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

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July 21, 2014

More Secure Gmail Authentication

Google has a new settings page that lets you enable or disable access to less secure apps.

"Some devices and apps use insecure sign-in technology to access your data. Choosing Disable prevents these less secure devices and apps from accessing your Google Account. Choosing Enable increases your chances of unauthorized account access but allows you to continue using these less secure devices and apps."



Many mail apps use insecure sign-in standards:

* the Mail app for iOS 6 or below
* the Mail app from Windows Phone 8.0 or earlier
* some built-in Android mail apps not developed by Google
* desktop mail clients like Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird.

If the access to less secure apps is disabled, you'll see a "Password incorrect" error when signing in and you can't set up a Google account on your device. "Google may block sign in attempts from some apps or devices that do not use modern security standards. Since these apps and devices are easier to break into, blocking them helps keep your account safer."

A Microsoft article explains that "Google has increased its security measures to block access to Google accounts after July 15, 2014 if those accounts are being set up or synced in apps and on devices that use Basic Authentication." Another article informs that "Windows Phone builds earlier than 8.10.12359.845 [Windows Phone 8.1] use Basic Authentication and therefore may be impacted. Windows Phone builds later than 8.10.12359.845 use Open Authentication (or OAuth) and therefore will not be impacted".

All Google products use OAuth 2.0, so if you use the desktop Gmail site, the mobile Gmail site or the mobile Gmail apps, you're not affected by this change. 90% of Apple devices are using iOS 7, so most iOS users are not affected. If you use Android mail apps built by OEMs like Samsung, the built-in mail app for Windows Phone or a desktop app like Outlook or Thunderbird, it's a good idea to make sure that the "enable" setting is checked on this page.

An article from April provides more information:
Beginning in the second half of 2014, we'll start gradually increasing the security checks performed when users log in to Google. These additional checks will ensure that only the intended user has access to their account, whether through a browser, device or application. These changes will affect any application that sends a username and/or password to Google.

To better protect your users, we recommend you upgrade all of your applications to OAuth 2.0. If you choose not to do so, your users will be required to take extra steps in order to keep accessing your applications.The standard Internet protocols we support all work with OAuth 2.0, as do most of our APIs. We leverage the work done by the IETF on OAuth 2.0 integration with IMAP, SMTP, POP, XMPP, CalDAV, and CardDAV.

In summary, if your application currently uses plain passwords to authenticate to Google, we strongly encourage you to minimize user disruption by switching to OAuth 2.0.

{ Thanks, Herin. }

July 18, 2014

Create Reminders in Google Search

You don't have to use the mobile Google Search app to add reminders. Just search Google for add reminder or create reminder, enter a name, a date or a place. You can also enter specific queries like: add reminder to buy milk tomorrow or create reminder to buy sandwich when I am in Chicago. Just click "remind me on Google Now".



You can create reminders for tasks, places to visit, events and more. You're notified of your reminders in Google Now, which works in Android, iOS (using the Google Search app) and Chrome for desktop.

Create Google Calendar Events in Google Search

You can now create events from Google Search. Type create event, add event, new event, add meeting or schedule appointment and Google shows the details for a generic Meeting event that starts in a few minutes. You can add the event to your calendar or click the time to go to Google Calendar.


A better idea is to enter something more specific: create event for Monday at 10am: write the report. This way, you can create the event directly from Google Search and you don't even have to open Google Calendar. It's similar to the "quick add" feature from Google Calendar, except that you need to add some text like "new event" or "create event" and detection doesn't work that well.


You can click "edit event" to open Google Calendar and make some changes.


This also works when you use voice input.

{ via Search Engine Land }

The New Google Alerts UI, Now Available

As previously anticipated, Google Alerts has a new interface inspired by Material Design. For some reason, Google only shows the new UI when you are logged in, while displaying the old interface if you don't log in to a Google account.

The new UI is a lot simpler and focuses on managing alerts and creating alerts with one click. The old Google Alerts homepage exposed a lot of advanced options, which are now hidden. There's a long list of alert suggestions: companies, people, countries, musical artists, industries, places, athletes, as well as your name and email address (the "me on the web" section).


For example, you can type "Google" in the huge input box at the top of the page, click "Create alert" and that's it. Google shows a preview, so you can see what results you may get.


There's a "show options" link that shows the advanced options, so you can choose sources, language and region, how often to send alerts, how many results to include and the delivery option: email or feed. The nice thing is that Google remembers your options and it uses them the next time you create a new alert.


Google Alerts lets you edit or delete alerts and shows a special icon for feed alerts.


Here's the old Google Alerts:

The New Google Drive for Desktop

I just got the new Google Drive desktop interface. Google shows a small box that asks you to try the new Drive. You need to go to the Settings drop-down and click "Experience the new Drive".



Here's the welcome page with a small accessibility icon:


The new interface has a lot in common with the new desktop home screens for Docs, Slides and Sheets. All of them use the new Material Design.


Here's the contextual menu:


When you click a file, it's selected and the info pane shows more information about the file. There are no more checkboxes: click to select, double click to open.



There's an updated "new" button that lets you upload files and files, but also create new documents.


You can now resize the sidebar:


It's easier to select files: click and drag your mouse over several files or press Shift to select a range of files or press Ctrl to select non-consecutive files.

July 17, 2014

Chrome App Launcher for Linux

In Chrome 36, the app launcher also works in Linux. Now this feature is available for all major desktop operating systems: Windows, Mac OS, Chrome OS and Linux.

To add the app launcher icon, Google suggests to "search your computer for Chrome App Launcher and
pin it to your system's launcher or panel for easy access." You first need to enable the App Launcher by adding a Chrome app from this page.

Here's a screenshot from Ubuntu 14.04:


Gmail's Special Phishing Warning

For some reason, Gmail displayed this phishing warning when opening an email newsletter: "Be careful with this message. It contains content that's typically used to steal personal information." There are two links that allow you to "Report this suspicious message" or "Ignore, I trust this message".


A help center article explains that Gmail "shows you a warning above any message that looks like a phishing scam but comes from an address in your Gmail contacts list. When a suspicious message like this is sent from an email address of someone on your contact list, it's possible that the person's email account was compromised and used without their permission to send a malicious message."

Google advises you to "read the message and decide if it seems like it was written by the sender. Consider whether it sounds like the person you know, contains suspicious links or content, or asks you to do unusual things like send money or provide personal details. If it seems like your contact's email account was compromised and used to send this message, please click Report this suspicious message within the warning. The message will be marked as 'sent from a compromised account,' and you'll send a report to the Gmail team to help us improve our detection of compromised accounts."

You may be wondering why Gmail doesn't flag the message as spam. Messages from your contacts are never moved to spam. In fact, that's one way to make sure that you receive messages from someone and they're not added to the spam folder: add the email address to your contacts.

I checked to see if the messages was sent by one of my contacts and the answer is no. That's strange, maybe this is a Gmail bug.

Redesigned Incognito Page in Chrome 36

Chrome 36 brings a redesigned incognito page with a bigger icon, a heading, shorter text and card interface. There are some changes to the text: Google removed "however, you aren't invisible" and "[going incognito doesn't hide your browsing from your] governments and other sophisticated attackers", but kept "your employer, your internet service provider, or the websites you visit". Google also removed the text which informed users that extensions are disabled by default in the incognito mode.


Here's the old new tab page for incognito mode (screenshot from Chrome 35):

July 16, 2014

Google Tests a Search Card for Live Events

There's a Help Center article about a Google experiment that shows relevant Hangouts on Air in Google Search. "We're rolling out an experiment where you can easily find YouTube live events or Hangouts on Air to watch by searching for the event on Google.com. For example, if an author is answering questions about their latest book in a Hangout on Air, you can search the author’s name to find and watch the event," informs Google.


Apparently, a live event will start to show up in search up to 3 hours before it starts. You can find a list of Hangouts on Air and YouTube live events.

"If the event is happening now, you can touch the play on the video to watch the event live. If the event is happening later in the day, click Yes under 'Are you going to watch?' to add the event to your Google Calendar."

Flash Warnings in Google Mobile Search

I still remember when Flash support was an important selling point for Android. While you can install Flash and use it even in Android KitKat, Adobe no longer updates it and Chrome doesn't support it.

Now Google decided to show warnings next to search results that use a lot of Flash content, but only for iOS and Android 4.1+ devices. "Starting today, we will indicate to searchers when our algorithms detect pages that may not work on their devices. For example, Adobe Flash is not supported on iOS devices or on Android versions 4.1 and higher, and a page whose contents are mostly Flash may be noted like this:"


The warning says: "Uses Flash. May not work on your device." You can tap "try anyway" or "learn more". The reason? "A common annoyance for web users is when websites require browser technologies that are not supported by their device. When users access such pages, they may see nothing but a blank space or miss out a large portion of the page's contents."

Google recommends developers to create modern multi-device websites using HTML5. For example, Google's Web Starter Kit is a simple framework that supports the Web Fundamentals best practices out of the box.

Google Forum Search, No Longer Available

Back in March, I posted some URLs that allowed you to get back some search features that were removed by Google from the search interface: forum search, recipe search and more. It looks like forum search is no longer available. "Google completely disabled it so now you can no longer filter Google search results by discussion forums," reports Barry Schwartz.


It's sad to see that Google removed a very useful feature that allowed you restrict results to forum threads, while keeping the app search feature, which mostly returns mobile apps and Chrome extensions.

As a workaround, you can add "forum" or "forum (topic OR thread)" to your queries.

Google Adds Support for Bitcoin Conversion

Google's currency conversion added support for bitcoin, a virtual currency introduced in 2009. If you search for [1 bitcoin to usd], [1 BTC in USD], [bitcoin eur], [convert 1000 gbp to bitcoin] and other similar queries, Google shows the interactive currency conversion card that also includes a historical chart.

Last month, "Google Finance partnered with Coinbase to launch a bitcoin price tracker that enabled BTC-to-fiat price conversions across a wide range of global currencies." This update uses the same data.


"Bitcoin is often referred to as a currency, but it does not conform to widely used definitions of money," suggests Wikipedia. "Economists generally agree that to qualify as money, something must be a store of value, a medium of exchange, and a unit of account. Bitcoin has some way to go if it wants to meet these criteria. It does best as a medium of exchange."

{ via Search Engine Land }

July 13, 2014

YouTube Tests Simpler Buttons

Here's a new version of the YouTube experiment that changes buttons. This time, YouTube only shows icons for "add to playlist", "share", "more" and it no longer includes labels.




New Google Alerts Interface

Anjo CerdeƱa, a reader of this blog, found a new interface for Google Alerts when opening the site. It uses Material Design and it has a few new features: a "me on the web" section and a list of suggestions for companies, people. countries, places, industries and more. It also shows your alerts and a simple box for creating a new alert.


I don't see the new Google Alerts UI, so it's probably still tested by Google. I expect to see more and more Material-inspired design refreshes.

The classic Google Alerts homepage is only focused on creating new alerts and it shows a lot of advanced options, as well as some information about Google Alerts. To see your alerts, you need to click "manage your alerts".


{ Thanks, Anjo. }

July 11, 2014

YouTube Tests New Buttons

YouTube tests a new desktop interface with a different look for buttons. The like and dislike buttons merged with the number of likes and dislikes, YouTube no longer uses tabs, "add to" opens a drop-down menu and there's a "more" menu for features like "report", "transcript" and "statistics".





Since the "about" tab is no longer displayed, you need to click a small "x" icon to go back to the video's description.

Desktop Home Screens for Docs, Sheets and Slides

Google already started to roll out the new desktop home screens for Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides. They're available at drive.google.com/document, drive.google.com/spreadsheets, drive.google.com/presentation. If these links create new files, then you can't access the new sites yet.

The goal is to provide a desktop counterpart to the mobile apps. You can quickly switch between the desktop apps using the navigation menu and you don't even have to visit Google Drive to create a document, open a document or remove it. Google shows a grid of recent documents, but you can also switch to the list view and choose a different sorting option. Folders are only available in the file picker dialog.



The new home screens provide few file management options: you can only rename or remove files. They're mostly useful for quickly opening a recent document, spreadsheet or presentation.


All the desktop apps uses a sticky round button at the bottom of the page that lets you create new documents, spreadsheets or presentations. The Material Design button is already used by some of Google's mobile apps and will be added to many other Google apps in the near future.


{ Thanks, Herin. }

Google Audio History

A recent update to the Google Search app for Android added enhanced support for the "OK Google" hotword. If you go to the settings, tap "Voice", then "OK Google Detection", you can enable "from any screen" and "from lock screen". This way, you can say "OK Google" to start a voice search or action when the screen is on or the device is charging and even from the lock screen. Right now, this feature is limited to English/US and requires Android KitKat.


When you enable these features, Google asks you to say "OK Google" 3 times to train the speech recognition software and it also enables Audio History. "When you use voice activation commands such as 'OK Google' or touching a microphone icon, a recording of the next thing you say, plus a few seconds before, may be used and stored by Google and associated with your Google Account to help recognize your voice and improve speech recognition."


Your recordings are available online at the Google Audio History page. "Only you can see your history. Some items may take up to an hour to display," informs Google. You can delete the recordings, play them or click the Google search links. Click the "gear" drop-down menu, click "delete" and you can pick from "past hour", "past day", "past week", "last 4 weeks", "the beginning of time" (the same options that are used by Chrome's "clear browsing data" feature).


You can disable Google Audio History from the Android app's settings, but this also disables "OK Google" detection from any screen or from the lock screen. "When Audio History is off, voice searches will be stored using anonymous identifiers and won't be saved to your Audio History, even if you're signed in to your Google Account," informs Google.

"Google uses your Audio History to: learn the sound of your voice, learn how you pronounce words and phrases, recognize when you say 'Ok Google' and improve speech recognition across Google products that use your voice."

The new Audio History feature seems to replace Personalized Voice Recognition, an opt-in setting added back in 2010. "If you opt into personalized recognition, we begin to associate the recordings of the words that you ask us to recognize with your Google account. We then automatically use these words to build a speech model specifically for you. This speech model enables us to deliver greater recognition accuracy," explained Google back then.

While it makes sense for Google to improve the voice search history and build personalized voice models, I can't find any connection between the improved "OK Google" detection, which works offline, and the Audio History online service. It's probably an artificial requirement, just like the Google Now feature, which requires enabling location services in iOS, but not when using Android.