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July 31, 2009

Remove "On Behalf Of" from Messages Sent Using Gmail

Gmail has a feature that lets you send messages from other addresses. "Gmail's custom 'From:' feature lets you use Gmail to send messages with another of your email addresses listed as the sender in place of your Gmail address. This way, it's easier to manage multiple accounts from the Gmail interface."

A small inconvenience is that Google needs to include your primary email address in the headers and some mail clients inform users that the message is sent "on behalf of" a different address. Outlook is the biggest offender, especially for business messages sent from a a Gmail address "on behalf of" a custom domain.

Some suggested that Gmail should stop including the primary email address in the headers, but that's a major faux pas, since Gmail needs to authenticate the messages sent using its SMTP servers. "The reason we include your address in the headers at all is to help prevent your mail from being flagged as spam by your recipients' email services. For those who want the technical details, we use the 'Sender' field to be consistent with DomainKeys, a commonly used email authentication mechanism. If we didn't do this, your messages may get sent to your recipients' spam folders, which would be worse than the annoyance the current implementation is causing," explains Google.

The solution for this problem is not very elegant, but Google implemented it: you'll need to send the messages using the email provider's SMTP servers. Go to Gmail's settings page, select the Accounts tab, click on "edit info" next to the account you want to edit and then click on "Save changes". For some reason, this doesn't work for Gmail addresses and Google doesn't make the changes behind the scenes.

"We recognize that your other address might not have a server that you can use to send outbound messages — for example, if you use a forwarding alias rather than an actual mailbox, or if your other email provider doesn't support authenticated SMTP, or restricts access to specific IP ranges. For this reason, we've kept the original method as well," mentions Gmail's blog. The original method sends the messages using Gmail's SMTP servers.

More Search Results from a Site

Most search engines limit the number of results from a domain to make the list of search results more diverse and balanced. Even if Wikipedia has a lot of useful articles about "recursion", you'll only see the most relevant 2 results, followed by a link that invites you to check the full list of results from Wikipedia.

Google replaced the link with an expandable plusbox that lists 5 additional results from a site without having to open a new page.

July 30, 2009

Find Web Pages from a Certain Date Range

Google's web search toolbelt has been updated and it now includes an option that lets you find web pages from a user-defined period of time. After performing a search, click on "Show options", select "Custom date range" and enter at least one of the two dates.

Until now, you could only find images from the past 24 hours, the past week or the past year. If you edited Google's URL, the feature could be used to find pages from the past 10 days, 2 months or other custom periods of time, but you couldn't use it to find pages from 2006.

"Google tries to estimate the publication date for a page by using information such as the date Google first crawled the page," explains Google's help center. Google also uses the dates included in web pages if they are good candidates for the published date. Since Google's date is only an estimation, it should be taken with a grain of salt.

Power tip: The new feature is the only way you can find videos from a certain date range in Google Video. Just restrict the results to "videos".

Toolbelt for Google Image Search

Google's image search engine added an expandable toolbelt with search options that allow you to refine the results without visiting the advanced search page. Much like web search and Google Video, the image search engine exposes some options that were already available, but they were difficult to find.

You can pick the size by choosing medium, large, icon, by specifying the exact size or by selecting "larger than" and choosing one of the lower bounds. For example, you can restrict the results to images larger than 2 MP (1600x1200).

Other options include the type of image (face, photo, line drawing, clip art) and the colors (black and white, full color, predominantly red, predominantly blue etc.).

Let's find 2MP+ photos that are mostly gray and they include penguins.

Google Docs Integrates with Google Search

After using the PDF viewer from Google Docs for previewing PDF search results, Google started to enhance the cached version of XLS results with links to Google Docs. If you search for Excel files and click on "view as HTML" next to one of the results, you'll see three new options: a download link, a link to the HTML version and an option to edit the spreadsheet online using Google Docs.

I also found a quick way to view an Excel file in Google Docs:
(replace URL_OF_THE_XLS_FILE with the actual URL)

Birthday Calendar for Google Contacts

Google has recently added a birthday field in Google Contacts and many people asked for an integration with Google Calendar. Creating a birthday calendar shouldn't be very difficult: Google created one for orkut friends, even if the calendar has a lot of limitations.

Until Google adds this feature to Google Calendar, you can try a third-party application that generates a public calendar for the birthdays associated with your contacts. The application uses Google App Engine and Google Contacts API, so your password is safe. Another good thing is that the calendar is updated automatically when you add new birthdays or you edit the existing ones. Add notifications if you want to receive an email or an SMS one day before each birthday.

The major downside is that the calendar generated by the service is public, so anyone who knows its URL can see it. To use the service, you need to grant it access to your address book and Google recommends to do only if you trust the site. It's always a good idea to export your Gmail contacts before using an application that is allowed to has write access to your data.

Update: Google Calendar added the same feature. Go to the Settings page, select the Calendars tab and click on "Browse public calendars", then add the calendar "Contacts' birthdays and events". Unfortunately, Google's built-in calendar doesn't support notifications.

For some of your contacts, you'll see their birthdate even if you didn't add it to Google Contacts. It's likely that the information is obtained from Google Profiles.

{ Thanks, }

July 29, 2009

Bing Becomes the Main Alternative to Google Search

Microsoft and Yahoo announced a partnership that will allow Microsoft to better compete with Google by consolidating its market share in search and search advertising. Microsoft will acquire a 10 year license to Yahoo's search technology and it will power Yahoo Search.

Bing will become Google's main competitor in search, with a market share of about 28% in the US (comScore, June 2009) and about 11% worldwide (StatCounter). After a successful relaunch in May, Microsoft's search engine didn't convince many people to switch from Google. Bing's ranking algorithms have been improved and Microsoft has a lot of interesting specialized search engines (a great interface for image search, an excellent travel site), but the overall experience doesn't offer too many reasons to use Bing as your main search engine.

"Through this agreement with Yahoo!, we will create more innovation in search, better value for advertisers and real consumer choice in a market currently dominated by a single company. Success in search requires both innovation and scale. With our new Bing search platform, we've created breakthrough innovation and features. This agreement with Yahoo! will provide the scale we need to deliver even more rapid advances in relevancy and usefulness," said Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO.

"As a result of the deal, Microsoft, which has great technologists and deep pockets, will have the scale to bring users faster, more useful and more personally relevant search. Competition equals innovation. But with one player dominating 70% of search, that field has been pretty lopsided. This transaction will create a healthy competitor that’ll keep everyone on their toes," said Carol Bartz, Yahoo's CEO.

I don't think scale is the missing ingredient from Bing's recipe: Google managed to create a search engine that offered great results even when it was just a small project. "Google ended 1999 averaging about 7 million searches each day, a roughly 70,000% increase over the 10,000 searches per day that were performed on the Google site in December 1998," announced a newsletter from 2000. Microsoft should focus on innovation, on finding new ways to improve search quality and to make the results more useful, instead of trying to better compete with Google.

July 27, 2009

Publish PDF Files in Google Docs

One of the big changes from last week's Google Docs update is that the sharing features are more consistent.

For example, you can now publish a PDF file by clicking on "Share", selecting "Get the link to share" and checking "Allow anyone with the link to view (no sign-in required)". While the file becomes publicly available, you still need to log in using a Google Account, despite Google's claim that no sign-in is required.

Until now, spreadsheets had an unique feature that allowed you to collaborate with anyone that received the link to the spreadsheet, without even having to log in. The feature is now available for documents and presentations, so it's easier to collaborate with many people.

Try the new features:

1. Read some Gmail tips from Google in a published PDF file.

2. What do you expect to see in Google Chrome OS? Collaborate on a Google Docs document and share your thoughts.

{ Spotted by Jérôme Flipo. }

July 23, 2009

Google Helps You Understand Recursion

Google uses the "did you mean" feature, which normally corrects misspellings, to illustrate a nerdy joke: defining the word "recursion" using "see recursion" and pointing to the same definition.

"A recursive process is one in which objects are defined in terms of other objects of the same type. Using some sort of recurrence relation, the entire class of objects can then be built up from a few initial values and a small number of rules," explains MathWorld.

For more information, search Google for [recursion].

{ via Google Blogoscoped }

Gmail Displays the Images Sent by Your Contacts

Gmail has recently improved the way it displays external photos. Until now, you had to manually whitelist email addresses and this was tedious.

"When you receive an email that contains externally linked images, Gmail usually doesn't display the images automatically. This behavior is designed to help protect your privacy; if we displayed the images automatically, it could potentially allow the sender of the email to see that the images are being fetched, and therefore know when you've read their message," explained Google.

Gmail changed this system so that you no longer have to whitelist contacts if you've sent them at least two messages. "We'll only show images in messages that are authenticated, so you won't have to worry about seeing images in messages where the sender's name or address is spoofed."

This means you'll see the message "Images are not displayed. Display images below" less often. If you don't like the new feature, you can always disable it in the Settings by checking "Ask before displaying external content".

It would be nice if Gmail added more features that let you manage the messages sent by your contacts: search options that restrict the messages to a certain group or all your contacts, filters that label the messages sent by your friends.

July 22, 2009

Google Docs, Slowly Morphing into Google Drive

The new interface of Google Docs, which is slowly rolled out to all users, brings the service one step closer to an online storage service. The "items by type" menu replaced "PDFs" with "Files", suggesting that Google Docs will allow users to upload any type of files.

Google Docs also added the advanced search options that are available in Gmail:

* exact phrase matching ("todo list")
* negative matching (summer -trip)
* disjunctive matching (budget OR invoice)
* built-in labels (is:starred, is:hidden)
* collaborators: to find the documents shared by Michael Robinson, you need to search for:, assuming that's his email address. The problem is that you need to know the email address, since the operator doesn't support (partial) names.

At some point in the near future, Google Docs will allow you to upload any type of files. Some of the files can be edited, other files can be previewed online, while the rest of them are only stored online. For example, PDF files can't be edited online, but you can view them and share them.

It will be interesting to see how Google Drive integrates with other Google services that store files (Gmail, Picasa Web Albums, YouTube) and to find the free quota limits.

Tony Ruscoe found in January an internal Google document about Cosmo, described as an upgrade from GDrive, a service that was only available to Google's employees. "We're in the process of migrating all Google Doc accounts to Cosmo," mentioned the document.

Update: Kevin Mohr found an interesting image referenced in Google Docs' code: . It's a folder icon that includes Google Chrome's logo, so it could be related to Google Chrome OS, a browser-centric operating system that will probably use Google Drive to store files online. There's also an icon for videos which suggests that videos will be uploaded to YouTube.

July 21, 2009

Add Tables to Google Presentations

The presentation editor from Google Docs has a new option that lets you insert tables. It may not seem too much, but Google's implementation is great and I hope that the table editor will be added the word processor, as well.

Instead of asking you the number of columns and rows, Google Presentations borrowed the simple cell selection menu from PowerPoint and made it better. Try to insert a 15 x 15 table and you'll see how Google Docs expands the table dynamically.

If you want to add more rows, you don't need to use the Table menu: just click on the "+" button next to one of the rows. Google Presentations added a similar button for selecting rows and columns.

"Once you've inserted a table into your presentation, you can easily add, select, and resize rows and columns with a single click , format and align text across the table, and set background colors for your cells and borders. Your rows will grow to fit content as you type it. Collaborators can even make edits to the same table simultaneously. Now, when you import tables from Microsoft Office PowerPoint they'll show up as editable tables in Google Docs," explains Google.

Another cool new feature is a play button for embedded presentations. If you click on the button, the presentation advances automatically to the next slide every 3 seconds. You can customize the number of seconds and there's also an option that starts the presentation after the player loads. All the options are available after you publish a presentation.

July 20, 2009

YouTube 3D

YouTube test a stereoscopic player for watching videos in 3D. If you go to this video, you'll notice a drop-down that includes some options for red/cyan and amber/blue 3D glasses and some options that don't require glasses.

"Stereoscopy, stereoscopic imaging or 3-D (three-dimensional) imaging is any technique capable of recording three-dimensional visual information or creating the illusion of depth in an image. The illusion of depth in a photograph, movie, or other two-dimensional image is created by presenting a slightly different image to each eye," explains Wikipedia.

To enable the 3D player, you need to add the following tag to one of your videos: yt3d:enable=true. Pete, a Google employee, has more information about this experimental feature:
I'm the developer working on the stereoscopic player as a 20% project. It's currently very early, hence the silly bugs like swapping the eyes for the anaglyph modes. A fix for this is in the works.

The current tags are provisional and may change or expand. They are:

yt3d:enable=true Enables the view mode.
yt3d:aspect=3:4 Sets the aspect of the encoded video.
yt3d:swap=true Swaps the left and right sources. You may need to add this to videos when the player with fixed anaglyph modes ships.

You can try the new feature by searching for yt3d:enable=true.

{ via Search Engine Roundtable }

Explore the Moon in Google Earth

After adding the ocean, the sky, Mars, Google Earth now has imagery from the Moon. Forty years after the Moon landing, you can explore the Earth's natural satellite in 3D.

"Each of the Apollo landing missions is chronicled in detail through pictures and stories. We've even embedded video footage from Spacecraft Films that covers the most well-known moments on the surface. There are also immersive lunar surface panoramas, composed of photos taken by the astronauts themselves, presented for the first time in a 3D Street View style interface," explains Google.

To see the Moon, you need a recent version of Google Earth: after installing the software, click on the planet button from the toolbar and select "Moon".

July 15, 2009

Google Reader's Social Evolution

For more than a year, Google Reader has been struggling to add social features and almost all the new features were contrived, difficult to use and only cluttered the interface.

Originally, Google Reader's only social feature was sharing items in a public page. The trouble was that the shared page was difficult to find and users had to email the URL to their friends. Then Google Reader decided to automatically add your shared items to the reading list of your Google Talk friends, but those people weren't necessarily your friends and some were even added automatically by Gmail if you communicated often. Eight months later, Google Reader started to let you create a custom friend list.

Sharing an item wasn't enough as users couldn't explain why the post was interesting. To make things more complicated, Google Reader added "share with note". "Use the "Share with note" button on the item toolbar to create a copy of that item with your own note attached to it," explained Jenna Bilotta.

Sometimes the annotations were debatable and you wanted to post a reply, but Google Reader didn't have a commenting feature. Then comments came up and you could comment "on any items that you share or that have been shared by your friends". And since the interface wasn't complicated enough, Google Reader added a comment view to keep track of the posts that have comments.

The most recent additions help you find other people who use Google Reader. For the first time, you can protect your shared items by only making them available to the people from your friends list. You can also use Google's public profile search to find other people who share items and to follow them.

In addition to starring, sharing and sharing with note, Google Reader users can "like" posts. Why would you like a post when you can star it? By default, the starred items are private, while the items you like are public. Google Reader displays the number of likes next to each post and a list of the people who liked the post.

Google Reader became more difficult to use as the new features cluttered the interface and forced you to make more decisions. Now you have to decide if you want to star an item or just "like" it, if you want to share an item or share it with a note, if you want to follow the people who are following you.

FriendFeed, a service that helps you share and discuss interesting web pages, solved Google Reader's problems without complicating the interface. If your FriendFeed page is public, all your actions are visible to your subscribers. When you "like" an item, you automatically share it and you can also add a note. Unlike Google Reader, the note is actually the first comment from a discussion. User actions help FriendFeed find interesting posts, which are promoted at the top of the page.

July 14, 2009

Google Calendar Labs

Moving the innovation from the main product to a gallery of experimental features was a great idea for Gmail. The number of features increased rapidly without cluttering the product because you could select only the features that are useful to you. The downside was that most of the Gmail Labs were in an early phase, some were buggy and had to be temporarily disabled, while others were simply removed.

The first feature that graduated from Gmail Labs and became a standard feature is Google Tasks: you'll find it below the contacts link and this time there's no option to remove it. "The idea was always that the most popular and viable Labs features would graduate and be made more readily available to all users... and that some of the less used, less viable ones would disappear forever," explains Google.

Since Gmail Labs was a success, Google decided to create a similar gallery of experimental features for Google Calendar. "We've been looking for a way to release early features to users in a quick and experimental fashion, but in a way that would let developers and customers outside of Google extend Calendar too. We've seen how successful Gmail Labs has been and decided Calendar deserved Labs too," notes the Google Apps blog.

Google Calendar Labs has only 6 experiments: an option to customize the application using a background image, a clock that shows the current time in multiple time zones, an option that lets you jump to a certain date, a countdown to the next event, schedules for shared calendars and an option to attach Google Docs documents.

If the new features don't seem very useful, developers can write OpenSocial gadgets for Google Calendar. The APIs let you interact with Google Calendar's interface: you can add events, change settings, show the events for certain dates. Almost any iGoogle gadget can be added to Google Calendar using the following URL, assuming that you don't need to edit the preferences and that there's enough space to display it:

(where GADGET_XML_FILE is the URL of the gadget's XML file, for example:

Filter Images by Aspect Ratio and Size

Google's image search engine constantly adds new features that help you filter search results. Here's a list of some new options that aren't yet available in the user interface:

1. New ways to specify image sizes

The current interface lets you find images that are small, medium, large or extra large, but you can't find 2 MP photos. Now you can restrict results to 2 MP, 4 MP, 6 MP, 8 MP, 10 MP, 12 MP photos or larger photos:

2. Aspect ratio filter

A feature that's already available in Microsoft's image search engine and it's useful to find photos that have certain shapes.

Squared photos:

Nearly squared photos:

Tall photos:

Wide photos:

Panoramic photos:

Wide photos related to Niagara

July 13, 2009

Picasa Web Albums Shows the Number of Views

One of the most popular features requests for Picasa Web Albums is to show the number of views. It's difficult to know if your photos are popular and the number of views is a simple way to measure popularity. Now you can find this number below each photo.

"The 'Views' metric allows you to see how many people have viewed a certain photo or video. Views from all sources are included: Picasa Web Albums, embedded photos (if applicable), image search, etc. The view count, updated every 24 hours, is located on the bottom-right of an individual photo or video and is visible to anyone who can see the content. The number of views for each photo or video dates back to June 30, 2009. All views before this date are not included," explains Google.

Picasa Web Albums started as a service that helped you share photos with your friends and family, but it gradually added features from community-oriented services like Flickr: search, tags, Creative Commons licensing, comment moderation.

The service was launched as an online extension of the popular photo organizer Picasa, but this was an important factor that limited its development: it's difficult to upload multiple photos if you don't use Picasa, there's no photo editing feature and the name isn't very attractive. In addition to the integration with Picasa, Google's service offers only 1 GB of free storage, a great semi-automatic face recognition feature, a simple way to geotag photos, embeddable slideshows and some nice keyboard shortcuts that save time when you browse through photos. How would you improve Picasa Web Albums?

Google Chrome Suggests Popular Web Pages

The developer version of Google Chrome has recently enabled the updated new tab page, which is more customizable as it lets you remove, reorder and pin thumbnails.

One of the sections from the new tab page is "Tips and suggestions", but it's empty. A recent Chromium build revealed the mystery of the blank container: Google shows popular web pages from the iGoogle gadget "What's popular". The gadget "uses algorithms to find interesting content from a combination of your submissions and trends in aggregated user activity across a variety of Google services, like YouTube and Google Reader".

Suggesting web pages is not a bad idea for the new tab page, but they should be related to your browsing history. Internet Explorer 8 has a feature called "suggested sites", which can be enabled when you install the software and it monitors your browsing activity to show related web pages. Google has a "web history" service which can use Google Toolbar to track the web pages you visit, while offering a searchable browsing history, stats and recommended web pages. It's hard to find the right balance between privacy and utility, but Google has always pushed the boundaries of what's acceptable, even if it was vilified by the media.

July 11, 2009

Google's Changing Corporate Culture

Anil Dash wrote an interesting post about Google's public perception and the changes that are slowly turning Google into a regular big corporation.

"This is the point when the difference between their internal conception of the company starts to diverge just a bit too far from the public perception of the company, and even starts to diverge from reality. At this inflection point, the reasons for doing new things at Google start to change."

Anil gives some examples of recent announcements: many Google applications are built for Android, even if iPhone has more users; Google has two overlapping operating systems: Android and Chrome OS; Google uses TV ads to promote its services.

I'm not sure if these examples are revelatory: Google released important mobile applications for iPhone before they were available for Android and many people wondered why Google doesn't build applications for its own operating system.

Android and Chrome OS seem to be different products: "Android was designed from the beginning to work across a variety of devices from phones to set-top boxes to Netbooks. Google Chrome OS is being created for people who spend most of their time on the Web, and is being designed to power computers ranging from small Netbooks to full-size desktop systems." Kevin Fox, a former Google employee, adds: "The two OSes are created for different styles of interaction, so at the end of the day you-the-consumer are looking for a product to meet your portable, ancillary support, quick-use fingertip device, of you’re looking for a focused-attention computing platform in as small a form-factor as is usable. To say that there should only be one Google OS merely because there exists an overlap in the desired form factors for two distinct OSes is as silly as the idea of an iPhone running MacOS or a Mac with the UI of an iPhone."

While TV ads don't have too much in common with Google's culture, it's likely that Google didn't use TV ads to promote the search engine or Gmail because they spread by word of mouth. It's more difficult to convince people to change their browsers and their mobile phones.

"Google is entering the moment where it has to be over-careful not to offend, and extremely attentive to whether they are treading lightly. Is Google evil? It doesn't matter. They've reached the point of corporate ambition and changing corporate culture that means they're going to be perceived as if they are," concludes Anil.

Google is no longer a start-up and each announcement, each mistake and each decision is amplified and exaggerated. If Gmail is down for an hour or Google's search engine has a bug in the ranking algorithm, the mistakes affect millions of people and the complaints propagate instantly.

An interesting explanation for launching products that seemed unlikely a couple of years ago can be found at the bottom of this page:

"When we first wrote these "10 things" four years ago, we included the phrase "Google does not do horoscopes, financial advice or chat." Over time we've expanded our view of the range of services we can offer –- web search, for instance, isn't the only way for people to access or use information -– and products that then seemed unlikely are now key aspects of our portfolio. This doesn't mean we've changed our core mission; just that the farther we travel toward achieving it, the more those blurry objects on the horizon come into sharper focus (to be replaced, of course, by more blurry objects)."

Picasa Web Albums Lets You Block Users

Picasa Web Albums added some new features for managing your favorites and your fans. As you probably know, you can add any Picasa Web user as a favorite to get notified when he uploads new pictures. When you add him as a favorite user, you'll be included in his list of fans and he'll receive an email notification.

Until now, you couldn't remove users from the list of fans, but Google changed this: if the list of fans includes spammers, you can block them. Users "will be blocked from commenting on your photos and adding you as favorite. Blocking someone cannot be undone," mentions a warning. You can also block users who post offensive comments.

Picasa Web Albums added a list of "suggested favorites", which includes all your contacts that use Google's photo sharing service. It's a good opportunity to find interesting photos uploaded by your contacts and to add them to your favorites.

But if you can add users to a list of favorites, why is there no option to favorite images? Picasa Web added a link below each photo: "I like this" and the number of likes, but you can't keep track of the photos you like.

July 10, 2009

Report Offensive Google Images Results

Google Image Search, recently rebranded as Google Images, made it easier to change the SafeSearch filter by including a drop-down below the search box. The default option is "moderate", which excludes explicit images, but you can also disable SafeSearch or select the "strict" filter, which takes into account your keywords and the text from web pages.

Now you can also report offensive images that aren't filtered by SafeSearch. "Many users prefer not to have adult sites included in search results (especially if kids use the same computer). Google's SafeSearch screens for sites that contain explicit sexual content and deletes them from your search results. No filter is 100 percent accurate, but SafeSearch should eliminate most inappropriate material," explains Google.

The word "offensive" is pretty vague and Google doesn't define its scope, but you shouldn't use the new option for reporting irrelevant images or spam results.

July 9, 2009

Google Translates Documents

Google Translate added the option to upload the documents you want to translate. Until now, you could copy the text in Google Translate or publish the document online and paste its address.

Unfortunately, Google converts your documents to HTML and then it translates the HTML file, so the translation doesn't preserve the layout or the embedded images. You can upload Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, PDF files, HTML and text files.

{ via Blogoscoped Forum }

Simultaneous Searches in Google Maps

Sometimes you want to see the results for multiple searches in Google Maps or you want to quickly switch to a recent query. Now it's possible: Google Maps displays at the bottom of the page a list of recent searches and each layer of search results can be enabled independently. Google Maps uses different colors for the markers so you can differentiate the results.

July 8, 2009

Usage Rights Options in Google Image Search

Last month, I mentioned that Google Image Search is about to add some options that let you filter images licensed using Creative Commons. The options have been added to the advanced search page, where you can choose between images that you are allowed to reuse, images that can be modified or used commercially.

Google Image Search is the first important image search engine that has this feature, since Yahoo Image Search only supports Flickr images. If you want to illustrate your web pages or your documents with images from the web, choose one of the four filters from the advanced search page, find the licensing terms and try to respect them.

July 7, 2009

Google Chrome Operating System

Google Chrome has always been a little more than a browser: it's optimized for running web applications, each tab runs as a separate process, the interface is minimalistic and there's even a task manager. "We realized that the web had evolved from mainly simple text pages to rich, interactive applications and that we needed to completely rethink the browser. What we really needed was not just a browser, but also a modern platform for web pages and applications, and that's what we set out to build," said Google in September 2008.

Google's blog announces a natural extension of the Chrome project: an operating system for netbooks. "Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010. (...) Google Chrome OS will run on both x86 as well as ARM chips and we are working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year. The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel."

As people use more and more web applications, the operating system becomes less important and it makes no sense to pay for it. The desktop mail client could be replaced by Gmail, the calendaring application could be replaced by Google Calendar, the office suite has lightweight alternatives: Google Docs and Zoho, it makes more sense to use an online feed reader like Google Reader, your scientific calculator is less powerful than Wolfram Alpha and you'll rarely need a video player when you have YouTube, Hulu and other video sites.

This idea is not new and there are already operating systems optimized for the browser. For example, Good OS announced last year Cloud, an operating system that "integrates a web browser with a compressed Linux operating system kernel for immediate access to Internet, integration of browser and rich client applications, and full control of the computer from inside the browser". If Google manages to create a great user interface, the new operating system could be very successful.

{ Image from Google Chrome's comic book, licensed as Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs. }

Google's PDF Viewer for Search Results

Google's PDF viewer is now integrated with Google's search results, replacing the "view as HTML" option. Google converts PDF files into PNG images, but the files are still searchable and you can copy some of their content.

Not all the PDF files from Google's search results include the new option, so it's likely that Google doesn't perform the conversion on the fly and not all the files have been converted.

The PDF viewer is also used for the PDF files uploaded to Google Docs and for Gmail attachments.

Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs Come out of Beta

Google changed the meaning of "beta software" by launching applications in early stages and forgetting to remove the word "beta" even after years of testing. Gmail has been launched in April 2004 and it's still in beta after more than 7 years of development.

New York Times reports that Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Talk are coming out of beta today. Google hopes to convince businesses that the applications are good enough to be used in a corporate environment. "For business customers, it is an important sign in terms of the maturity of our product offering and commitment to this business. I've had C.I.O.s tell me that they would not consider a product labeled beta," explained a Google employee.

What's in a name? Apparently, not much, since Gmail's perpetual beta only meant that there are still significant features that need to be added. "We have very, very high standards for the product, as we do for all Google products. But we are not ready to come out of beta yet. There are a few things that we're working on, and once we meet a couple more of those criteria, we would love to come out of beta," said Gmail's Product Manager Todd Jackson in March.

Making labels more familiar was probably one of the things that had to be changed before Gmail could finally be good enough to drop the "beta" tag. Keith Coleman, Gmail Product Director, has a longer list of features that had to be added: integrated chat, mobile versions, open protocols, better anti-spam technology, a more flexible architecture.

"Some people think we should wait until we launch < one of ongoing secret projects >. Others say that, over the last five years, a beta culture has grown around web apps, such that the very meaning of "beta" is debatable. And rather than the packaged, stagnant software of decades past, we're moving to a world of rapid developmental cycles where products like Gmail continue to change indefinitely."

Update: If you think there's something missing from Gmail's logo, enable the "Back to Beta" feature from Gmail Labs to bring back the familiar logo. It's that easy to pretend that nothing happened.

Google Apps Premier Demo Accounts

If you're considering trying the paid version of Google Apps, you can create a demo account that has most of the features from Google Apps Premier. The account expires after 14 days, you don't need a domain and you can add 10 user accounts.

A small number of features can't be used in the demo account: Postini email services, domain aliasing and phone support, but all the other options should be available. You can test the APIs, the migration tool, Google Apps Sync for Outlook, the video sharing service and other business-oriented features.

When you sign up for Google Apps Premier Edition, the service is free for the first month, but you need to have a domain and you have to configure some advanced settings. The demo account is much easier to use, even if you only have two weeks to explore the myriad of features included in Google Apps.

If you only want to use Google Apps for personal use or for a small group, you should try the free edition, which is still available, despite Google's efforts to make it more difficult to find*. TechCrunch claims that "the free version of Google Apps is history", but that's not true and I'm certain that Google will always offer a free version.

* How to find the link to Google Apps Standard Edition? Go to Google Apps' homepage, click on "Gmail and Google Calendar", then click on "See details and sign up" and then select "Not a business? Explore Standard Edition". Only three links from the homepage.

July 6, 2009

Creating a Gmail Account Requires SMS Verification

Some people report that Gmail started to require SMS verification when you create an account, a practice used in the US and other countries when Gmail wasn't publicly available worldwide.

Verify your account. You're almost done. We will send an activation code via SMS to your mobile phone.
"If you'd like to sign up for a Gmail address, you need to have a mobile phone that has text-messaging capabilities. If you don't have a phone, you may want to ask a friend if you can use his or her number to receive a code. Also, if you know someone who already has a Gmail address, you can ask them to email an invitation to you. One of the reasons we're offering this new way to sign up for Gmail is to help protect our users and combat abuse. Spam and abuse protection are two things we take very seriously, and our users have been very happy with the small amount of spam they've received in Gmail," explains Google.

I created a new Gmail account and Google didn't ask my phone number, so the new requirement could be limited to some regions or it's just an experiment. Google says that is stores your phone number to make sure that you use it for "a limited number of accounts", but it's not clear how many accounts you can create using a phone number. Another problem is that not all the countries and the carriers are supported.

In other news, the SMS feature from Gmail Labs is still disabled and the option that lets you reset the password of a Google Account by SMS is available everywhere.

July 2, 2009

More White Space and a Smaller Google Logo

In May, Google started to change the logos used by its services to make them look more consistent. Tony Ruscoe compiled a list of the new logos and it's clear that the service names are more visible.

The updated Google logo is now displayed on Google's search results pages and you'll notice that it's smaller and there's more space at the left of the page. Another change is that the SearchWiki buttons are placed next to the "cached" and "similar" links.

Google constantly runs experiments that test different font sizes, background colors, padding values to determine which one is the best. For example, last year Google tested three versions of the search results pages and the one with the least white space was the most popular.

{ via Google Blogoscoped }

Google Update Always Running in the Background? Not Anymore

Google Open Source Blog informs that Google Update, the software used by Google Chrome and other applications for automatic updates, no longer runs in the background. "Until now, Google Update would always run in the background, functioning primarily as a reliable scheduler performing update checks at periodic time intervals. With today's release, Google Update now uses the Windows Task Scheduler to only run at periodic intervals."

I've checked the Task Scheduler and I've found that Google Update runs every hour. You can change how often it runs and even disable the task, but I'm not sure if other Google applications change your settings. "If this task is disabled or stopped, your Google software will not be kept up to date, meaning security vulnerabilities that may arise cannot be fixed and features may not work. This task uninstalls itself when there is no Google software using it," explains Google.

Since Google Chrome is regularly updated, it's not a good idea to disable the updater, thinking that you'll install the new versions manually.

The first good news is that you'll no longer see googleupdate.exe in the list of processes when you open the Task Manager. The second good news is that Google Update's team listens to users and constantly improves the software: Google Update is now open source and administrators can disable it using the Local Group Policy Editor.

July 1, 2009

Gmail's Labels Are More Customizable

Gmail's transition to labels-that-look-and-act-like-folders is finished: you can now use drag-and-drop to label messages. Labels no longer live in their own container and they're displayed below the built-in labels: inbox, spam, trash, etc.

To make room for other features, Gmail only displays the most frequently used labels and hides the other labels behind a "more" dropdown. The list of labels is now customizable: you can hide built-in labels and some of your labels, while changing their order. If you rarely check the "spam" label or you don't save drafts, you can hide the system labels from the settings page.

"You now have control over which of your labels show. We've done our best to get you started by automatically showing the labels you use most and hiding the rest. Label hiding is my favorite new feature, since it saves me from having to look through labels I rarely use. If I ever need to reach any of my old labels, I just click the "more" link," says Damian Gajda, from Google.

I don't see the new features in my Gmail accounts, but Google promises that the changes are rolled out today.

Update: Google wants to make labels more visible. If you didn't create labels, Gmail will add four labels for you: Personal, Receipts, Travel and Work. "When I joined the Gmail team, I was surprised to learn that only 29% of Gmail users had created any labels. We realized that if you didn't know about labels, it would be easy to assume Gmail had no way to organize your mail. Not only were "labels" unfamiliar, they were kind of hidden," explains Michael Leggett.

{ Thanks, Niranjan. }