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

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May 26, 2010

Find Microblog Updates with Images

Google added a new advanced search option that lets you restrict the posts from sites like Twitter, Facebook, Google Buzz to updates that link to images. You only need to select "updates" in Google's left sidebar and click on "updates with images".


The new search filter is useful to find photos from recent events, personal pictures and random images from all over the world.


{ spotted by Google.org.cn. Thanks, TomHTML. }

May 25, 2010

Save PDF Files in Google Docs

What do you do if you find an interesting PDF file previewed online using Google Docs Viewer? To save it in Google Docs, you had to download the file and upload it to Google Docs. Now you can just click on "Save in Google Docs" and the document is instantly added to your account.

This could be useful if you receive a PDF attachment in Gmail and you want to save it in Google Docs. You just need to click on "View" and then on "Save in Google Docs".


{ Thanks, Bill. }

Google Chrome 5 Stable Released

Google launched the first stable version of Google Chrome that's available for Windows, Linux and Mac. Google's browser has been initially released for Windows and then it was ported to Linux and Mac.

As this image shows, it wasn't easy to port a complex Windows application to other operating systems:


... but the results are surprisingly good:



The Mac version has a polished UI and great features that aren't available in Safari: full-screen mode, bookmark sync, extensions and themes. Some Windows users would probably like to see the menu from Google Chrome for Mac.

Chrome's Linux version has improved a lot since the first dev channel release and will probably compete with Chromium, the open-source version of Google Chrome. For those who don't like the GTK+ theme, Chrome lets you enable the classic theme from Windows.

Chrome 5 has many small new features: extensions in incognito mode, reordering toolbar buttons, disabling individual plug-ins, native geolocation, new bookmark manager which is now a web page, zoom settings saved for each domain, Integrated Windows Authentication and more. It's also much faster than Chrome 4. An important missing feature is the built-in Flash plug-in, which will be added in a future update, when Adobe launches Flash 10.1.

Add-ons for Disabling Google Analytics Tracking

Google released plug-ins for Internet Explorer 7+, Firefox 3.5+ and Chrome 4+ that disable Google Analytics tracking. Google Analytics is by far the most popular free service for getting statistics about the visitors of a site and it's used by a lot of sites, including this blog. Even if the service doesn't show personal information about the visitors and it only provides aggregated data, some people are concerned that Google can track the sites they visit using a seemingly innocuous Google Analytics script.

Google explains that Google Analytics uses first-party cookies to track visitor interactions, so the data can't be aggregated for all the domains. "The Google Analytics Terms of Service, which all analytics customers must adhere to, prohibits the tracking or collection of [personal] information using Google Analytics or associating personal information with web analytics information."

Those that are concerned about their privacy can install an add-on and permanently disable the script. After installing the add-on, you'll notice that the browser still sends a request for this file: http://www.google-analytics.com/ga.js when visiting a page that uses Google Analytics, but it no longer sends information to Google Analytics.


If a lot of users install the add-on, website owners will no longer have accurate stats, they'll no longer be able to find if their content is popular and what sections of their site still need some work. Even if Google didn't release opt-out add-ons, users could still block Google Analytics by adding an entry to the HOSTS file, but the add-ons make it easier to opt-out.

Google also added a feature for website owners: Google Analytics can now hide the last octet of the IP address before storing it. "Google Analytics uses the IP address of website visitors to provide general geographic reporting. Website owners can now choose to have Google Analytics store and use only a portion of this IP address for geographic reports. Keep in mind, that using this functionality will somewhat reduce the accuracy of geographic data in your Analytics reports. "

May 24, 2010

Send Links from Google Chrome to an Android Phone

One of the most interesting APIs in Android 2.2 allows developers to create applications that can receive messages from servers. "Android Cloud to Device Messaging (C2DM) is a service that helps developers send data from servers to their applications on Android devices. The service provides a simple, lightweight mechanism that servers can use to tell mobile applications to contact the server directly, to fetch updated application or user data."

To try the new APIs, you can install an Android app and a Chrome extension that let you send a link from the browser to your phone and automatically open the URL in Android's browser. Install the Android application, register your device and enable "launch browser/maps directly". Then install the Chrome extension, click on the icon and log in to the same Google account used in Android. Now you can send links to your phone by clicking on a button in Google Chrome.


The application requires Android Froyo, which is only available for Nexus One at the moment.

Adobe Reader for Android

After releasing Flash Player for Android, Adobe launches a PDF reader for Android. The applications is available in the Android Market and it can be installed only if your phone runs Android 2.1 or later and it has at least 256 MB of RAM and a 550 MHz processor.

Nexus One already comes with a document viewer based on Quickoffice, but the application doesn't do a great job at previewing PDF files. Adobe Reader for Android opens PDF files much faster than Quickoffice and it has a better zooming feature.

"Adobe Reader for Android offers multi-touch gestures, like pinch-and-zoom, as well as double-tap-zoom, flick-scrolling and panning. We've also added a reflow mode, which will take text-heavy documents with wide margins, and automatically wrap the content for easy viewing on smaller screens," explains Adobe.

The application doesn't include basic features like search or support for password-protected files, but it's snappy, documents are readable and the applications opens in full screen. There aren't many free PDF viewers for Android and Adobe's application is clearly the best right now.

Comment on Any Google Reader Shared Item

Google Reader simplified the commenting feature so that anyone can comment on a shared item. "Up until now, someone had to be in a designated sharing group to be able to comment on a post, even if you were sharing publicly. To make things a lot simpler, we've made it so that if you can see a shared item, you can comment on it."

An important side-effect is that Google Buzz users can comment on any post shared in Google Reader, assuming that the shared items are connected to a Buzz profile. Since you can now comment on a Google Buzz post by replying to a message in Gmail, you could share a blog post in Google Reader and one of your Buzz followers could post a comment from in Google Buzz and then reply to your answer from Outlook, Thunderbird or from the Gmail mobile app for Blackberry.

If you don't like Google Reader's interface, there are desktop apps like FeedDemon, NetNewsWire or Liferea that import your Google Reader subscriptions and synchronize your actions with Google Reader. That means you could share a blog post in FeedDemon and someone could post a comment from Google Buzz or from an application that uses Google Buzz API.

While people can post comments to a Google Reader shared item in Google Buzz, you'll still see the comments in Google Reader. It's not really important where you find a great article and where you comment.


In other news, Google Reader will drop support for outdated browsers (IE6, Firefox < 3.0, Safari < 4.0, Chrome < 4.0) and will remove the offline mode powered by Google Gears starting on June 1. Why not remove offline support when Google Reader implements the same feature in HTML5?

Google Reveals AdSense's Revenue Share

Google revealed an important secret: the revenue shares for two AdSense services. Until now, publishers didn't know the percentage of the revenue that is paid by Google.

"AdSense for content publishers, who make up the vast majority of our AdSense publishers, earn a 68% revenue share worldwide. This means we pay 68% of the revenue that we collect from advertisers for AdSense for content ads that appear on your sites. (...) We pay our AdSense for search partners a 51% revenue share, worldwide, for the search ads that appear through their implementations."

It's interesting to note that the revenue share for AdSense for content has never changed since the service was launched, back in 2003.

Sevices like Google Search, AdWords and AdSense are usually treated as black boxes, since Google rarely reveals specific information about its algorithms.

Google AdSense's help center still says that "each AdSense publisher receives a percentage of the cost an advertiser pays for user clicks or impressions on their ad. This percentage is referred to as the revenue share. Google does not disclose the revenue share for AdSense."

Google's financial results for the first quarter of this year, show that only 30% of Google's total revenue is from partner sites and the traffic acquisition cost (TAC) is 26% of the revenue. "The majority of TAC is related to amounts ultimately paid to our AdSense partners, which totaled $1.45 billion in the first quarter of 2010." Google's partner sites generated revenues, through AdSense, of $2.04 billion. Obviously, 1.45/2.04~=0.71, which is very close to the AdSense for Content revenue share.

May 23, 2010

Flash in Android Froyo

Google has started updating Nexus One phones to Android Froyo and a pre-release version of the update file is already public. I updated my phone using a pre-rooted version from Modaco which doesn't require the stock recovery image.

Even if it's not included in Android, the Flash runtime is one of the few applications that require Android 2.2. Right now, you can install from the Android Market the first beta release for Flash 10.1.

Whether you love it or hate it, installing Flash changes the way you look at a mobile phone. HTML5 may be the future, but a lot of websites use Flash for playing video, music, games and interactive content. Instead of getting messages that recommend you to install the Flash plug-in, you'll see the actual content.

The trouble with Flash on a mobile phone is that most Flash content is designed for a computer and it's difficult to use on a device with a small screen. Video players have small buttons and it's challenging to click on one of them, some websites serve high-quality videos that aren't appropriate for a slow Internet connection, clicking on a Flash object is a disrupting experience because you might open a new page, pause a video or display the Flash content in full-screen.

I've tried to open many sites that use Flash and the experience isn't smooth. Animations are sometimes choppy, web pages load much slower, scrolling web pages that use Flash is slow and there's a lot of lag when zooming a page with Flash content. In some cases, the browser is no longer responsive for a few seconds and you need to wait until you can switch to another page. Fortunately, Adobe managed to optimize the code and using Flash doesn't drain your phone's battery much faster.

The version you can install from the Android Market is not the final release, but don't expect too many changes until next month. It's nice to have options, so I recommend to install the Flash runtime and to change the browser settings so that plug-ins are loaded "on-demand". This way, web pages will continue to load fast and you'll only display Flash content when necessary.

Gmail's Spam Filter No Longer Effective?

Yahoo has recently quoted a study of the Fraunhofer Institute which concluded that Yahoo Mail and Hotmail have better spam filters than Gmail.

"The Fraunhofer Institute, an independent research firm, found that Yahoo! Mail users saw the least amount of spam out of the five providers tested, with nearly 40% less spam than Hotmail and 55% less spam than Gmail – meaning Gmail users in the study saw more than twice as much spam as Yahoo! Mail users."

If the results are accurate, then either Gmail's spam detection technology is no longer state of the art or Yahoo and Microsoft have dramatically improved their spam filters. Last time I checked, most of the messages from the inbox of my Hotmail account were spam.


John Mueller, from Google, says that Gmail's spam filter is quite effective: "When I first got my Gmail account (it seems like such a long time ago), I purposely signed up to all kinds of mailing lists to try out the filter. It seemed like a fun idea -- but then I noticed that I actually wanted to keep my Gmail account :). About one spammy message comes through each month, but the most important part is that I haven't lost anything that I was waiting for."

I rarely get spam messages that aren't flagged by Gmail, but the spam filter is not perfect. Sometimes Gmail flags legitimate messages as spam, so the algorithms are too aggressive.

What do you think? Is Gmail worse than Yahoo Mail or Hotmail when it comes to filtering spam?

Update: Here's Fraunhofer's press release with a link to the study. Unfortunately, it's in German. (Thanks, Lazlo.)

Update 2: Apparently, the study was sponsored by Microsoft and Yahoo's conclusions are misleading. The "prestigious" Fraunhofer Institute counted all the spam messages received by six users and Gmail users happened to receive more spam messages than Yahoo Mail and Hotmail users. The study admits that Yahoo Mail and Gmail detected correctly all the spam messages, while Hotmail couldn't detect 23% of the messages.

Yahoo concluded that "independent empirical studies done by the prestigious Fraunhofer Institute show that Yahoo! Mail is #1 in blocking malware and spam from reaching mailboxes. It's official. No one fights spam harder, smarter, or better than Yahoo! Mail." But so is Gmail, according to Fraunhofer's irrelevant study.

May 22, 2010

Google Secure Search

Google launched a new version of Google Search that uses an encrypted connection to Google's servers. "With Google search over SSL, you can have an end-to-end encrypted search solution between your computer and Google. This secured channel helps protect your search terms and your search results pages from being intercepted by a third party. This provides you with a more secure and private search experience," explains Google.

Google search over SSL works for web search, but since Google has a unified interface for search, it also works for video search, book search, blog search, news search. You won't be able to use image search, product search and Google Maps, which aren't yet properly integrated with the new Google interface.

The main benefit of using the SSL version of Google search is that the communication between your computer and Google's servers is encrypted. This is especially useful if you're using a public computer, an open WiFi network or you're using Google for sensitive searches. An interesting side-effect is that browsers no longer send referrals when you're clicking on search results that don't use SSL.

Google Secure Search has a special logo, which never changes for special occasions, and the URL is https://www.google.com.


I used WireShark, a free packet sniffer, to compare the standard HTTP interface with the new HTTPS version. As you can see, if you use Google Search over SSL, even the URL is encrypted, so your query is a secret for everyone, except Google:


If you'd like to use Google SSL as the default search engine in Chrome, go to the Settings dialog, click on the "Manage" button next to the list of search engines, add "Google SSL" and make it the default search engine. The downside is that Google Chrome will no longer show suggestions when you type your query. Google Chrome should use this in the incognito mode.


For Firefox, try this search plug-in, while for Internet Explorer, you can create a search provider using the URL: https://www.google.com/search?q=TEST.

{ via Google Blog }

May 21, 2010

Play Pac-Man on Google's Homepage

Google's doodles start to become more interactive. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Pac-Man, Google created a doodle that lets you play the game. Go to Google's homepage and the game starts automatically after 10 seconds.

"Pac-Man is an arcade game developed by Namco and licensed for distribution in the U.S. by Midway, first released in Japan on May 22, 1980. Immensely popular in the United States from its original release to the present day, Pac-Man is universally considered as one of the classics of the medium, virtually synonymous with video games, and an icon of the 1980s popular culture."

I wonder how many people will forget why they visited Google's homepage and will start playing Pac-Man. The worst part is that the sound can't be turned off and it will surprise or annoy a lot of Google users. "If you're not a Pac Man fan or want to skip the music and lights, just enter you search query as usual and you'll be directed to our normal search results page. Other options include: closing your browser, turning the volume down or off on your computer, playing Pac Man all day long," suggests a Google employee. You can also disable Flash for google.com or use FlashMute, a software for silencing Flash sites. Google should have turned off the sound by default or at least should have provided an option to disable the music. The good news is that the game doesn't start if you type a query in the search box.





Update: The CoolPreviews extension for Firefox preloads Google's homepages, so you'll hear the Pac-Man sound even if you don't visit Google's homepage. The latest version, which can be downloaded from coolpreviews.com, fixes the problem.

Update 2: The sound is now disabled by default and you can only hear it when you start playing the game. The Pac-Man doodle replaces Google's logo for 48 hours.

Google Tests a New Sidebar Without Icons

After many users complained that the new persistent sidebar from Google Search is distracting and takes away too much space, Google tests a new version of the sidebar that no longer includes icons. I don't think the icons were very helpful and removing them is a simple way to make the sidebar less annoying.


Here's the original layout:


Those who used the page http://www.google.com/webhp?hl=all to access the old interface probably noticed that Google redirected it to the new interface. You can still use the Hacker interface, the Linux-flavored interface, but the best thing to do is to try the new interface and learn about the tools and filters that could really improve your results. I constantly use the "updates" filter to search Twitter, the "discussions" filter to restrict the result to forums and the "past 24 hours/past week/past month" options to find recently updated pages.

May 20, 2010

Google TV Announced

Google TV is a new platform that aims to bring the Web to TVs. Google developed a custom Android version that runs Google Chrome and improves the TV viewing experience by allowing you to find TV programs, showing recommendations and integrating content from the Web.

"With Google Chrome built in, you can access all of your favorite websites and easily move between television and the web. This opens up your TV from a few hundred channels to millions of channels of entertainment across TV and the web. Your television is also no longer confined to showing just video. With the entire Internet in your living room, your TV becomes more than a TV — it can be a photo slideshow viewer, a gaming console, a music player and much more," explains Google.

Google's demo from the Google I/O conference wasn't very convincing. Google acknowledged that many other companies tried to create similar products without too much success. The explanation is probably that they were ahead of their time, but Google says that they were unsuccessful because they dumbed down the Web experience, they were closed and users had to choose between watching TV and browsing the Web.

"The project started 2½ years ago, with a vision of a walled garden of TV-optimized web services. But the landscape keeps shifting, particularly in the capabilities of mobile devices. The only solution big enough for the problem is to bring the whole web to your TV," says Vincent Dureau, who is in charge of Google TV.

Google partnered with Sony, Intel and Logitech to add Google TV to "televisions, Blu-ray players and companion boxes". The first Internet-enabled TV that runs Google's software will be launched this fall by Sony and it promises to provide "richer internet access so you can browse the web just like you would from a computer."

But why not connect your TV to a computer? Android is a great operating system for a mobile phone, but it doesn't look very well on a big HDTV. Not all the Android applications are useful on a TV and those that are useful won't take advantage on the huge screen estate of the TV. Google promises to introduce a Google TV SDK and some APIs for web applications, but that will happen next year.

Google TV has a lot of potential and I'm sure it could eventually become a great product. The software could make TV programs more interactive by detecting phone numbers, addresses or URLs, it could allow you to chat with a friend while watching the same TV show, it could create chat rooms for everyone who watches the same show, it could use visual search to show information about an object from the screen or it could translate a foreign-language movie.

If you already have an Android phone, you can use it as a remote control. Since the TV and the phone can run the same applications, you'll be able to sign in using the same Google Account and synchronize your data. Favorite an YouTube video on a phone, watch it later on your TV and use it to generate a list of recommended TV shows.



Can we switch to the other box?

Android 2.2: Froyo Is a Major Update

Google announced today Android 2.2, a major update for Google's mobile operating system. There are many changes and a lot of new features that are really useful.

Android now uses a just-in-time compiler that improves the performance for some applications, especially for games. "The new Dalvik JIT compiler in Android 2.2 delivers between a 2-5X performance improvement in CPU-bound code vs. Android 2.1 according to various benchmarks," says Xavier Ducrohet.

Android's browser includes the V8 JavaScript engine created for Google Chrome, so web pages that use JavaScript heavily will load much faster (some benchmarks show a 2-3X improvement). Google claims that Android's browser is the fastest mobile browser available today.

Developers have a new API for app data backup, which is really useful if you want to switch to a new Android device or you want to install a custom version of Android. There's also an extremely useful messaging API for sending data to an Android phone from another device. For example, you'll be able to send a link from your computer to your Android phone and the phone will automatically open the browser and navigate to the web address. You can also send files and install applications from your computer over the air.

Android Market will have a web interface, applications can auto-update and you can quickly install all the updates, instead of manually installing each update. Another change is that applications can be moved to the SD card. Google also announced that it has acquired SimplifyMedia, a company that developed some cool applications for streaming your music.

Android 2.2 has built-in support for tethering and it can transform a phone into a portable hotspot. Android Market includes some great applications for tethering, but it's nice to see that's now a built-in feature.

You can add multiple languages to the keyboard and switch between them by swiping across the space bar, there's a new UI for the camera, there's support for Exchange calendars and remote wipe, LED flash for the Camcorder, support for sharing contacts with other phones and much more.

Flash 10.1 is now available as a beta application in the Android Market, but it requires Android 2.2. Nexus One and Motorola Droid will be updated to Froyo next month. The other HTC phones launched this year will be updated in the second half of the year. "This includes popular models like the Desire and Droid Incredible as well as hotly anticipated phones like the Evo 4G, MyTouch slide and upcoming models."


Gmail Autoforwarding Requires Verification

If you try to setup a filter that automatically forwards messages to an email address, Gmail now requires to verify that it's yours. After adding the forwarding address, Gmail will send a message to that address and you'll need to click on a link to show that you have access to the email account.

Google says that there are exceptions to this rule for the users of Google Apps Premier and Google Apps Education, which don't need to verify forwarding addresses for their own domain.


You can autoforward messages by defining a filter or by using the forwarding feature from Gmail settings. Gmail allows users to create up to 20 filters that forward to other addresses.

It's likely that the autoforwarding feature was used to send spam, so these restrictions will hopefully decrease the number of spam messages sent from Gmail accounts.

Google Chrome Has 70 Million Active Users

Google showed an interesting chart yesterday at the first Google I/O keynote. The number of Google Chrome users more than doubled in less than a year from 30 million users in July 2009 to 70 million users today. It's worth pointing out that this is the number of active users, not the number of Google Chrome downloads.


Asa Dotzler has a similar graph for Firefox, which shows that Firefox grew from 265 million users to 365 million users in the same period. To put things in perspective, Firefox has 5 times more users than Google Chrome.

It's a great achievement for Google and Chrome's market share will increase as the stable versions for Linux and Mac are released and Chrome OS becomes available. Even if you won't use Google Chrome, your browsers will be better because more people care about browser speed, process isolation and simple user interfaces.

May 19, 2010

DreamHost's Hypothetical Question

Alexander spotted an interesting question in a recent DreamHost survey: "If DreamHost were to be acquired by Google, I would... (a) consider leaving (b) take no action".


DreamHost is a popular web hosting service. According to Wikipedia, "in 2009, the company began offering free web application hosting. Either with their own domain, or with a free subdomain, customers are able to make use of a number of open source applications, such as WordPress and MediaWiki without charge. The service is similar to, and can be integrated with, the Google App Engine."

Ironically, DreamHost says that it's "a tight-knit family and we're not looking to sell out to investors or media conglomerates or other gigantic companies who care more about the bottom line than providing solid web hosting."

Web hosting is one of the few important missing features from Google Apps. Right now, Google offers a basic service for creating web sites, which is better suited for wikis, and a platform for web apps.

{ Thanks, Alexander. }

Google Chrome Web Store

One of the reason why mobile app stores are successful is that applications are more discoverable. Users know where to find applications, there's a consistent interface for ratings and reviews, an easy way to buy applications and to compare them.

For web applications there's no web store and it's not always easy to find a good web app. Since Google Chrome OS is an operating system designed for running web apps, it's really important for Google to provide a list of high-quality web applications. Users may need an online photo editor, a music player, a chess game, a Math software or an online IDE.

Chrome Web Store will be launched later this year and intends to be "an open marketplace for web apps". Users will be to "install" applications by adding a shortcut to the new tab page. When you "install" an application, it can integrate with the browser by using advanced features that require permission: local storage, user's location, notifications.


"An installed web app could be separated visually from other tabs, could integrate better with the OS, and could be granted increased permissions. This special handling of web apps is exactly what we're working on in Google Chrome. Installing a web app in Google Chrome is easy and quick, with no restart required. At its simplest, installing a web app is like creating a super-bookmark to it. Once installed, a web app gets a big icon in Google Chrome's app launcher area, as well as some integration with the host OS," explains Google.


Even if the web applications from the Chrome Store will work in other browsers, Chrome will include some features that make it easier to use the applications. It will be interesting to see how many paid apps from the Chrome Web Store will be successful.

Update: You can already install applications in the latest Chromium builds. This post explains how to add the "enable-apps" flag and shows an example of application.

Google Font Directory

If you ever need a special font for your site, try one from the Google Font Directory. Google hosts 18 fonts that are available under an open source license, including the Droid fonts.

"For a long time, the web has lagged print and even other electronic media in typographic sophistication. To enjoy the visual richness of diverse fonts, webmasters have resorted to workarounds such as baking text into images. Thanks to browser support for web fonts, this is rapidly changing. Web fonts, enabled by the CSS3 @font-face standard, are hosted in the cloud and sent to browsers as needed," explains Google.

Google not only hosts the fonts, but it also makes it easy to add the fonts to a page with a single line of HTML code. For example, if you want to use Droid Sans, add this code in the HEAD element:

<link href='http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Droid+Sans' rel='stylesheet' type='text/css' />

Then you can use Droid Sans in any CSS rule:

h1 { font-family: 'Droid Sans', arial, sans-serif; }

This is not an image



Google's code works in almost any browser. For Internet Explorer, Google converts the fonts to EOT (Embedded OpenType), a proprietary format created by Microsoft.

How to Play WebM Video on YouTube

If you want to try WebM, the open video format released by Google, you first need a browser that supports it. For now, WebM is not supported in a stable version of a browser, but you can install a Firefox nightly build or an Opera build. I download Opera 10.54, which is more stable than the nightly builds of Firefox.

After installing the browser, go to YouTube's HTML5 experiment and click on "join HTML5 beta". To find videos that are available in the WebM format, use YouTube's search feature and append &webm=1 to the URL, like this: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=web&webm=1.

Click on a video and you'll notice that YouTube no longer uses Flash or H.264. There's even a messages that makes the video player more cluttered: "HTML5 * WEBM".


YouTube converted a small percentage of videos to WebM. A search for [web] returns 4,610 WebM videos, while millions of other videos aren't available yet in this format. Check Opera's blog post for more information about the WebM format, embedding WebM videos and more examples of WebM videos.

Google Wave, Available Without Invitation

At the Google I/O developer conference, Lars Rasmussen announced that Google Wave no longer requires invitation. If you have a Google account, go to wave.google.com and you can use Google's real-time communication service.

Google Wave is now available in Google Apps, so that businesses, universities and other organizations can improve communication flow.

"Anyone on a wave can edit or reply to any section, keeping discussion in context with relevant content. Everyone's typing shows up instantly, and Google Wave lets new participants get up to speed quickly with organized discussions and playback to see how a wave evolved."



Google Wave really shines at Google I/O, where it's used to view live notes, ask questions and discuss sessions. Here's a wave for today's keynote.

WebM, an Open Video Format for the Web

Google is about to launch WebM, an open video format that will use VP8, the flagship video codec of On2. As you probably remember, On2 has been recently acquired by Google.

"The WebM project is dedicated to developing a high-quality, open video format for the web that is freely available to everyone. The WebM launch is supported by Mozilla, Opera, Google and more than forty other publishers, software and hardware vendors."

"WebM is an open, royalty-free media file format designed for the web. WebM files consist of video streams compressed with the VP8 video codec and audio streams compressed with the Vorbis audio codec. The WebM file structure is based on the Matroska media container," explains Google.

WebM's site says that the new codec will be supported in Google Chrome, Firefox, Opera and you'll be able to play YouTube videos by enabling YouTube's HTML5 experiment.

Google is expected to launch WebM at the Google I/O event, which is about to start in a few minutes (9:00am PDT). Don't miss the opening keynote, which is streamed live on YouTube.

{ via CNet }

More Google Chrome OS Screenshots

Google posted more images that show the user interface of Google Chrome OS. The interface is still under development, so it may change until the first stable version is released, later this year.

Chrome OS uses an interesting visualization for tab overview. "The overview is available via either gesture and hotkey. It provides a visual way of switching between windows and tabs. Windows are exploded into the tabs they contain, and all tabs/windows are visible in a single 2.5d space. This model is largely based on Peter Jin Hong & Elin Pedersen's G.L.I.D.E. Tab Navigation. We present tabs in a venetian blind arrangement, ensuring visibility of the top left of every page, and using perspective to compress the most useful portions of the page into the available strips. Favicons are presented as an alternative visual aid."



Google also posted some screenshots of the open/save dialogs and the download shelf panel. "The shelf is an on demand target for downloading and uploading. It acts as a temporary resting place for files that have been accessed, and for content being uploaded to websites."

Even if the Chrome OS only lets you use a browser, you can still download files and open them using Chrome's multimedia libraries or using web applications like Google Docs.



A notification panel will be used for OS and website notifications, so web applications will be able to add their own alerts.


Chrome OS will also include simple applications like a calculator:


{ via TechCrunch }

May 18, 2010

Google to Buy Global IP Solutions

Google is about to acquire Global IP Solutions, a company that develops real-time voice and video processing software for IP networks.

"The Web is evolving quickly as a development platform, and real-time video and audio communication over the Internet are becoming important new tools for users," said Rian Liebenberg, Engineering Director at Google. "GIPS technology provides high quality, real-time audio and video over an IP network, and we're looking forward to working with the GIPS team at Google to continue innovating for the Web platform."

Google will pay $68.2 million for a company that provides VoIP technology for many popular IM clients like Yahoo Messenger, AIM, Nimbuzz, QQ, IBM Lotus Sametime and for conferencing software from WebEx and Citrix. It's clear that Google intends to improve its instant messaging platform and to launch an online application for conferencing. An early version of Google Meetings has already been demoed at a recent event:

The New Hotmail Challenges Gmail

Hotmail, Microsoft's webmail service, has improved a lot in the past two years. Hotmail is now a modern web application that no longer traps users's data and focuses on important things like speed, usability, fighting spam and integrating with other communication services.

The latest Hotmail update, that will be released as part of Windows Live Wave 4, tries to show that Microsoft finally managed to develop a better email service than Gmail and, in many ways, succeeds.

Hotmail improved its spam detection algorithms and it's now able to tweak some parameters based on your actions. Hotmail can now flag messages as spam even after you've received them.

Another interesting improvement is that Hotmail categorizes messages, so you can quickly find the messages from your contacts, messages from mailing lists or notifications from social networks.

Hotmail no longer has limitations for email storage and the main reason is that large attachments can be stored in Windows Live SkyDrive. "With Hotmail, we've combined the simplicity of sending photos through email with the power of Windows Live SkyDrive so that you can send up to 200 photos, each up to 50 MB in size, all in a single email. You can send all your vacation photos at once without worrying about attachment limits," explains Microsoft. This is an important feature that's missing from Gmail and it's surprising that you can't upload photos to Picasa Web Albums or upload documents to Google Docs directly from Gmail.

Microsoft also integrated Hotmail with Office Web Apps, so that documents can be previewed and edited online, without having to install an office suite. Now that attachments are stored in a single place, the total attachment limit for a message is 10 GB, while Gmail offers about 7 GB of storage for all your messages.

Hotmail added many of the features that used to be available only in Gmail: conversation view, full session SSL, watching YouTube videos inline, but Microsoft managed to make some improvements. The active view feature doesn't work only for YouTube, it's enabled for many other sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), so you can accept invitations or reply to a Twitter message directly from Hotmail. There's also a feature that lets you create a single-use password for signing in on public computers.

Google has a lot to do to catch up with the new Hotmail, but that's a good thing. Competition is what makes products better.





New Interface for Google Calendar

Google Calendar has a new look that's more consistent with other Google services like Google Docs or Gmail. Google says that the only functionality that has changed is that the Tasks link has been removed.

"Create event" is now a button, instead of a link. The calendar from the left sidebar has more visible arrows and it no longer has a blue background.



Here's the old interface:


Update: The new interface is also available for Google Apps, but administrators need to enable pre-release features in the "domain settings".

{ via Blogoscoped Forum }

May 17, 2010

Google Whisper Ads

The Onion posted a funny video about an imaginary Google service that whispers targeted ads into users' ears. The main benefit of the service is that it lowers the cost a phone, but the ads aren't very subtle.

As voice recognition software becomes more powerful, it's quite likely that phones will be able to convert a conversation into text in real time and offer related information, including links to maps, events, email messages and even ads.


In 2008, Google's AdSense blog posted an April Fool's Day joke about AdSense for Conversations, "a new type of monetization solution that puts the 'context' in contextual advertising. In just a few simple steps, you can begin displaying ads that are relevant to the topics you're discussing -- in an unobtrusive screen above your head. Anyone taking part in the conversation can hit the ad with their hand to immediately take advantage of the product or service being offered."

{ via Jérôme Flipo }

May 16, 2010

Predictions for Google I/O


Google I/O, the developer conference that will be held next week in San Francisco, is the perfect occasion for announcing product launches. Here are some of the most likely announcements:

* Android 2.2 (FroYo) with built-in runtimes for Flash and AIR, JIT compiler, application auto-updates and more.

* The first Android TV. Bloomberg reported last month that Sony partnered with Intel and Google to produce TVs with Internet access.

* Verizon's Android tablet. "Verizon Wireless is working with Google Inc. on a tablet computer, the carrier's chief executive, Lowell McAdam, said Tuesday, as the company endeavors to catch up with iPad host AT&T Inc. in devices that connect to wireless networks," reported Wall Street Journal.

* Google Buzz API, useful to create applications that allow you to post Buzz updates and read the latest messages from your friends. "Over the next several months Google Buzz will introduce an API for developers, including full/read write support for posts with the Atom Publishing Protocol, rich activity notification with Activity Streams, delegated authorization with OAuth, federated comments and activities with Salmon, distributed profile and contact information with WebFinger, and much, much more," mentions Google Buzz's dev guide.

* Google Latitude API, which would make Google Latitude a platform for location-based apps.

* Open-source version of VP8, the flagship video codec of On2, a company recently acquired by Google. Even if the final version is not yet ready, Google is likely to announce that the codec will be open-sourced.

What do you expect from Google I/O?

{ Thanks to everyone who answered my question on Google Buzz. }

May 15, 2010

Android Stats

Less than a week before Google I/O, the conference where Google is expected to unveil Android 2.2 (FroYo), it's clear that Google's mobile operating system is no longer an experiment. Android is now a popular software that runs on millions of devices and it's part of a growing ecosystem.

Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, said that "65,000 mobile phones powered by Google's Android operating system are being shipped every day" and that "Android is now being used on 34 mobile devices in 49 countries".

According to a NPD research, Android is the second most popular smartphone operating system in the US in terms of units sold in the first quarter of 2010 (28%), after Blackberry OS (36%). Apple's iPhone OS dropped to the third position (21%).

Cédric Beust, a former Google engineer who worked on the Android team, says that Android's growth is surprising:

"I don't know what's the most surprising: how ambitious that goal was four years ago or how far Android has come today. It's hard to believe that Android shipped its first device about a year and a half ago and at that time, Apple had already sold more than ten million iPhones. Who would have guessed that it would only take Android eighteen months to catch up and pass the iPhone in market share? In this short period of time, we've gone through four major releases (and many, many minor ones, some of which you probably never even heard of), and each new version has been a major milestone that got everyone on the team incredibly excited. FroYo is no exception, prepare to be blown away by what you will see very soon."

It's interesting to see that carrier distribution and promotion continues to be very important. The most popular Android phone, Motorola Droid, has been aggressively promoted by Verizon. Nexus One has been sold online by Google, but the results are underwhelming and Google plans to close the online store.

YouTube Shows the Number of Likes and Dislikes

When YouTube simplified the user interface and replaced ratings with two buttons for liking or disliking a video, the only information about the popularity of a video was the number of views. To see how many people liked or disliked a video, you had to click on one of the two buttons.

Now you can see if users enjoyed a video without having to rate it: YouTube shows two horizontal bars for the number of likes and dislikes. Some might be worried that visitors could be influenced by the existing ratings, but I think they're useful and YouTube should find a way to convert the old ratings to the new rating system.


The reason why YouTube dropped the 5 star rating system was that 5 stars dominated ratings. "Seems like when it comes to ratings it's pretty much all or nothing. Great videos prompt action; anything less prompts indifference. Thus, the ratings system is primarily being used as a seal of approval, not as an editorial indicator of what the community thinks about a video," mentioned a YouTube blog post from 2009.

May 14, 2010

Google Collected Data Packets from Open WiFi Networks

Google's WiFi data collection using Street View cars turned out to be yet another privacy blunder. Alan Eustace, Senior VP at Google, admitted that the software which collected information about open WiFi networks didn't discard payload data. In a post from April, Google said that "networks also send information to other computers that are using the network, called payload data, but Google does not collect or store payload data".


Google will now have to find a way to destroy all this data, which might include personal information. "As soon as we became aware of this problem, we grounded our Street View cars and segregated the data on our network, which we then disconnected to make it inaccessible. We want to delete this data as soon as possible, and are currently reaching out to regulators in the relevant countries about how to quickly dispose of it," explains Google. The software used to collect data about WiFi networks was Kismet, "an [open-source] 802.11 layer2 wireless network detector, sniffer, and intrusion detection system".

Open WiFi networks aren't secure, so it's a bad idea to use them for sending confidential information, but Google should've discarded all the data packets. They weren't necessary and storing unencrypted traffic data is a big privacy problem.

The good news is that, starting next week, Google Search will have a SSL-encrypted version at https://www.google.com. Google will become the first important search engine that offers this option.

Update: San Francisco Chronicle says that "about 600 gigabytes of data was taken off of the Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries" and that "Google has been vacuuming up fragments of people's online activities broadcast over public Wi-Fi networks for the past four years".

May 13, 2010

5 New Languages in Google Translate

Google Translate added 5 new languages: Armenian (6.7 million speakers), Azerbaijani (20-30 million speakers), Basque (about 660,000 speakers), Georgian (4 million speakers) and Urdu (70 million speakers), but don't expect to read high-quality translations because the language models are still in alpha. "Translation to and from ALPHA languages may not work as well as other languages, as these systems are still in early stages of development," explains Google Translate's FAQ.

In a recent article from Spiegel, Google's Franz Och said that "the databases for 296 other languages are in development". Right now, Google Translate supports 57 languages, while Microsoft's Bing Translator has support for 30 languages.


Google Translate Annoyance

One of the most annoying issues with Google Translate is that it's very difficult to copy the translated version of a web page. Translate a web page, copy some text, paste it in a text editor and you'll notice that, before each translated phrase, there's the original version of the phrase.


Fortunately, you can properly copy some text from a translated page if you use the translation feature from Google Toolbar or from Google Chrome. Microsoft's translation service has a more flexible interface and it doesn't mix the translated text with the original text.

Unlisted YouTube Videos

YouTube added a very useful feature for those who want to upload videos, but only share them with a limited number of people. Until now, you could make a video private and share it with up to 25 YouTube users.

The new access level is called "unlisted", which means that only people who know the address of the video can view it. "The video will not appear in any of YouTube's public spaces, such as search results, your channel, or the Browse page, but the link can be shared with anyone."

To watch an unlisted video, you don't need a YouTube account and there's no limit for the number of people that can watch your videos. Anyone can link to the video, but it won't be indexed by search engines.

"Even though your video will not appear in any of YouTube's public spaces, links to the video could still appear elsewhere on the web if anyone who knows the video's URL shares it. It is therefore up to you to maintain the privacy of your video and the unlisted URL. You can further restrict the video at any time by returning to your account and marking the video as Private," explains YouTube's help center.


{ via YouTube Blog }

May 12, 2010

Insert Images into a Gmail Messages Using Drag and Drop

Gmail extended the feature that lets you add attachments using drag and drop, so you can also insert images into a message. The new functionality only works in Google Chrome, but it will probably be added to Firefox, as well. (Is this the first Gmail feature that only works in Google's browser?)

To try it, make sure you use Google Chrome and Gmail's rich text mode. Compose a new message, open your favorite file manager, find a photo and drag it to the Gmail message. For some reason, I was only able to drag one photo at a time. After inserting the image, you can resize it and adjust its position.

Gmail has a Labs feature for inserting images, which works in all browsers, but it's less convenient.


{ via Gmail Blog }

Google's Sidebar for Internet Explorer

Many years ago, when browsers didn't have search boxes, Google launched a sidebar for Internet Explorer 4 and 5. The sidebar was available at google.com/ie and it was later used for all kinds of purposes: sidebar for Opera or Firefox, iGoogle gadget, mobile interface or as a simple interface for scraping Google results.


Scroogle, a proxy for Google search that doesn't use cookies and doesn't store search records, used this interface until yesterday, when Google decided to redirect it to a page that promoted a Google-optimized version of Internet Explorer 8.


"We regret to announce that our Google scraper may have to be permanently retired, thanks to a change at Google. That interface was at www.google.com/ie but on May 10, 2010 they took it down and inserted a redirect to /toolbar/ie8/sidebar.html. It used to have a search box, and the results it showed were generic during that entire time. Now that interface is gone. It is not possible to continue Scroogle unless we have a simple interface that is stable. Google's main consumer-oriented interface that they want everyone to use is too complex, and changes too frequently, to make our scraping operation possible."

When you create a service that scrapes web pages, you should know that a minor change to a page can break your service. Asking Google to keep an old interface, while breaking Google's terms of service that prevent you from accessing services "through any automated means", is ironic.

Fortunately for Scroogle and for all the users of google.com/ie, the simple interface is still available at http://www.google.com/search?output=ie, but it's not clear for how long.

It's interesting to know that "ie" is not the only value allowed for the "output" parameter. You can also use: "linux", "bsd", "microsoft", "mac", "unclesam" to see other old templates for Google search.

{ Thanks, George R. }

May 11, 2010

Google Translate Adds Text-to-Speech for More Languages

Google Translate has made the text-to-speech feature more useful by adding 27 new languages: Afrikaans, Albanian, Catalan, Chinese (Mandarin), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Latvian, Macedonian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Swahili, Swedish, Turkish, Vietnamese and Welsh.

Google used the open-source speech synthesizer eSpeak, but I'm sure that this is just a placeholder until Google manages to obtain better results. "You may notice that the audio quality of these languages isn’t at the same level as the previously released languages. Clear and accurate speech technology is difficult to perfect, but we will continue to improve the performance and number of languages that are supported," says Google's Fergus Henderson.

Initially, the feature was only available for English, but 4 other languages have been added in the past two months: Haitian Creole, French, Italian and German.

To try Google's TTS service, go to Google Translate, type some text, translate it and click on the audio icon to listen to the translation.

May 10, 2010

Translate Microsoft Office Documents Using Google Translate

Google offers three services for translating Microsoft Office documents, but none of them works well. You can upload documents to Google Translate, but the output is an HTML file that can't be properly saved and that doesn't include images. There's also Google Translator Toolkit, which has a buggy document converter. Google Docs has a translation feature, but the document is first converted to HTML and the original formatting isn't always preserved.

DocTranslator is a service that translates Microsoft Office documents using Google Translate, but it manages to preserve the layout of the original file. Unlike Google Docs, DocTranslator is not limited to Microsoft Word documents that have less than 500 KB and it works for Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations, as well. DocTranslator uses a Java applet to upload the files and it translates them using Google Translate's API.

"Its benefits are that you can save the documents in their original file format and also maintain the original layout (fonts, tables, columns, spacing, etc.). It basically replaces the text of the file while keeping everything else," explained a user of the service.

The following screenshots show a document translated in Google Docs and the same document translated using DocTranslator and opened in Microsoft Word.



{ Thanks, Anonymous. }