SiliconFilter

Googlelighting: The Google/Microsoft War of Words Continues, Now in Musical Form

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“Who knows what the future holds for Google Apps.” That’s the question Microsoft would like its customers to ask themselves before switching away from Microsoft Office and to Google’s cloud-based productivity suite. To underline its point, Microsoft just released a new video attack ad that accuses Google of running Google Apps “on the side” even though it has no business meddling in productivity software because it only has “twelve years of experience in ad sales.”

♫ “If Google Apps Meets is Grave, Your Business is Hosed” 

Microsoft, of course, is making fun of Google’s general development mode here by highlighting that Google Apps could potentially change at any point while a company is using it – and while unlikely, it could even potentially kill it off at any point. That, indeed, could be a major point of resistance for large companies that would like to switch to a cloud-based productivity suite like Apps. For them, a change in a widely used piece of software, after all, means retraining staff, for example. And just to highlight this point, the video then kicks into a music number that explains that Google really can’t be trusted to even keep really useful features around.

For the longest time, the rivalry between Google and Microsoft was fought through features and a few sly remarks here and there, but things have gotten rather public and heated between the two companies lately. For the most part, the aggression seems to come out of Redmond, though, with Google trying to defend itself against the accusations on its own blog and in the press.

Microsoft, for example has been taking out ads in national newspapers to highlight the changes Google made to its search engine and privacy policy lately and also happily jumped on the bandwagon of those accusing Google of trying to circumvent the privacy controls of Apple’s Safari and its own Internet Explorer.

Microsoft also launched an anti-Gmail video ad earlier this month:

google_ms_office_comparison

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9:48 am


Tweet Safer: Twitter Makes HTTPS the Default for All Users

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The title really says it all. Last year, Twitter started giving its users the option to use HTTPS to keep their connections safe over unsecured Internet connections. Today, the company announced that it is now making secure SSL connections the default for all users.

HTTPS ensures that the traffic between the server and your browser is encrypted and can't easily be intercepted over unencrypted wireless networks, for example. This is essentially the same protocol you use when you access your online bank accounts, for example.

With this move, Twitter is following in the footsteps of other companies like Google, which made HTTPS the default for all Gmail users in January 2010 and for all signed-in Google Search users in late 2011. Facebook, too, users HTTPS whenever a password is sent to the service, but users have to manually activate secure connections for all of their other activity on the service.

In addition to adding these secure connections to Twitter.com, the company also announced that it plans to improve HTTPS support on its web and mobile clients in the future.



2:04 pm


Study: Hotmail’s Spam Filters Are Better Than Gmail’s and Yahoo’s

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Microsoft's Hotmail has a bit of a reputation for having inadequate spam filters. A new study by Cascade Insight, though, argues that Hotmail actually provides better spam protection than its competitors Gmail and Yahoo Mail. In the study, Hotmail offered slightly better performance than Gmail and was significantly better than Yahoo at detecting unwanted email. Microsoft, which has been fighting public perception that Hotmail is generally behind the times, is obviously quite proud of these results.

Cascade Insights seeded fresh email accounts on all three providers by registering these new email addresses with known ham and spam sites. The researchers then sat back and waited for the spam to arrive. The study was conducted in November and December 2011. Normal inboxes, of course, don't get this much spam, but Cascade Insight argues that this methodology allows it to objectively compare the spam performance of these three different providers.

Talking about the study today, Microsoft pointed out that the average amount of spam in its Hotmail inboxes has decreased from 30% in 2006 to just 3% today. In total, Microsoft announced last year, spam in its Hotmail inboxes is down 90% from its peak. Customer complaints about spam in Hotmail have also dropped 40% over the past year.

Webmail spam microsoft google yahoo

 



11:39 am


Google: That QR Login Page is Just an Experiment, “We’re Already Working on Something Better”

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A nifty little undisclosed Google service made the rounds on the Internet today. By going to a specific website, Google would give you a QR code to scan on your phone and then let you log in to a desktop Gmail session without having to actually type your login credentials on the computer. Google had never announced this service officially. Now it's clear why. According to Google's Dirk Balfanz, a member of the company's security team, this was just an experiment and, says Balfanz, will likely go away at some point.

"We're Already Working on Something Better"

Google is, he says, always working "on improving authentication, and try out different things every now and then. We're working on something that I believe is even better, and when that's ready for a public trial we'll let you know."

Google has now also updated the login page with virtually the same message. As Balfanz notes on Google+, the team doesn't want people to start relying on an unsupported feature.

The web, of course, lit up earlier today when this service first appeared, thanks to a Google+ post by a non-Google programmer who stumbled upon the feature by coincidence. It's not often, after all, that somebody discovers an unannounced Google feature on the public web.

The interest in this service shows, though, that there is clearly a market for this, which will hopefully motivate Google to launch an official product with similar functionality in the near future.

Google smartphone message experiment



10:19 pm


Open Sesame: A Safer Way to Log In To Your Google Accounts

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Google has introduced an interesting new way for logging into your Google accounts by just scanning a QR code on the screen and without having to actually type your password into a computer. To use this new feature, just head over to https://accounts.google.com/sesame and a QR code will appear on your screen. Scan the barcode on your phone (you can use any app that can read QR codes for this, including the popular RedLaser app on the iPhone or Google's own apps).

This new log-in mechanism will be especially useful when you are using a public computer where you can't be sure that somebody hasn't installed a keylogger or a similar device.

Gmail login phone

The feature was first described by Walter Chang on Google+, though it's possible that this tool has been available for longer.

How it Works

Here is how it works: Google presents you with a one-time use barcode on the screen. You scan the code and your mobile scanner app will recognize that it's a link and take you to your mobile browser. Google will then ask you to type in your password on your phone and to confirm that you really want to log in on the computer, too. Once confirmed, your desktop browser will receive notice from Google that you are good to go and open a Gmail session for you.

Caveats

Now, obviously, as the good folks on HackerNews point out, if you are on a computer you don't fully trust, you can never be 100% sure that whoever installed a keylogger on the machine isn't also doing other nefarious things while you are logged in.

Still, this is definitely safer than just typing your password on a computer that isn't yours and may even add some extra security for those who sometimes have to work on unsecured WiFi networks as well.

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10:26 am


Google+ Gets More Useful Notifications, Multi-Admin Support for Pages and Noise Control for Circles

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The Google+ is ending the year with a massive number of updates and new features. Besides giving users greater control over what appears in their main stream, the Google+ team also launched support for multiple administrators for Google+ Pages and more useful notifications that provide users with what Google calls "sneak peaks" at updates from your stream. In addition, Google+ now also features a redesigned lightbox for photos, which have quickly become a central feature on the site.

All of these updates are rolling out now and will be be available to all users within the next few days.

Noise Control

Ever since the launch of Google+, its users have asked for better ways to control what appears in their streams. With today's update, Google introduces a slider for each of your circles that allows you to fine-tune how posts from this circle appear in your stream. As Robert Scoble, one of the site's most prolific users points out, Google+ users now finally have a "first form of noise control this morning. Good first step. Now we need Gmail-style filtering on top of this."

New Lightbox

Ever since its launch, photos have been a significant part of the Google+ experience. The new Lightbox, which Google introduced today, has been redesigned to enhance navigation, comment legibility and "better overall utility."Google also launched a new tagging experience that it calls "fun and fluid."

Finally: Useful Notifications

Also new today are a set of improvements to the notifications that Google prominently displays in its redesigned Google bar. Until now, there was very little information in these notifications. Now, instead of saying "Mr. X and 3 others commented on your post," you will actually see the comment right in the notifications window, for example.

Multiple Administrators for Google+ Pages

For businesses and publishers who manage Google+ Pages, today's updates also finally introduce support for multiple administrators (up to 50). In addition, these administrators will now also get access to a new notifications flow and an "aggregated count of users that have engaged with your page, either by +1’ing it or by adding it to a circle."

Support for multiple administrators was probably the most-requested feature when Google launched these brand pages. Indeed, it came as quite a surprise for many when they couldn't add additional managers to their new pages. It's good to see that Google has quickly added this feature, though I can't help but wonder why this feature wasn't available at launch.

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3:19 pm


Google Extends Free Google Talk Calls Within U.S. and Canada Through 2012

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In what is becoming an annual ritual, Google today announced that it is extending its free calls promotion for Google Talk through 2012. Thanks to this, Google's users can make free calls from Gmail within the U.S. and Canada for another year. After launching calling in Gmail in August 2010, Google first said these calls would be free for the rest of 2010 and that it would start charging in 2011. In December 2011, the company announced that it would extend this program for 2011. Now, Google is adding another year to this promotion, making us wonder whether the company plans to keep this service free for the foreseeable future.

Chances are, Google is doing this to entice its users to make international calls through Gmail and Google Voice, as these are probably more lucrative anyway.

Google Talk, of course, is closely connected to Google Voice at this point and your Google number will display when you make outgoing phone calls. Google Voice users can also receive calls in Gmail.



5:18 pm


Google Apps for Business Users Finally Get 24×7 Phone Support

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Until now, Google Apps for Business users who pay a monthly or annual per-user fee to use the business versions of Gmail, Google Docs and similar services under their own domain names had one problem: the only real support option was over email. While that may work for most problems, quite a few users actually prefer to get an immediate answer and to talk to somebody knowledgeable over the phone. Starting today, Google now provides 24×7 phone support for Google Apps for Business users for all issues related to the product’s core services. These include Gmail, Google Docs and Google Calendar, among others.

As Jocelyn Ding, Google’s VP for Enterprise Operations notes in the announcement today, “In the early days, our customers reached us mainly through email, and our 24 x 7 phone support was limited to critical issues. To improve the experience of our customers, we now provide 24 x 7 phone support to small, medium, and large Google Apps for Business customers for all issues affecting the core services.”

Here are the phone numbers you can call: [list]

  • U.S. Technical Support: 1-877-355-5787
  • International Technical Support: 1-404-978-9282 [/list]

Customer Satisfaction Among Google Apps Users: 80%

According to Google’s own numbers, customer satisfaction among Google Apps for Business users is 80% for business customers and 90% for large business customers. While Google glances over this, the fact that 20% of business customers aren’t fully satisfied with Google Apps is quite a high number and surely one of the main reasons why Google now offers phone support.

Google has always had an aversion against offering support by phone. After all, Google is the company that didn’t offer phone support when it launched its first phone. It’s interesting to see that this seems to be changing now.

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5:35 pm


Poll: Republicans Love AOL, Democrats Prefer Gmail

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Here is a fun little poll that I wouldn’t put too much stock into, but that will likely spur some interesting discussions in both the tech and political blogospheres today. According to a new survey commissioned by Poll Position, 20% of Republicans consider AOL to be the best email provider. Only 5.3% of Democrats think so. Overall, Democrats prefer Gmail over any other service (27%), though Yahoo Mail is a close second (25%).

While this makes for a good headline, though, the reality is that except for a dislike of Yahoo Mail, there is no statistical difference between Republican’s preference of Gmail.com (18.9%), Yahoo Mail (15.6%) , AOL (20.3%) and “another e-mail provider” (21.5%). The margin of error in this poll is 3%.

What really disqualifies this poll, though, is the fact that it doesn’t even list Microsoft’s Hotmail as an option. No matter what you think about it, Hotmail remains the world’s most popular web-based email service and not including it here just makes the rest of the survey look suspect.

It should still makes for some entertaining discussions around the water cooler, though.

Here are some other interesting data points from the survey: [list]

  • Democrats prefer Google over Yahoo by a 27%-25% margin
  • AOL’s e-mail service was rated best among 18-29 year olds, with 32% picking it versus 10% for Google and 18% for Yahoo. Google did best among 20-44 year olds (37%), while Yahoo was best among 45-64 year olds (27%).
  • 30% of women have no opinion about their preferred email service compared to 20% of men [/list]

Here are the full statistics (click on image to zoom in):

poll-position-republicans-vs-democrats-email-preferrence



4:42 pm


Hotmail Launches Improved Email Flagging

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Managing email is something very few people enjoy. Over time, though, a few tactics for keeping the steady flow of messages under control have proven quite useful. Using flags or stars to mark important messages, for example, has become one of those tactics that most of us use to keep our inboxes in working order. With the latest release of Windows Live Hotmail, Microsoft thinks it has found a way to improve email flags for its users – though most Gmail users will likely be familiar with this system already. Now, when you flag a message in Hotmail, the email will be pinned at the top of your inbox. This is quite similar to Gmail, which also allows you to create a section for starred messages (and provides you with a bit more flexibility for setting up your inbox, too).

image

As Dick Craddock, Microsoft’s group program manager for Hotmail, notes, until now, “flagging a message still leaves it in the message list, which can keep your Inbox cluttered.” The new behavior, which moves flagged messages to the top of your inbox, should make it easier to keep track of important messages without adding clutter to your inbox.

For those who aren’t interested in this behavior, Microsoft also offers a way to turn this feature off by simply closing the area with the flagged messages at the top of your Hotmail inbox.

Some New Features for Power Users

While this new behavior for flagged messages isn’t too exciting as it mainly copies existing systems, Microsoft is also introducing some new features for power users that are pretty interesting in their own right: custom Quick Views and customized Instant Actions.

For a while now, Hotmail has offered Quick Views as an easy way to see emails that include pictures, documents or shipping notifications. These features allow you to quickly create new categories like “For Review” for incoming emails. Once you have these features set up, it only takes one click to pin these emails with custom categories at the top of your email list or to find them in your custom Quick Views inbox. The Microsoft Blog features a detailed description for setting this up.

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6:55 pm


Major Gmail Update Coming Soon: New Look With Better Search and Updated Conversation View

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A few months ago, Google launched a preview of a new look for Gmail that is more in line with the general redesign of all of Google’s products. Today, a Google employee mistakenly made a video demo of the other changes that are coming to Gmail available on YouTube (sounds like a familiar story?).  That video has been set to private again now, but you can find a copy here and at the end of this post. Chances are, Google will make this update official very soon.

So what’s coming for Gmail? Besides making the current preview theme the default, Google will also roll out updates to its other themes. According to Google, the idea behind the new look is to “make it as clean, simple and intuitive” as possible.

new_gmail_1

The conversation view now also looks a bit more like the “preview pane” Gmail labs experiment the company introduced earlier this year. Among other things, the conversations view now features profile picture to, as Google says, to make your message threads more “like a conversation.”

Other updates include a redesigned advanced search menu. Instead of having to type in relatively arcane commands like “subject: Google,” the new search box gives you separate fields for searching for specific subjects and for emails from specific contacts  and with certain keywords. You can also now create new filters right from the search box.

The whole site has been redesigned to fit better on any size of screen, too. The new default theme features a lot of white space that brings the information density of the default view down by quite a bit. For those who prefer to see more messages by default, Gmail will allow users to tweak these settings.

 



5:58 pm


Smoke Signal: Smart Gmail Hack Lets Your Contacts Know How Full Your Inbox Is Right Now

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Email can be a blessing and a curse. For those of us who get a lot of messages every day, it’s often the latter, as keeping up with the constant stream of things that need our attention can be hard. There are lots of systems for managing your inbox, but what if you could easily let people know how full your inbox is and maybe keep them from sending you that unnecessary message when you’re already busy? Smoke Signal does exactly that. Thanks to a smart hack, the service automatically updates your email signature in other peoples’ inboxes throughout the day and lets them know whether your inbox is pleasant, tolerable or unbearable.

inbox_pleasant

Smart Hack

Typically, adding this kind of information to an email and having it update automatically throughout the day isn’t really possible, as virtually all email providers don’t allow dynamic content in emails (Microsoft has been working on this problem with a few select partners lately, though).

What Smoke Signal does to get around is, is to append an image to your email signature that reflects the current status of your inbox. You simply add an image with a URL the service gives you to your signature and Smoke Signal will automatically pick the right image to display every time somebody opens your email, no matter which email client they use.

The status message that’s added to your email signature depends on how many unread emails you have in your inbox (0-10: pleasant; 11-19: tolerable; 20+: unbearable).

inbox_status_tolerable

Smoke Signal is similar to Courteous.ly, a service we looked at a while back. Courteous.ly, however, doesn’t automatically update your signature and instead asks those who want to email you to click on a link instead. Unlike Smoke Signal, though, Courteou.ly features some smarter algorithms to figure out what your regular email load is and adapts its message accordingly.

Useful?

Whether you want to use this service, of course, is another question. Some people may prefer to keep their inbox status private. Others will feel queasy about giving a startup access to their inbox and others will simply doubt the value of this service (at least, that’s the reactions the folks over at Hacker News have exhibited so far).

For the team behind Smoke Signal, this is just a first test of a bigger idea. The team wants to figure out how to combine email and the idea of availability in smarter ways.



8:56 pm


About Time: Gmail, Google Calendar and Docs Get Offline Access

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Google just announced that it is finally launching offline access to Gmail, Google Calendar and Docs. Once upon a time, Google allowed users to access their data offline through Gears, but the company shelved this effort in 2010 and never replaced it. Now, Chrome users can install a new pluginfrom Google that will give them offline access to Gmail offline. Docs and Calendar users will be able to download the respective plugins over the next few weeks.

Gmailoffline

One caveat, though, is that you can’t edit documents in the offline mode. That’s probably a deal-breaker for some, but it’s definitely better than having no access to your documents on that non-WiFi equipped plane. Google hopes to offer offline editing in the future, though.

Gmail and Calendar, on the other hand, will allow you to perform virtually all your regular activities offline as well.

Getting Started with Offline Gmail

To access Gmail offline, you can’t just unplug your computer and keep using Gmail. Instead, you have to open a new tab and launch the Gmail offline app from there. Interestingly, the offline interface is pretty much the same as the Gmail tablet interface.

Chrome-Only For Now

For the time being, of course, this new functionality is only available in Chrome and ChromeOS. Google says that it hopes to bring this functionality to other browsers in the future. In a slight jab against its competitors in the browser arena, Google notes that those will get these features once they “support advanced functionality.”

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4:24 pm