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

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February 28, 2012

Open Mailto: Links Using Gmail in Google Chrome

A few months after Google Calendar added support for handling webcal: links in Chrome, Gmail can now become the default handler for mailto: links. If you open Gmail in Google Chrome, you'll see an infobar at the top of the page that asks if you "allow Gmail to open all email links". Just click "use Gmail" and all the mailto: links (like admin@google.com) will open using Gmail, instead of a native mail client like Outlook or Thunderbird.


"Chrome allows web services to ask if you'd like to use them to open certain links. While most links generally take you to another page, some links can open programs and perform other actions. For example, mailto: links can open your email program and webcal: links can add events to your calendar program. These links are referred to as protocols and the programs they use are called handlers. Many web services these days, including Gmail and Google Calendar, can act as handlers," explains Google.

To edit protocol handlers in Chrome, open the settings page, click "Show advanced settings" at the bottom of the page, click "Content settings", then "Manage handlers" and select "Gmail" from the site dropdown. Another option is to open a new tab and paste this in the address bar: chrome://settings/handlers. By default, you'll see an almost empty page with no active handler. You can add protocol handlers from the sites that support this feature: Gmail, Google Calendar (and other services in the future).


Chrome is a little late to the party: Mozilla added support for protocol handlers in Firefox 3, back in 2008 and you can set Gmail as default handler for mailto: from the options dialog.

{ Thanks, Kevin. }

February 24, 2012

Towards the Perfect Browser

Chrome is clearly the most Apple-like Google product. Many of its features are copied by other browsers: from the simple interface to automatic updates, powerful JavaScript engines, unified address bar and search box, shorter release cycles and much more. When it was released, Chrome's team had a clear vision and no feature was there by accident. While there are many feature requests, Chrome's team only implements them if they make sense and fit the project.

In an interesting response to Kevin Fox's question about the updated "new tab" button, Chrome's Peter Kasting said that "good design involves hav[ing] a clear and consistent vision for the product which is then informed by user input, not enslaved to it. I think Chrome as a whole shows a remarkable design consistency and focus that Google products as a whole have not always had. I don't think that's an accident. It's a direct result of a process that uses a small group of consistent leaders, rather than endless end-user trials of everything, to make decisions."

Glen Murphy, Chrome's design lead, makes it more obvious: "We're trying to sculpt Chrome down to the perfect browser, and sometimes that means making painful consistency changes in aid of that long-term vision. While we want to minimize disruption for existing users, most people on earth haven't used Chrome, and we have to make the best and most awesome browser possible for them."

Chrome is the browser that has great default options, few settings and an interface that hasn't changed all that much over the years because it was carefully thought out and reduced to the essence. Just like the iPhone and its OS.

A Strange Google Mobile Experiment

Sometimes it's difficult to understand Google. A few weeks after dropping the non-obvious navigation menu from the desktop UI, Google tests a new mobile interface that uses the same menu.




Cascading menus on a mobile device? They're too large and many Google services are missing (Reader, Blog Search, iGoogle, Product Search, Google Finance, Picasa Web, Google Talk, Google Tasks), not to mention that there's no room for displaying Google+ notifications.

February 23, 2012

Google Drive Will Support Third Party Apps

Back in November 2010, a comment from the Google Docs source code revealed some new features that will be available: third party apps, Cloud Print integration and sync.

It turns out that the upcoming Google Drive release will add support for third party apps and Google will also include a SDK for developers. This way, you'll be able to open the files stored in Google Drive using non-Google apps. The Google Docs source code mentions "SDK" several times in connection with Google Drive and the "open with" feature.



There's also an interesting message that suggests Google Drive will integrate even more with Gmail: "Say goodbye [to] email attachments and hello to real time collaboration. Drag anything shared with you to My Drive for easy access."

In a recent article, Wall Street Journal reported that GDrive "is expected to launch in the coming weeks or months and will be free for most consumers and businesses. Google will charge a fee to those who want to store a large amount of files."

Most likely, Google Drive is an important upgrade to Google Docs that will detach the online storage service from the Google Docs apps and will make it more useful by offering more free storage, syncing apps and integration with web apps developed by other companies.

February 22, 2012

Google Docs for Android Adds Real-Time Collaboration

When Google released the Android app for Google Docs, the application didn't include many features that weren't available from the browser. The latest updates made the app more useful: there's a better tablet interface, offline access to your documents and now you can edit documents collaboratively.

The most powerful Google Docs feature (real-time collaboration) is now available on Android devices and you don't have to switch to the desktop interface. You can see the changes in real-time and all you edits are saved almost instantly. While the Android editor lacks many features that are available in the desktop version, you can use rich text formatting: bold the text, change the color, create lists, indent paragraphs, undo and redo the changes.


"We've brought the collaborative experience from Google Docs on the desktop to your Android device. You'll see updates in real time as others type on their computers, tablets and phones, and you can just tap the document to join in. We also updated the interface to make it easier to work with your documents on the go. For example, you can pinch to zoom and focus on a specific paragraph or see the whole document at a glance," informs Google.

Suddenly, the mobile web app pales when compared to the native app and that's probably the reason why the Google Docs mobile site promotes the app every time you go there.

February 13, 2012

Google's Knowledge Graph

Google usually returns pretty good search results, but only if there are pages that include the words from your query or some synonyms. Google doesn't understand the query, it only tries to match the words from that query. Sometimes Google can answer questions like "How tall was Albert Einstein?" or "What's the real name of Al Pacino?", but it can't go beyond simple facts.

Amit Singhal, Senior Vice President at Google, says that Google works on building "a huge knowledge graph of interconnected entities and their attributes". Freebase was just the starting point: Google's knowledge graph has 200 million entities, while Freebase only has 22 million entities. The graph is actually an encyclopedia with structured information obtained from the web. This will help Google understand your queries, provide answers to complex questions and find more relevant results.

Right now, Google only uses the graph to show a list of related searches for singers, actors, painters etc. As Google improves its infrastructure, the knowledge graph will be used more and more.

Gmail's YouTube Group

For some reason, Google added a YouTube contact group to many Gmail accounts. I currently have 82 contacts in the YouTube group and they have only one thing in common: they sent me or I sent them an email in 2006, 2007 or 2008. They don't have anything to do with YouTube and some of the email addresses couldn't be used to create Google accounts (for example, the Writely email address for importing documents).


The YouTube group can be renamed or deleted, but it's strange that it was automatically created. Gmail has some system groups for Google Latitude, Google Talk, Google Buzz, but they're hidden and can't be removed.

Do you see the YouTube group in your Gmail account?

{ Thanks, Katty and everyone who commented on Google+. }

Google's Doodle for Valentine's Day

This year's doodle is actually a video that uses Tony Bennett's song "Cold, Cold Heart" to tell the story of a boy who tries to find a gift for the girl he loves, but fails to impress her.



The doodle is available if you visit Google Australia, Google Japan and other domains for countries that celebrate Valentine's Day because it's already February 14 there.


Here are the other Google doodles for Valentine's Day.

{ Thanks, Dan. }

February 12, 2012

Back to the Black Bar

Google admitted that the navigation UI launched last year wasn't good enough and brought back the black bar (the color is actually dark gray). Some of the features from the old interface are still available: the list of services, the notification and sharing boxes, the settings menu.

"The new design retains many of the feature changes we made in November that proved popular, including a unified search box and Google+ sharing and notifications across Google. The biggest change is that we’ve replaced the drop-down Google menu with a consistent and expanded set of links running across the top of the page," explains Google.


The black bar doesn't look that great in Google's redesigned interfaces, but it's more functional than the "invisible" menu hidden behind the Google logo. It's always a bad idea to hide important navigational features, even if they clutter the interface. When you have to explain basic features because they're not obvious, you've already failed:


{ Thanks, Cougar and Matan. }

February 9, 2012

New Interface for Google Feedback

Google's feedback tool that's used in many services for reporting bugs has a new interface. It looks much better and it doesn't open a new page to show the information that's sent to Google. You can also see a list of all your bug reports.





"Google Feedback lets you send Google suggestions about our products. We welcome problem reports, feature ideas and general comments," informs Google.

To try Google Feedback, go to Gmail, click the "settings" menu and then "report a bug". A similar feature is available in Google Docs, YouTube and many other Google services. You can see the old version of Google Feedback if you click "Report a bug" in YouTube's footer when you watch a video.


Google Feedback started as an extension and now it's a web app.

{ Thanks, Sterling. }

Find More About a Google Image Search Result

Here's a simple way to learn more about a Google image search result without actually clicking it. Just drag the image to the search box and you'll be able to use "search by image" to find similar images and pages that include the image.



You can also mouse over the result and click "similar" or click the result and use the "search by image" feature, but drag-and-drop is faster. Another advantage is that you can edit the query and filter the results. For example, you can find pages that include the image and the word "hotel".

{ Thanks, Itamar. }

Keyboard Accelerators in Google Spreadsheets

Google Spreadsheets has recently added an interesting feature: keyboard accelerators for menus, but it only works in Chrome. You can now press Alt+F (or Ctrl-Option-F for Mac) to open the File menu. Then type one of the underlined characters to select an option. It's now much easier to use features that don't have keyboard shortcuts, just like in a native application.


Chrome is the only important desktop browser born without menus and that's probably the reason why web apps can override shortcuts like Alt+F. It's important to point out that you can use shortcuts like Alt+F and Alt+E to open Chrome's wrench, but not in Google Spreadsheets.

While Chrome's interface was so great that many other browsers used it as an inspiration, Google Docs continues to use the old-school menus from Microsoft Office 2000.

February 8, 2012

No New Mail? Try Google+

What's the message displayed by Gmail when there's no message in your inbox? If you answered "No new mail! Want to read updates from your favorite sites? Try Google Reader", you are right. It was Google's subtle way to promote Google Reader.


Before Google Reader was released, Gmail's "inbox zero" message used to be: "No new mail! There's always Google News if you're looking for something to read."

Now that Google focuses on developing Google+, a modern version of Google Reader, Gmail's new message is: "No new mail! See what people are talking about on Google+." The links sends Gmail users to the "what's hot" section of Google+ which "highlights selected content thought to be exemplary, interesting, and appropriate: showing you serendipitous and diverse information".


From Google News to Google Reader and now Google+, Gmail illustrates three different ways to read news. Google News ranks and clusters articles from the web, Google Reader allows you to read news from your favorite sites, while Google+ lets you read the articles shared by the people you follow. From news that are important to everyone to news that are important to the people you trust.

February 7, 2012

Chrome for Android

Many people wondered why Android's built-in browser is not called Chrome. One of the reasons is that Android's browser doesn't have many of the features of the desktop browser: data sync (bookmark sync is available in Android 4.0), extensions, themes, apps. Another reason is that Android's browser is updated less frequently than the Chrome browser because it's included in the operating system. Most OEMs ship their own browsers, so not many people use the stock Android browsers.

Now Chrome is available for Android 4.0 and it won't replace the standard browser on your device. "Like the desktop version, Chrome for Android Beta is focused on speed and simplicity, but it also features seamless sign-in and sync so you can take your personalized web browsing experience with you wherever you go, across devices," explains Google.


Chrome for Android brings a new gesture for navigating to the next tab (flick instead of Ctrl+Tab), support for page prerendering (used by Google Search to fetch the top result), incognito mode, link preview and data sync for bookmarks, typed URLs and browser sessions. That means you can open a few tabs in the desktop Chrome, close your computer and continue reading the same pages on your Android phone or tablet. In addition to these features, Chrome for Android "brings support for many of the latest HTML5 features to the Android platform: hardware-accelerated canvas, overflow scroll support, strong HTML5 video support, and new capabilities such as Indexed DB, WebWorkers and Web Sockets". There's also support for remote debugging.


"Chrome for Android is designed from the ground up for mobile devices. We reimagined tabs so they fit just as naturally on a small-screen phone as they do on a larger screen tablet. You can flip or swipe between an unlimited number of tabs using intuitive gestures, as if you're holding a deck of cards in the palm of your hands, each one a new window to the web," mentions Google.


At the moment, Chrome for Android doesn't sandbox tabs and there's no support for Safe Browsing, but these features could be added in the feature.

You can only try Chrome for Android if your phone runs Android 4.0 (you're using Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S, Transformer Prime or a different device with a custom ROM). Another limitation is that Chrome for Android is only available if you're in the US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Australia, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, but I'm sure you can use Market Enabler or the .apk linked here to bypass this restriction.

February 6, 2012

Google's Experimental Interface for Related Image Searches

Google's image search engine tests a new interface for related searches. Instead of only displaying a list of queries, Google also shows small thumbnails. Mouse over a query and you'll see 3 image results in a preview box.


{ Thanks, Pontus. }

February 4, 2012

Google Tests a New Version of the Black Bar

While Google hasn't abandoned the navigation bar launched last year, both the old and the new interface are used today. If you load google.com in Chrome's incognito mode, the old interface shows up more often than the new UI. The simplified interface made navigation more complicated, even if it looks better than the black bar.

Google even tests a slightly updated version of the old bar that uses the services from the new UI, more spacing and a different color scheme.



Here's how you can try the latest Google experiment. If you use Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Internet Explorer 8+, open google.com in a new tab, load:

* Chrome's JavaScript console (Ctrl+Shift+J)
* Firefox's Web Console (Ctrl+Shift+K)
* Safari's Web Inspector (how to do that?)
or
* IE's Developer Tools (press F12 and select the "console" tab)

and paste the following code:

document.cookie="PREF=ID=381502750b6e9119:U=aaee74aefea7315a:FF=0:LD=en:CR=2:TM=1328391998:LM=1328392000:S=yPtlCgLbEnezu5b4; path=/; domain=.google.com";window.location.reload();

Then press Enter and close the console. If you're not in the US and you're using a different Google domain, replace ".google.com" with your domain in the code (for example: ".google.co.uk" in the UK).

If you'd like to go back to the old interface and reset the Google PREF cookie, repeat the same steps, but use the following code:

document.cookie="PREF=; path=/; domain=.google.com";window.location.reload();

Google Instant, Disabled For Slow Computers

Google Instant is supposed to make searching faster, but you need a pretty good Internet connection, a modern browser and a decent computer. Google Instant is not available if you use IE6 or other outdated browsers and it's automatically disabled if you have a slow Internet connection.

Now Google also disables Instant if you have a slow computer. "If Instant gets automatically disabled, we continue to check your computer speed and will re-enable Instant if your performance improves," informs Google. If you don't like this change, you can disable it from the search preferences page. Just select "always show Instant results" in the "Google Instant predictions" section.


I've tested this feature on an old laptop and Google's implementation isn't great. Google Instant continues to be enabled for the initial query even if it's slow, then it's suddenly disabled when you visit Google Search again. Google doesn't show a message next to the search box to explain why Instant is disabled and not many people will visit the search preferences page, which both an explanation and a fix.


This is just one of the 17 updates from last month that improved Google Search.

Google Groups Themes

Just in case you don't like the Google Groups interface and want to customize it, there's a new light gray theme you can try. Just click the settings button, click "Themes" and select the "soft gray" theme. This only works in the new Google Groups interface.



A similar theme is also available for Gmail and it will be interesting to see if Google Groups will add support for the other Gmail themes. Maybe apps like Google+, Google Docs, Google Reader and even services like Google Search will support Gmail's color themes.

{ Thanks , Herin. }

February 2, 2012

Android Market's Malware Scanner

Google doesn't like to manually review user-generated content. It's not efficient and algorithms can do a better job. Imagine how many people would need to be hired to watch all the videos submitted to YouTube (60 hours of videos uploaded every minute).

In some ways, uploading an application to the Android Market is just like uploading a video to YouTube. Sure, you need to pay a fee, but you don't have to wait until a Google employee checks the application. Unfortunately, this also means that the application can include malware, deceive users, crash or spam your contacts. Google usually reviewed the app only after enough users reported that the app is malicious.

Now there's a new service called Bouncer "which provides automated scanning of Android Market for potentially malicious software without disrupting the user experience of Android Market or requiring developers to go through an application approval process. The service performs a set of analyses on new applications, applications already in Android Market, and developer accounts. Here's how it works: once an application is uploaded, the service immediately starts analyzing it for known malware, spyware and trojans. It also looks for behaviors that indicate an application might be misbehaving, and compares it against previously analyzed apps to detect possible red flags. We actually run every application on Google's cloud infrastructure and simulate how it will run on an Android device to look for hidden, malicious behavior".

That seems like a great idea: Google actually tests the apps without having to wait until other users install them and notice there's something wrong. The bad news is that this service was tested last year and was used to find potentially-malicious apps. Despite that, the apps infected by DroidDream were found by a security vendor and not by Google.

"The service has been looking for malicious apps in Market for a while now, and between the first and second halves of 2011, we saw a 40% decrease in the number of potentially-malicious downloads from Android Market. This drop occurred at the same time that companies who market and sell anti-malware and security software have been reporting that malicious applications are on the rise," says Google. Another explanation could be that Google's service is not good enough.

Google also says that Android "makes malware less potent" because it uses sandboxing, it displays the list of permissions and Android Market can remotely remove malware. I don't think that most of the users read the list of permissions. They simply ignore them, click "OK" and install the application. Maybe it would be a better idea to require users to explicitly enable sensitive permissions when they're using the apps.

While security vendors try to scare Android users and push their products, Google should focus on removing spam and malware from the Android Market and make it a safer place. Improving Android's security model and finding ways to install security updates faster are also important.

Google Docs Will Improve Paragraph Styles and Add More Fonts

An upcoming Google Docs update will bring a better interface for selecting paragraph styles and new features that lets you customize styles.



Google Docs will also add some new open source fonts from the Web Fonts project: Amaranth, Arvo, Dancing Script, Lobster, Merriweather, Open Sans, Philosopher, Quattrocento.


Google has recently updated the Android app for Google Docs and added offline support, while also improving the reading layout for tablets.

Update (February 6): Custom styles are now available.

{ Thanks, J. }