few months have been a parade of sad stories of developers getting bit by app store policies, or us, the users, losing out on software that would have been great to have. Google Voice, for example, has been something I've been eagerly waiting for every since I was invited to use the service."

Switching to an Android phone wasn't a pleasant experience for Andre, who found Android apps less polished, the virtual keyboard was disappointing, while the hardware was slow.

The bright side of switching from the iPhone to an Android phone was that applications could run in the background. For example, Andre found a very useful open source application called Astrid that lets you manage your tasks.
Astrid has a feature that is not even possible on the iPhone. Using a Locale plugin, you can assign tags to task items that trigger alarms when you are in certain situations. For example, you can have a task to "buy batteries" and assign it a tag of "store". Then in Locale you connect the tag "store" with a situation in which you are near your local hardware store. Or simply maintain "home" and "work" task lists with reminders.

Here's a real example I am now using this for: I have a task called "buy muni pass" which is only available a few days before the end of the month and only from certain retailers. I walk by a place that sells them, but I always forget to buy them during the window and I usually remember when I'm nowhere near the store.

Sometimes you have to choose between a great user experience with many limitations and a less polished interface that's more open to the future. Google should invest more on improving Android's interface and on making it easier to develop great looking apps. One of the reasons why Windows Mobile isn't very popular is that Microsoft couldn't develop a compelling interface that encouraged people to use the product.

Unlike other smart phones, the iPhone made it easier to search Google, to browse the Web and to upload videos. "The iPhone OS has only 8% of global smartphone market share, but generates 43% of mobile Web requests and 65% of [web] usage", according to an AdMob report from May 2009.

Update: Andre switched back to the iPhone: "I give up. I thought it'd be fun to see what life was like on a different platform but I think I've seen more than enough on this hardware. The device is definitely too slow to get anything done and I have found myself not going to the phone when in a situation where I used to check my mail and catch up on Twitter. I stood in line at the ATM and just didn't bother."

{ via John Gruber }

On Google File System

Google File System is "a scalable distributed file system for large distributed data-intensive applications" created by Google. Initially used to store Google's search indexes and the crawling data, GFS is now mostly used to store user generated content.

ACM has an interesting interview with Sean Quinlan, who was a GFS tech lead and is now a principal engineer at Google.
Although organizations don't make a habit of exchanging file-system statistics, it's safe to assume that GFS is the largest file system in operation (in fact, that was probably true even before Google's acquisition of YouTube). Hence, even though the original architects of GFS felt they had provided adequately for at least a couple of orders of magnitude of growth, Google quickly zoomed right past that.

One thing that helped tremendously was that Google built not only the file system but also all of the applications running on top of it. While adjustments were continually made in GFS to make it more accommodating to all the new use cases, the applications themselves were also developed with the various strengths and weaknesses of GFS in mind. "Because we built everything, we were free to cheat whenever we wanted to," Gobioff neatly summarized. "We could push problems back and forth between the application space and the file-system space, and then work out accommodations between the two."

The guys who built Gmail went to a multihomed model, so if one instance of your Gmail account got stuck, you would basically just get moved to another data center. Actually, that capability was needed anyway just to ensure availability. Still, part of the motivation was that they wanted to hide the GFS problems.

{ Thanks, Daniel. }

Test Google's New Search Infrastructure

Google has been working on a new search infrastructure and you can now test it if you visit www2.sandbox.google.com. Don't expect new features or better search results, but if you find something interesting, post it in the comments.

"It's the first step in a process that will let us push the envelope on size, indexing speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness and other dimensions. The new infrastructure sits "under the hood" of Google's search engine, which means that most users won't notice a difference in search results," mentions the Google Webmaster Blog.

This is the first time when Google invites users to preview a new version of its search engine, so the "invisible" changes must be significant. From my first searches, I've noticed that the results are returned twice faster and they're more recent, especially if your query is related to some recent events (e.g.: searching for FriendFeed - old Google vs new Google). Many results are irrelevant, but they're displayed mostly because they're pages from official domains: a search for Facebook returns a lot of irrelevant events from Facebook's international domains.

Results #6 - #10 from a search for [Facebook]

Google's new infrastructure doesn't deal well with proxies and redirects, so you'll see many weird results like the ones returned if you search for [google blog].

Results #8 - #10 from a search for [google blog]

Matt Cutts says that the new infrastructure is code-named Caffeine, "the update is primarily under the hood" and you can share your feedback by clicking on "Dissatisfied? Help us improve" at the bottom of the search results and mentioning "caffeine" in your message.

Test Google Caffeine at: www2.sandbox.google.com.

August 9, 2009

Contextual Google Suggestions

Google shows different search suggestions, depending on your actions. If you type some keywords in the search box, you'll usually see suggestions that start with your keywords.


After performing the search, Google will show a new type of suggestions that include your keywords, but not necessarily as a prefix. Google assumes that you're not happy with the search results and you're trying to find a query that returns better search results.

August 8, 2009

Google's Special Snippets for Price Comparison Sites

Google added a new option for customizing search results snippets. If you want to buy a product and you're interested to find a good price, click on "Show options" to enable the search options sidebar and select "Prices from the page".


Google will show the same search results, but price comparison sites like PriceGrabber, Shopping.com, Shopzilla will include a message above the snippet: "This site aggregates prices from multiple stores". Snippets have a different formatting: a list of products and the corresponding prices.


The feature would be more useful if Google allowed you to restrict the results to price comparison sites and if the results were better formatted, for example sorted by price. It's also surprising to see that Google doesn't integrate the results from it's own price comparison site, Google Product Search.

What Do You Expect from Google Chrome OS?

I've asked some time ago the readers of this blog what they expect from Google Chrome OS, an open-source operating system built around Google Chrome, that will be released later this year. Here are some of their answers:

Integration with Google Accounts

"I believe Google accounts will be used to login to Chrome OS. Kinda whereever you go, you can use your Google account username/password to login. I hope it will use local disk to store frequently accessed file and sync it to Docs like Dropbox."

It should work offline

"There would have to be some kind of offline credential caching so you can log on even when you are not connected to the network."

Instant boot

"The thing I need with Google Chrome OS is instant bootup. I want something where I open up my laptop and the screen turns on and puts a web browser in my face."

It should be fast

"I just want to get rid of infinite waiting for load up. When I turn on my computer, half the times is just to open a web browser, a media player and an instant messaging program. I don't want to have to wait AGES for all sorts of background programs and services to load up."

Built-in desktop search

"I like the desktop search element of Google Desktop: it's a good way to access my files, e-mails and web history quickly. That should be included in Chrome OS. And there should be an offline cache of everything, so that I can still see read web pages I've visited even when offline."

In sync

"Syncing is important these days. Not just bookmarks, but passwords, and "user states" so you can pick up on another machine almost where you leave off on one. I would be able to start working on a document on my desktop machine and then switch to my laptop and hit the road, confident that when i open the document authoring app I'll be right where I left off."

Invisible

"Google ChromeOS should save screen real estate. On smaller devices like netbooks, you need to conserve as much screen real estate as possible."

Use applications without installing them

"Even if storage memory is cheaper now than ever, mobile phones, netbooks, etc. will benefit of avoiding to install software specific for each use on the physical memory and maintaining it "in the cloud". Sites should have the capability (and maybe a standard protocol) to communicate each other with the browser as a medium (avoiding the download and following upload of the object), user should have the capability to chose the service that he wants to subscribe to (eventually choosing it from an online appstore-like site), the OS should be able to recommend new and interesting service to subscribe to the user based on information collected (with his permission) about his behaviour."

Run Windows applications

"I want to run Windows programs, as well as games. I want Chrome OS to be able to do everything a normal computer can do! That way I can get ditch Windows and get Chrome OS for (hopefully) free!"

Don't forget the hardware!

"Driver support for a wide range of mobile hardware -> platform hardware combination. I'm particularly interested in WiMax support on an ARM processor."

So people want a fast operating system that loads instantly, doesn't use too many resources, saves your data online so you can continue your work from another computer and it keeps the data in sync, works offline, uses applications without installing them, runs Windows applications and it's compatible with many combinations of hardware.

What do you expect from Google Chrome OS?

August 7, 2009

Google Translate Equilibrium

A fun way to use machine translation services is to start with a text, translate it in a different language and then translate the result in the original language. Translation Party extends this idea by repeating the translation until the text is no longer modified. The service uses Google Translate's API and it translates English texts into Japanese and then back in English.


{ via Waxy Links }

August 6, 2009

Social iGoogle Tested in Australia

The main reason for one of the most hated Google redesigns, the famous iGoogle update from 2008, was to transform gadgets into social web applications. The visible changes didn't make the upgrade compelling, since most users only saw a sidebar that took away some space from an already crowded homepage. Some gadgets could be maximized in a canvas view to display even more information, but not many gadgets used this opportunity in a meaningful way.


Google didn't offer an option to switch back to the classic iGoogle interface, but you can still find it if you go to http://www.google.com/ig?hl=all and in some local versions of iGoogle.

The second step of the iGoogle update is to make it more social by converting iGoogle into an OpenSocial container. That means you'll be able to add to iGoogle applications that are already available in social networks like MySpace, Orkut, LinkedIn. The main problem is that iGoogle is not a social network and the "friendship" concept is vague in the GoogleLand.

Google Australia announces that the local version of iGoogle has already added the social features:

"Starting this week, we're rolling out some new social gadgets for iGoogle to all Australian users. Not only can you continue to do all the things you love to do on your homepage, but you now have the option to share all kinds of information, play games and collaborate with your friends too. (...) Your current gadgets will continue to work normally and you don't have to take advantage of the social gadgets if you decide it doesn't fit your interest. But by adding and enabling social gadgets, you'll be able to have an even deeper, interactive experience with your gadgets when you share them with friends."

But who are these Google friends? The answer is pretty simple: the contacts from the built-in Friends group.

"Friends is a group to help you organize your contacts. You can move contacts in and out of this group at any time, and this is the only group of people who can see your updates and with whom you can share social gadgets and social gadget activities. Similarly, you can see someone else's updates or social gadget activities only if they have included you in their Friends group."

For Google, friendship is a one-way concept. You don't have to invite other people to become your friends: just add them to the built-in Friends group and they'll be able "to see what you share or do in social gadgets through the gadgets themselves, or through a new feed of information called Updates, a way to see what your friends are doing on iGoogle".

An example of social-enabled gadget is "Social Photos", which shows the latest photos uploaded to Picasa Web and Flickr by your friends.


Other examples include: the "Timeline" gadget, that lets you share what you are doing and see your friends' status messages on a timeline; puzzles and games like NY Times Crossword, chess, trivia; collaborative gadgets like ToDo List.

The features will be rolled out this week at iGoogle Australia, but you can also try them in the iGoogle Developer Sandbox. Developers can find more about iGoogle's social gadgets by visiting this page.

August 4, 2009

Google Chrome Themes Gallery

Google Chrome's themes gallery is now available and you can select one of the 28 themes if you install Google Chrome 3.0 Beta, Google Chrome 3.0 Developer Preview or if you have a recent Chromium build.




Installing a theme isn't a smooth process: you download a .crx file, then Google Chrome loads theme and offers the option to go back to the default theme. You can't preview themes before installing theme and there's no interface for managing themes. The only way to uninstall themes, extensions and to reload themes is by typing chrome://extensions/ in the address bar.

(Update: Alexandro Jimenez says that chrome://extensions/ is buggy and a Chrome developer mentions that "you're not meant to use chrome://extensions/ to manage themes". I'll continue to use it until Chrome adds a theme manager.)


For now, the gallery only includes themes created by Google, but you'll be able to create your own theme and upload it to the gallery in the near future. Check how you can create a theme for Google Chrome.

Bonus themes. There are two sample themes that aren't included in the gallery: Camo and Snowflakes, one of the best Chrome themes.

Google Chrome's Browser Sync

Google Browser Sync, the Firefox extension that synchronized your bookmarks, cookies, passwords and sessions across multiple computers, is about to be resurrected in Google Chrome.


Google works on a feature that will initially synchronize bookmarks, but it will be extended to additional data types.

"To make this sync infrastructure scale to millions of users, we decided to leverage existing XMPP-based Google Talk servers to give us "push" semantics, rather than only depending on periodically polling for updates. This means when a change occurs on one Google Chrome client, a part of the infrastructure effectively sends a tiny XMPP message, like a chat message, to other actively connected clients telling them to sync," mentions a Google document.

The feature will not be limited to Google's sync service. "When we fully land the sync code (hopefully in the coming few weeks), developers will certainly be able to pass in an alternate sync server address via a command line flag and use that to develop their own sync server," says Idan Avraham.

Ars Technica thinks that the sync service is related to Google's plans to release a browser-centric operating system, but I still find it intriguing that Google decided to discontinue Browser Sync, instead of improving it and making it available to other browsers. After all, not everyone will use Firefox, Google Chrome or Google Chrome OS and the seamless synchronization of browser data between all your computers and mobile phones will make you feel at home, no matter what computer you're using.

Synchronizing user data will certainly become a standard feature in all browsers, but it would be useful to build a service that synchronizes data between multiple browsers. Opera is the first major browser that added a sync service for both the desktop software and Opera Mini, while Mozilla Weave is a prototype of a future Firefox feature.

Inside Google Street View

Google has updated the articles about Google Street View with more information. Google explains how it intitially used vans to capture images, but they were later replaced by cars and tricycles.

{ photo licensed as Creative Commons By-NC by Andrew Dickson }


"Our current platforms include nine directional cameras for the 360° views, a GPS unit for positioning and laser range scanners. We design and engineer the Street View platforms to be simple and require minimal manufacturing resources. This approach facilitates the ability to be up and running in a short period of time and allows us to quickly scale and get our vehicles on the road around the world."

There's also a list of locations in which Google's Street View cars are operating, but it's limited to three countries: Canada, Germany and Switzerland.

{ via Google LatLong }

Knol's Equation Editor

Knol, Google's knowledge sharing service launched last year, has improved with a lot of new features that have gone unnoticed: collections, templates, categories, Google Analytics integration, review scorecards.

A recent feature added to Knol is a basic equation editor that uses the LaTeX markup language. "This markup language beautifully aligns, sizes and indents mathmatical symbols after they are expressed using a combination of standard letters, words and punctuation characters. The typical LaTeX equation is difficult to read until it is rendered by the typesetting engine that produces an image with the right size, layout and margins that you would expect to see in the equation if it were written in a book. Even though LaTeX can be used to format and markup entire documents, we only support the subset of the LaTeX language that is used to describe mathematical equations and expect that you'll use the standard Knol editor to handle formatting for the rest of your document."


The equation editor is not very user-friendly, so it's a good idea to be familiar with LaTeX, but it will hopefully be improved and added to other Google services, like Google Docs.