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 29, 2009

Google's Context-Sensitive Spell Checker

Spell checkers aren't usually very smart: they highlight words that aren't in a dictionary and suggest a list of similar words. Even if they take into account words that aren't included in dictionaries and they deal with plurals and verb tenses, most spell checkers can't find words that are used incorrectly in a context.

Wikipedia includes as an example: "Their coming too sea if its reel", a phrase that has 5 spelling mistakes, even though all the words can be found in the dictionary. If you enter this text in Gmail's editor and click on "Check spelling", Gmail won't find any error. Type the same text in Google's search box, and you'll get a "did you mean" message that suggests to search for "Their coming to see if its real". As you can see, Google's search box has a better spell checker than Gmail since it doesn't rely on a dictionary, it uses a huge amount of searches to determine what are the most probable sequences of words that follow a certain pattern. Unfortunately, the spell checker available at Google.com is optimized for searches, which are usually short, so you can't use it to spell check an email message or a blog post.


Google Wave, the service demoed yesterday at Google I/O, includes a context-sensitive spell checker that highlights errors as you type. Google uses the language models built for Google Translate to find words that don't belong in a certain context.


May 28, 2009

Play Games in Google Talk

Google released a realtime gadgets API for Google Talk that's especially useful if you want to play games with your friends.

"gadgets.realtime and the APIs built on top of it allow gadget developers to write applications that communicate asynchronously with another endpoint, whether that endpoint is another instance of the application (on another machine, or in another browser, for example), the container hosting the gadget, or an application hosted in the cloud. The obvious application of these APIs is 1:1 gaming -- at its most basic a Tic-Tac-Toe game between two users. However there are many other more complex (and arguably -- depending on your thoughts about games -- more interesting) scenarios that these APIs enable; for instance, a chat application that translates text as participants type it, or a shared whiteboard, or an application that lets a couple choose the best flight for their upcoming vacation."

For now, the APIs are only available in a developer sandbox, which includes a special interface of Gmail Chat. Here's how you can play chess with one of your friends:

* Go to the sandbox and send this link to your friend: http://talkgadget.google.com/talkgadget/sandbox .

* When your friend started to use Gmail Chat's sandbox, click on "Options", select "Start application", paste the following address:
http://code.google.com/apis/talk/examples/chess.xml
and press Enter.


If you don't know how to play chess, try two other applications:

* a very simple rock-paper-scissors game:
http://code.google.com/apis/talk/examples/rps.xml

* an automatic translation application:
http://code.google.com/apis/talk/examples/interpreter.xml

{ via Google Talk Blog. Thanks, Niranjan. }

Google Wave

Google Wave is a new communication service previewed today at Google I/O. "A wave is equal parts conversation and document, where people can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more."

The service seems to combine Gmail and Google Docs into an interesting free-form workspace that could be used to write documents collaboratively, plan events, play games or discuss a recent news.


Google Wave has been designed by the founders of Where 2 Tech, a start-up acquired by Google to create a cutting-edge mapping service, which later became Google Maps.

"Back in early 2004, Google took an interest in a tiny mapping startup called Where 2 Tech, founded by my brother Jens and me. We were excited to join Google and help create what would become Google Maps. But we also started thinking about what might come next for us after maps. As always, Jens came up with the answer: communication. He pointed out that two of the most spectacular successes in digital communication, email and instant messaging, were originally designed in the '60s to imitate analog formats — email mimicked snail mail, and IM mimicked phone calls. Since then, so many different forms of communication had been invented — blogs, wikis, collaborative documents, etc. — and computers and networks had dramatically improved. So Jens proposed a new communications model that presumed all these advances as a starting point; I was immediately sold," explains Lars Rasmussen.

"In Google Wave you create a wave and add people to it. Everyone on your wave can use richly formatted text, photos, gadgets, and even feeds from other sources on the web. They can insert a reply or edit the wave directly. It's concurrent rich-text editing, where you see on your screen nearly instantly what your fellow collaborators are typing in your wave. That means Google Wave is just as well suited for quick messages as for persistent content -- it allows for both collaboration and communication. You can also use "playback" to rewind the wave to see how it evolved."

You can see some screenshots of the service and find some details about the API that could be used to extend the service and the Wave protocol that allows anyone to run a "wave" server. Google promises that Google Wave will be available later this year.

Customize Google Using Server-Side Scripts

Google's services have a lot of powerful features, but they can't offer all the options requested by users. A popular way to customize Google services is using Greasemonkey scripts: some of the most popular scripts are included in Firefox extensions like Customize Google or Better Gmail. While user scripts can help you tweak Google features, they need to be installed on each browser you use and they can be easily be rendered useless after Google changes the code.

A different approach to extend Gmail's functionality was Gmail Labs, which allowed you to pick add-ons that are dynamically integrated in Gmail. Depending on the Gmail add-ons that you select, you'll run one of the many possible customized versions of Gmail. For now, only Gmail engineers add Google Labs features.

I'm sure that many Greasemonkey users would like to add upload a script to Gmail or Google Docs so that it's saved on Google's servers and it no longer requires Greasemonkey. Ideally, the script should use Google APIs instead of manipulating the DOM directly.

Google Scripts is answer to this problem, it's a way to extend the functionality offered by services like Google Docs, Gmail or Google Calendar.
With scripts, you can:

* Create your own custom spreadsheet functions
* Automate repetitive tasks (e.g. process responses to Google Docs forms)
* Link multiple Google products together (e.g. send emails or schedule Calendar events from a list of addresses in a Spreadsheet)
* Customize existing Google products (e.g. add custom buttons or menus to run your own scripts)

The scripts help you add macros to a Google spreadsheet by writing some JavaScript code in Google's script editor. "Google Apps Script provides the ability to automate a variety spreadsheet actions, such as reading and changing values in cells and ranges, changing formats and formulas, and creating custom functions," explains Jonathan Rochelle.


But the feature goes beyond spreadsheet macros. "Users write scripts in JavaScript using libraries designed to provide a powerful interface with Google products. If you already are a JavaScript developer, a key difference is that scripts run on Google Servers instead of user browsers. As a result, direct operations on the client-side DOM are not supported, although some restricted functionality is provided. Your code executes server-side, and operates on the Google products you've coded for."


For now, Google Scripts is not publicly available, but you can apply to become a tester if you have a Google Apps account.


{ via Google Blogoscoped }

May 27, 2009

Google Tennis OneBox

Google has a new OneBox that shows the latest results from Roland Garros, an important tennis tournament held in Paris. If you search for [roland garros] or [tennis], Google shows some recent results, but it's probably a better idea to search for a player's name.


This is not the only sports-related Google OneBox: you can also find results from football (or soccer), the National Hockey League (NHL), National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), cricket, NASCAR or Formula 1.


{ Merci, Jean-Noël. }

Google Friend Connect Adds Global Conversations

Web Elements is Google's new one-stop shop for services that can be embedded into any web page without requiring coding skills. You can embed maps, search results, calendars, news, spreadsheets, presentations, YouTube channels, but all of these features were already available in similar formats.

Friend Connect added an interesting web element for global conversations. "A global conversation is a conversation that takes place on several web site simultaneously. You can tell that you are looking at a global conversation because it says "Global conversation - learn more" underneath the title of the conversation. When you post to a global conversation, such as "mandolins", the post not only shows up on the web site where you posted it, but it also shows up on any site that chooses to embed the conversation, now or in the future."


So you can create an ad-hoc chat room that can be embedded in any web page that will continue the conversation. Friend Connect comes with an authentication system that doesn't require creating a new account, an option to use existing profiles, threaded comments, basic spam filtering, comment translation and other useful features.

Extending Google Chrome

One of the presentations from the first day of Google I/O was about Google Chrome's extension system. There aren't many improvements since the last post about Chrome extensions, but the presentation explains some of the advantages of Google's system:

* extensions are collections of web pages that use HTML, JavaScript, CSS, so they're not difficult to write
* you don't need to restart the browser after installing an extension
* the extensions are updated automatically, so you'll always have the most recent version
* Chrome's extensions will work in any future version of the browser. Developers don't need to update their extensions when a new version of Chrome is released.
* Chrome will run extensions in separate processes: one process for each extension.


You can already write some simple extensions that add new options to the browser, but the interface is pretty limited and the APIs don't expose all the features that are available in Chrome.

To try some Chrome extensions, follow the instructions from this post, but they only work if you install a developer build. You can also install Cleeki, an extension that brings IE8's accelerators to Chrome, AdSweep, an ad blocker without UI, and a PageRank checker.

{ via Chromium blog }

May 26, 2009

Google Enhances Snippets with Thumbnails

After extracting a lot of interesting information from web pages (dates, locations, author names), Google experiments with displaying the number of images embedded in a web page and a list of thumbnails above the snippet. Patrick Altoft posted a screenshot that shows a search result which includes 17 images, but only 9 of them were picked by Google.


The feature is not available for everyone, but if it's launched, I suspect that Google will only show the enhanced snippet for pages that embed a lot of images.

A similar feature is available if you click on "search options" and select "images from the page", like in this search for [mouse]. Google will show at most 2 thumbnails next to each search result. Thumbnails "can help you quickly identify whether the page is relevant to your search term. For example, if you see an image of a furry little critter when you search for [mouse], you can probably deduce that the page isn't talking about computer equipment," explains Google's help center.

Bing, Live Search's New Interface

Microsoft's search engine didn't manage to become successful, despite of its many improvements, rebrandings and promotions. Nielsen reported that Live Search's US market share in the US was 9.9%, while Hitwise reported that the most commonly searched terms on Live Search are "Google" and "Yahoo".

Microsoft has many new distribution deals for Live Search, but the main problem is to have a product that's good enough to keep the new users. The next iteration of Live Search, that will be publicly available soon, integrates PowerSet's technology to offer an enhanced view for Wikipedia pages, shows only the top result for many navigational queries and an automatically generated menu of related searches. The service saves a list of recent searches and displays them in the left sidebar, next to the search refinements.

Live Search's new homepage


For navigational queries, only the top result is displayed. In some cases, you'll also see a customer service phone number (but not if you're searching for "google").


Live Search shows the top results for related queries on the same page. If you search for "audi a4", you'll also get results for "audi a4 repair", "audi a4 used", "audi a4 reviews" etc.


When you mouse over a search result, Live Search shows a longer snippet and more related pages


The enhanced view for Wikipedia pages isn't very exciting, unlike the similar feature from PowerSet


Unfortunately, I didn't see any improvements in ranking search results, so the only thing that's changed is the user interface. Live Search's interface is closer to an encyclopedia page, but I'm not sure if overloading users with information is the solution to offering better results.

AdAge suggests that Live Search will have a catchier name: Bing and Microsoft will pay $80 million for promoting the search engine. "People with knowledge of the planned push said the ads won't go after Google, or Yahoo for that matter, by name. Instead, they'll focus on planting the idea that today's search engines don't work as well as consumers previously thought by asking them whether search (aka Google) really solves their problems. That, Microsoft is hoping, will give consumers a reason to consider switching search engines, which, of course, is one of Bing's biggest challenges."

New features rarely bring more users to a search engine, even if they're useful and innovative. People want a search engine that constantly offers good search results, not just for popular searches or for a few hand-picked queries.

Update (June 1st): The new interface is now available at bing.com. As I already mentioned, there's no significant improvement in ranking the results, so Bing is Live Search with a new interface and a new way to display the same poor results.

May 23, 2009

A Feed for YouTube Subscriptions

Last year I wrote about some feeds offered by YouTube that weren't available in the interface. Since then YouTube added feeds for search results, videos from a channel and even from your subscriptions: just click on the orange icon from the address bar and you should see the feeds.

That means you no longer have to visit YouTube's homepage to find new videos from your subscriptions. You can subscribe to the following feed in Google Reader or another feed reader:

http://gdata.youtube.com/feeds/base/users/username/newsubscriptionvideos
(replace "username" with your YouTube username)

The great thing is that you can subscribe to other users' feeds. For example, you'll find a lot of interesting videos in Google's subscriptions, which include channels like: Webmaster Help, Google Talks, Google Developers etc.


If not all the videos are interesting to you, use the query parameter to show only the videos that include certain keywords in their titles or descriptions. For example:

http://gdata.youtube.com/feeds/base/users/google/newsubscriptionvideos?q=mobile

Read more about YouTube's feeds in the Data API reference guide.

May 22, 2009

Share Collections of Feeds in Google Reader

Google Reader has always allowed you to share collections of feeds: you can add the feeds you want to share to a folder, make the folder public and get a public page that shows the latest items from the feeds. Other people could subscribe to your public page in any feed reader or they could download the OPML file and import it in a feed reader. The problem with this approach is that it's not very easy to find, the OPML file is there only if you know how to obtain the address and you need to keep the folder even it's no longer useful to you.

Bundles are a more transparent way to create collections of feeds: you'll find them if you click on "Browse for stuff" in the sidebar. Google Reader already offers 447 themed bundles for "Mindmapping", "Pop-culture", "Startups", "Food blogs", "Architecture" and other topics. The nice thing about bundles is that you can subscribe to a list of hand-picked blogs with one click.

Now you can create your own bundle from the same page: just select a name and drag 5-10 feeds from your subscriptions. They don't have to be perfect, since you'll be able to add more feeds later.



After creating the bundle, Google Reader will generate a page that looks like the shared items page, but it has a explanatory description, the list of feeds that are mixed and the most recent items from the feeds. You can subscribe to the bundle by clicking on the "Subscribe" button if you use Google Reader or by exporting the bundle as OPML and importing the file in a feed reader. The bundle's name will become a folder and all the feeds will be added to that folder, an improvement over the public folder approach, where the collection is mixed in a single feed.


Here are two examples of bundles: Apple and Google blogs.

{ via Google Reader blog }

Google Reader Gets More Social

The "What's popular" iGoogle gadget, launched last month as a simple way to discover interesting web pages, has been improved and you can now automatically add the shared items from Google Reader.

The option is disabled by default, but you can enable it in the new settings page. "Automatically submit items you share via Google Reader into the What's Popular gadget. These shares will be attributed to you. Changing this setting will only affect new shared items from Google Reader."


Google's gadget includes web pages from different sources: user-contributed pages, popular posts from Google Reader and popular videos from YouTube. You can rate the pages that you like or dislike by clicking the voting buttons displayed next to each item, much like in Digg, Reddit or Yahoo Buzz.


The gadget can be added to your personalized Google homepage, but you can also bookmark this URL. "What's popular" has less than 17,000 users, but that's probably because Google hasn't officially launched it yet.

Google Reader has an enormous amount of attention data (starred items, shared items, pages that are read or emailed), but it didn't use it to recommend popular posts, except for the "What's cool in Google Reader" feed.

{ via Blogoscoped Forum }

Bookmark Google Maps Search Results

If you find an interesting local business in Google Maps, you can add it to a custom map for future reference. The process has been simplified and Google Maps added the option to bookmark search results. You'll find stars next to local search results, locations, user-created maps:



To find the list of bookmarks, click on "My Maps" and scroll to "Starred items". For now, the bookmarks aren't public and you won't find them in a user's profile.

The starred items are also added to Google Bookmarks, without any label or annotation. If you remove the pages from Google Bookmarks, the corresponding items from Google Maps are deleted.

{ Thanks, Imma. }

May 21, 2009

Chrome 2.0 - Better, Faster, Stronger

Google Chrome 2, now out of beta, is less about exciting new features and more about better performance. There's nothing impressive about adding full screen support, form filling or full-page zoom, since all of these features are already available in most browsers.

"Making the web faster continues to be our main area of focus. Thanks to a new version of WebKit and an update to our JavaScript engine, V8, interactive web pages will run even faster. We've also made sure that JavaScript keeps running fast even when you have lots of tabs open," reveals Google Chrome's blog.

Google's own benchmark shows that the new version runs 30% faster than Chrome 1.0, but it's probably a better idea to test the application for yourself.


Version numbers are not important and you don't even need to know that the browser has been updated: since it always runs the most current version, the new features are enabled gradually as they're developed, like in a web application. "A note on version numbers: we're referring to this as Chrome 2, but that's mainly a metric to help us keep track of changes internally. We don't give too much weight to version numbers and will continue to roll out useful updates as often as possible."

Google Maps Shows Suggested Routes

If you don't like the driving directions offered by Google Maps, you can now choose between 3 suggested routes and compare them on the map. Of course, you can still add multiple destinations to restrict the routes generated by Google Maps.


Here are some tips to get better directions:
  • Add multiple stops on a single route by clicking Add destination in the left panel.
  • To reorder segments of your trip, drag and drop the destinations in the left panel.
  • To customize your route, click and drag any point on the purple directions line to any location on the map. Google Maps immediately re-creates the directions on both the map and left panel, and also updates the estimated travel time and distance.

{ via Benjamin Golub }

Shared SearchWiki Notes

Google tests a feature that allows you to share results voted or annotated using SearchWiki. Sharing your customized search results page could be useful when you want to help other people solve a problem. Instead of linking to "Let me Google that for you", send them to a page with hand-picked search results and comments.


Here's an example of shared SearchWiki page. You'll probably notice the "pov" parameter which stands for "point of view". In the future, Google could link the SearchWiki pages to Google Profiles or even suggest relevant collections in a special OneBox.

{ Thanks, Brian. }

Import iGoogle Feeds into Google Reader

Google Reader added an option to import the feeds from iGoogle, but you'll be able to use it only the first time you load the feed reader or by opening the welcome page. I assume that Google Reader wanted to help iGoogle users who need a more powerful feed reader.

The process of importing feeds is extremely painful, since Google Reader subscribes to each feed one by one. If you only have 5-10 feeds in iGoogle, it will import the feeds quickly, but you'll need to wait a lot longer if you have more than 50 subscriptions.

You can select the feeds that should be imported and Google Reader will convert iGoogle's tabs into folders.


Last year, I wrote a script that exports iGoogle feeds to OPML, so you can import them in other feed readers. It's more difficult to use than Google Reader's feature, but at least it's efficient.

Gmail Magic Inbox

Gmail's code reveals an upcoming feature called "magic inbox" or "icebox inbox", which is likely to prioritize the messages sent by your friends and other contacts you email frequently.


In 2007, RarePlay reported about the social features that would be included in email services. "E-mail providers like Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and others are now incorporating social networking functionality in their email offerings in mapping out the relationships between people and how are they related (social graph). An interesting experiment Yahoo (and similarly Google) is undertaking internally is called "Friend Finder". Friend Finder analyzes a user’s email traffic and indicates the friends with whom a user has strong email connections based on incoming/outgoing traffic and the frequency and speed in which two parties respond to each other." While Yahoo has already released an early version of the social application, Google has yet to make an announcement.

Some other messages from Gmail's code suggest that we'll be able to sort messages by priority and save messages in an outbox to be sent at a later time.


Gmail still have important features to be released before removing the "beta" tag:

Google Image Search Refining Experiment

Cameron Beyer spotted a Google Image Search experiment that shows suggestions next to some of the search results. When searching for "flower", Google displayed suggestions like "rose flower", "yellow flower", "murakami" next to some of the images.

This seems to be a quick and dirty to refine search results until the similar images experiment from Google Labs is integrated in Google Image Search.


{ Thanks, Cameron. }

Ads in Google Suggest

Google Suggest has been recently updated to include top search results and search buttons, but the most surprising additions are sponsored links. Here's how Google explains why you'll sometimes see ads below the suggestions:

"Similar to the navigational suggestions, sometimes we detect that the most relevant completion for what you're typing is an ad. When an ad is shown, we mark it with the text "Sponsored Link" and a colored background, as on the results page."


The updated Google Suggest will have an interesting side-effect: you'll see the search results pages less often. Google saves you a few clicks by suggesting search results directly from the homepage, much like Google Chrome's omnibox, but monetizing the suggestions seems out of place. The ads draw attention from the list of suggestions, they're unnecessarily large and they clutter the interface.

Hopefully, Google won't show sponsored links in the list of suggestions very often and Google will focus on adding useful suggestions like: unit conversions, results from Google Calculator, facts etc.

Side notes:
* I don't see the ads in Google Suggest, so maybe the feature hasn't been publicly launched yet.
* Is this the first time when Google shows third-party ads on the homepage?

May 19, 2009

Google Suggest Improves

Google has been testing many enhancements for Google Suggest and the latest update includes some of the best ideas used in the experiments:

* showing recent searches from your search history if you're logged in and Web History is enabled
* being able to remove suggestions from your search history

In this example, "mailinator" is a suggestion from my search history.


* adding the top search result to the list of suggestion for navigational searches
* displaying the "Google Search" and "I'm feeling lucky" buttons below the list of suggestions
"MSN" is a navigational query, since users want to navigate to MSN's homepage. Google saves you one click by sending you directly to MSN.com.


It's not necessary to enter the full query to get navigational suggestions. Typing "quickt" is enough to display the top result: QuickTime's homepage.


* showing suggestions not just on the homepage, but also on search results pages
* removing the number of results for each suggested query

Suggestions aren't useful just on the homepage.


If you don't see the new interface yet, here's how to enable it: go to Google's homepage, copy this JavaScript code in the address bar:



and press Enter. Refresh Google's homepage and you should see the new interface.

Gmail Added Message Translation

As previously anticipated, Gmail Labs added a feature that translates messages written in a foreign language. After enabling "Message translation" in Gmail Labs, you'll be able to translate any messages written in other languages by clicking on "Translate message to: English".



"When Gmail detects one of your messages is in a language other than your default language, you'll see a header at the top of the message. Click the link that says Translate message to.... Your message will be translated inline (no need to open a new tab or window). Or if you want to translate the message and print it too, you can click the down arrow next to the Reply button and select Translate and print. You can also translate an entire conversation. Just click the globe icon on the right side of the conversation and you're good to go," informs the help center.

To find messages written in other languages use the lang: operator and search for lang:fr, lang:es, lang:chinese or something similar. Now you're finally able to understand the strange messages from your spam folder.


{ Thanks, Niranjan and Meghan. }

Google Sites Design Refresh

Google Sites, the service that lets you create collaborative sites, has been updated to look more consistent with Google Docs. The rich-text editor borrowed the old-fashioned menu and the toolbar from Google Docs.


Google Sites has been added to the navigational menu, next to Gmail, Google Docs and Google Reader, so you no longer have to click on "More" to switch from Google Docs to Google Sites. Other changes are more subtle: hierarchical navigation, the sections are more customizable and there's a new "Pages" view that lists all the pages, information about their creator and the number of revisions.

"We switched the site settings area to use vertical navigation, to make room for some upcoming features like AdSense integration. We've also started to add some collaborator tools to the site management area. Less visibly, we made some major changes to our rendering infrastructure to improve performance and in preparation for new upcoming themes. This is meant to remain compatible with the layout customizations site owners have made, but it might have minor impacts on how your site looks."

Speaking of consistency, Picasa Web Albums' settings page has a new design similar to the one from Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Reader.


In the 2008 Founders' Letter, Sergey Brin wrote: "There are a number of things we could improve about these web services. For example, since they have arisen from different groups and acquisitions, there is less uniformity across them than there should be. For example, they can have different sharing models and chat capabilities. We are working to shift all of our applications to a common infrastructure. I believe we will achieve this soon, creating greater uniformity and capability across all of them."

{ Thanks, Stefano. }

OffiSync - Integrate Google Docs with Microsoft Office

OffiSync is a plug-in for Microsoft Office 2003/2007 that integrates the office suite with Google Docs. You can open documents, spreadsheets and presentations already saved in Google Docs, edit them in Microsoft Office and save the files in Google Docs. The add-on creates a new revision of the document when you save it, but there's no option to automatically save the document periodically.


You can view the files from multiple Google accounts and Google Apps accounts, so the add-on is a good option to virtually merge your accounts. Since the plug-in doesn't offer all the features available in Google Docs, you'll still need to open the online interface to publish a document, to use gadgets in Google Spreadsheets or to collaborate with other users. While you can manage the collaborators in Microsoft Office, you can't collaborate in real-time and your changes will overwrite the changes made by your collaborators.


Despite its name, OffiSync doesn't actually sync Google Docs with your computer and it doesn't even show the most current version of a document, assuming that other people edited it after you opened the document in Microsoft Office.

It could be an option for those who aren't comfortable with using an online office application, but they want to backup the documents online. It's probably not a good idea to use it this way since Google Docs doesn't have all the features that are available in Microsoft Office and the documents won't look the same. In its current incarnation, the plug-in isn't very useful for those who use the collaboration features from Google Docs.

Here are some potential uses:

* create a document in Microsoft Word and quickly import it in Google Docs, without using the online interface
* open a document created in Google Docs to improve the layout before printing it
* use some functions from Microsoft Excel that aren't available in Google Spreadsheets

May 18, 2009

How to Use Google Docs Folders as Labels

Google Docs has a flexible system of organizing documents. While initially Google Docs used a labeling system similar to the one from Gmail, the current version combines the benefits of labels with the simplicity of folders. The interface names them folders, but they're actually hierarchical labels.

You can add a document to multiple folders without creating copies. Just go to "all items" and drag the document to more than one folder. Since the sidebar doesn't show subfolders, you can't drag the document to a subfolder.

What if you want to remove one of the labels? There's no interface option for this, but you can use this workaround: click on the label you want to remove in the sidebar and drag the document to one of the other labels. To remove all the labels, drag the document to "Items not in folders".


Google's hybrid between folders and labels still needs some improvement: subfolders are not displayed in the sidebar, you can't add multiple labels in a single step and it's not obvious that folders are actually labels.

May 16, 2009

What's in Store for Google Search?

Google experiments with a lot of interesting new features, but not all of them are publicly available. A post from Google's blog inadvertently revealed some experiments, by showing a list of iterations for the "search options" feature released this week.

The initial concepts for the "search options" panel included a lot of interesting enhancements:

* grouping search results by topic
* grouping search results by people
* showing page previews for search results
* showing only pages that you've seen or pages you haven't seen before


Google has previously tested an interface that grouped search results in predefined categories like reference or reviews, but it's not clear if "group by topic" works in a similar way or it's a different approach. To search pages you've seen before, there's Google Web History, but it's very slow and the ranking algorithm needs a lot of improvement.

Wolfram Alpha, the Answer Engine

Wolfram|Alpha launched yesterday and it's an useful complement to a general-purpose search engine like Google. Wolfram|Alpha doesn't search the web, it uses data from authoritative databases and an engine powered by Mathematica to obtain the results.

"Wolfram|Alpha aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people—spanning all professions and education levels. Our goal is to accept completely free-form input, and to serve as a knowledge engine that generates powerful results and presents them with maximum clarity," explains the "about" page.

Even if the homepage's simplicity reminds you of Google, it's a good idea to check the examples page before entering a query. Alpha can't handle any kind of query, so it's important to know its strengths: advanced Math calculations (graphs, equations, prime numbers computations, matrix operations), conversions, facts about weather, population, food, minerals, people, places.

You can enter simple things like numbers, dates, words, HTML color codes, chemical formulas and you'll get a lot of interesting information. The service shows intuitive visualizations and comparisons to better understand the information.





Wolfram|Alpha could be a great way to expand Google Calculator and other Google OneBoxes.

May 15, 2009

How to Customize or Disable Google Update

For regular users, having a silent application that constantly updates the browser is a good thing. There's no annoying interface that interrupts you to ask your permission before updating the application and you no longer have to manually check for updates. Unfortunately, Google Chrome's automatic updater is not a great feature if you have limited bandwidth or in an enterprise environment, since you can't customize it.

Now you can use the Group Policy Editor from Windows or add some Registry keys to customize Google Update. Google Update for Enterprise explains how you can import an administrative template in the Local Group Policy Editor (gpedit.msc) and change the auto-update check period or even disable the auto-updater.


You can configure separate policies for different Google applications, allow only manual updates and even prevent the applications from installing on your computer.

If your operating doesn't include a policy editor (Windows XP Home, Windows Vista Home), edit the Registry directly. Just create the following key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Google\Update

and add two DWORD values:

AutoUpdateCheckPeriodMinutes - auto-update check interval (for example: 1440 to check for updates once a day)
DisableAutoUpdateChecksCheckboxValue - 1, if you want to disable the auto-updater; 0, if you want to enable it.

"We work hard to keep our users safe and secure when using our applications, and we believe that making sure users have the latest software available using automatic updates is a key component of that. However, we realize that there are situations where automatic updates may not be desirable so we wanted to provide the ability to control updates when necessary," says David Dorwin, from the Google Update Team.

May 14, 2009

Google News Redesign

One year after testing a new interface for Google News, the Mountain View-based Internet giant Google launched the redesign. It's more cheerful and visually-rich than the previous design, section pages include more videos and photos, while most of the clutter has been removed.

Google News homepage


Sci-Tech section of Google News

The project that allowed people involved in a news story to post comments has been abandoned, but you can still read the last comments. It didn't scale, it was difficult to automate and the number of comments was too small to matter.

The last Google News comments

May 13, 2009

Migrate to Gmail from Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, AOL Mail

So you've finally decided to change your webmail service and migrate to Gmail, but you don't want to lose your old messages and the address book. Gmail offers a mail fetcher feature that works with all mail services that support POP, including Hotmail, but you can't use it for regular Yahoo Mail accounts.

As previously anticipated, Google released a tool that lets you import contacts and mail from popular services like Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, AOL Mail and from ISPs like Verizon, Comcast, Earthlink. If you don't see a tab titled "Accounts and import" in Gmail's settings, you need to wait until the new features are enabled in your account.



"It's much easier to make the transition now that you can bring along all your old email and contacts. You can even have your messages forwarded from your old account for 30 days, giving you time to take Gmail for a test drive while you make up your mind," suggests Google's blog.

The service is powered by TrueSwitch, which offers similar migration wizards for Hotmail and Yahoo Mail. Depending on the number of messages that are imported, the migration may take up to 2 days.