Google Hangout – more of the same

Google Hangout launched with much gusto at Google I/O this year. There has been much talk about the project that was apparently codenamed Babel and that it would make the Google Messaging finally make sense. There are currently multiple ways to communicate with someone in a form of a conversation on the Google platform. The obvious one is of course Gmail and Google Talk. Then you have Google+ Messaging which apparently isn’t the same thing as communicating with someone during Google Hangout. Then there’s the little used and likely little known feature of being able to message someone while working on a document together. After much anticipation though, while there things about Google Hangouts that are great and there are things that are lacking, this initial release of Google Hangout is mostly just a new flavour of Google Talk.

Let’s start with the good

The Google Hangout Chrome Extension is phenomenal. I like that even though it’s a Chrome extension, it’s also pervasive and you can access it even when you’re in under windows as it hangs around at the bottom of the screen and on OsX, it also shows up on the notification bar. I actually have slowly replaced using Mac Messages with Google Hangout at least for my primary IM account. The app that is powered by the Chrome extension is also aesthetically quite visually appealing. It’s simple and clean like the new Google+ themes.  Google Hangouts (which is a replacement for Google Talk) on Android is also quite aesthetically pleasing as well.

The app itself has a few really nice features that I like especially on the Android version. I like that you now can add multiple people to the chat as well as include photos which they didn’t have before. The loads of of smileys isn’t particularly appealing to me but I know that’s one of the differentiators for apps like WhatsApp and Line.

More of the same

I do like that Hangouts is much more prevalent in Google+ as well. There was no way of accessing Google+ messages and if Hangouts is meant to replace Google Messages and Google Talk, this is definitely a good start. However, Google already had the Google Talk panel on the side from before.

While there is much said about Google Hangout video, Google Talk has been leveraging Google Hangout for video for a while. Yes, it’s awesome but it’s really no different then from before Google I/O.

It’s worse

One thing that really irks me and I didn’t realize this until Saturday when someone pointed out to me that you really can’t tell if someone is online on the Android client. That’s actually quite annoying. This is definitely a step backwards. I also don’t like the fact that Google+ Messages still exists. I would have hoped that they would have killed that app when they launched Google Hangouts.

There’s much to hope for with Google Hangouts as, just like Google+, I see a ton of  potential for Google Hangouts as it’s already a pretty solid messaging platform. I really hope they take the best of all the other messaging apps that they currently have and release the best of breed. 

Samsung Series 3 Chromebook – Initial Review

Samsung Series 3 Chromebook
Samsung Series 3 Chromebook

My review of the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook is based on having it for about 3 weeks. To understand why I really enjoy using the device, here’s a little background before jumping into the details of the review. I had been debating about getting a new computing device for a while now. I currently have a MacBook Pro that I absolutely love and does everything that I want still but it has a couple of shortcomings. The first is that the battery doesn’t last as long as it used to and the problem is compounded because I have 2 hard drives loaded in it. The other is that it gets hot to touch after a while. However, as a device that’s plugged in at my desk and hooked up to my Apple Thunderbolt Display, it still does it’s job incredibly well.

I needed a device that had the following attributes:

  1. Light – It’d be nice to be able to carry something that was less than a pound

  2. Decent keyboard – I want do some light work including writing out long email responses as well as moderate surfing for research. I also need to log on to servers to write SQL statements as well as do work with servers.

  3. Lasts for 5 to 6 hours without charging – I don’t want to be lugging a power cord

  4. Enough horsepower to write code – I don’t need to code daily but I do dabble in code from time to time

I debated among four devices – the MacBook Pro with Retina Display, MacBook Air, Microsoft Surface and a Chromebook of some sort and ultimately settled for the Google Chromebook. Among the Chromebooks, I debated between the Samsung Series 5, Acer and Chrome Pixel, Samsung Series 3 and settled for the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook.

The Chromebook comes with:

  • Samsung Exynos 5 Dual 1.7 GHz 1 MB cache CPU

  • 2 GB RAM

  • 16 GB HDD

  • 11.6″ 1366 x 768 Screen

  • 11.4″ x 8.09″ x 0.69″ big

  • 2.43 lbs

  • 1 x HDMI, 1 x USB 2.0, 1 x USB 3.0 ports

All in all, the specs for the Chromebook is rather unimpressive with the exception of the price and weight. It is very reminiscent of a small MacBook. The silver colour, the function keyboards at the top, the trackpad that has no buttons, and the trackpad navigation features (two finger right click, two finger scroll up and down) are all very MacBook’ish which made the transition very easy for me. While it does look like a MacBook, it lacks the finish of one. It feels extremely cheap and plasticky. As I got the Canadian version, it comes with an international keyboard that makes typing a bit frustrating for me.

Despite my negative remarks describing the product, it is truly an effective product for me. The Chromebook without any modifications is truly a browser attached to a keyboard. As I am someone that is deeply entrenched in web applications and sometimes very specifically Google web applications, this is a truly ideal device for me. I had originally purchased the Chromebook as a travel machine. Something that I would carry with me whenever I wasn’t at home given it’s lightweight and long battery life. I had only expected to do minor surfing on it, answer a few emails and use IM to quarterback the development from it while I was away from my primary laptop.

I find myself using the Chromebook around the house in the evenings. It’s nice to park my laptop at my desk and use this device to write my blogs, organize my thoughts and even plan my tasks. As I’m able to SSH from the Chromebook, it also allows me to do some lightweight work on my servers when I need to. Looking at my devices, the Chromebook fits between the Nexus 7 and the Macbook Pro. I like the Nexus 7 for consuming information like an e-reader and do light weight communication and my 15” Macbook Pro is meant to do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to programming or if I have to open up multiple screens at the same time for me to do intensive work.

There are other features I haven’t explored yet – such as the HDMI output, the USB 3 connector as well as using the SD card slot. It’ll be interesting to see if the 2GB of RAM starts to become a problem for more extensive use of the device.

To summarize, the Chromebook is a lightweight, cost-effective device if the majority of the work you do is via online web applications.

Google Apps – Can it beat out Microsoft in the Enterprise in the long term?

I recently read this post through my google feed titled Google Still Doesn’t Get How to Beat Microsoft Office a while ago and thought this would be a great segway to some observations I had about Google Apps. For some context, I’m an avid Google Apps user. I use it for my personal domains (i.e. for both my business as well as my private domains) as well as professionally in an enterprise setting. The feedback in general are mixed like most things – some people love it, some people are ambivalent about it and some people loathe it. No real surprises there. I’m in the camp of those who really like it. Although I have Microsoft Office installed on every device I have – I even pay for a TechNet license so that I can always have the latest and greatest software available – but I find myself using it less and less for most things. For the most part, my needs can be met by using the word processor, spreadsheet and, yes, even the presentation app that they have. They are no where as good as Microsoft Office but for me they do the job. Even more importantly for me, no one has yet to complain when I either share with them my document either in through Google Docs or through the attached documents.

I’m working for a relatively young company now – we’ve been existence for less than a couple of years but we’re striving to grow. While I’m a tech-head, I would say most of my colleagues aren’t but they aren’t afraid of tech either. I suspect that we’re the sort of company that Google is targeting for and it’s a smart play, in my opinion. I suspect that many new tech startups use Google Apps as their default enterprise collaboration software because it’s free and relatively painless to set up. You get a whole bunch of really powerful tools to go with it even if you didn’t intend to use it to start. There are better tools in market than any of the Google Apps products but nothing easier to set up and nothing that works more seamlessly together. This is actually very similar to the Microsoft Office strategy back in its heyday. In a lot of ways, it’s actually a smart play not to worry about backwards compatibility. In the market that Google seems to be addressing, it’s not high on the priority list. And it’s actually one of the things that have persistently hindered Microsoft from growing as quickly as it needed because it was constantly going back to ensure software was compatible to products that are sometimes more than a decade old. In technology, that’s at least 5 generations old – it’s like trying to ensure that we can support horse buggies today.

In short, Google isn’t playing to win in the short term. Google seems to be attacking Microsoft but not head-on. It’s betting on the future and I think it’s a smart bet. It seems to be doing tactically and strategically. It also shows that Google knows it target market and isn’t wasting it’s effort on features that aren’t nearly as relevant as other things in the pipeline for them. I’d love to actually see some stats on this to see if my hypothesis holds.

Google, Motorola and other madness this week

This has been a pretty mad week in technology starting with Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility for $12B followed by HP announced the folding of their PC business including their newly launched tablets featuring WebOS. There have been some articles about the Motorola purchase which I really enjoyed and some that I thought seem a bit short-sighted for various reasons. So here are some scattered thoughts about the events this week.

It’s all about defense
It’s really hard to imagine why Google would buy Motorola outside of its patents. While I wouldn’t second guess what Google’s patent defence would be or if I think it’s better or worse after the purchase, Google does believe that it’s worth $12B. Android is important to Google – not because of it’s $11M revenue through the Android Marketplace but it’s really important for their ad business. It’s the main reason why they got into it and then continues to give it away for free. The Android, Chrome and ChromeOS strategy all have the same goal which is really about further reach and control over how a user interacts with Google. It’s not difficult to recognize that the browser is quickly replacing the desktop when users aren’t mobile and users are consuming information on their mobile devices more and more each day. Outside of Microsoft’s accusation that Google intended to purchase Nortel’s patents to attack others, I haven’t been able to find an instance where Google attacked anyone based on patents outside of protecting others.

Strength in numbers
Android’s strength is in its ecosystem which is made of the OS, the manufacturers that use them, the software and the developers that develop the software. Android is important to Google and I would imagine even more important than Motorola. It is in Google’s best interest to keep the ecosystem they have in tact. If Google intends to get into the handset manufacturing business as an additional business, HTC would have been a much better buy. Google does not have the in-house expertise to turn around Motorola as a handset business. While I agree that Google may use the opportunity of owning Motorola to build phones in the way that they envision the phone, it by no means equate to other OEMs from creating other phones that are equally or are even more successful. That Nexus program to date proves that. The Nexus series are phones that are built very closely by OEM manufacturers to date starting with the Nexus One followed by the Nexus S but rarely are these phones the overwhelming favourites in terms of number of handsets purchased. In fact, the Nexus One was a complete flop. It is also the Nexus One experience that should indicate to both the market and OEM manufacturers that Google buying Motorola is unlikely a threat to their business. Building a business is much more than building a successful technical product – it’s also about marketing and partnerships. Google does not know how to do either well in the handset business and unfortunately (as I snakily remarked in my Google+ post) neither does Motorola.

Changing the game but not really
The OEM reaction of Google’s purchase of MMI is reminiscent of a two-year old child welcoming a newborn sibling into the family for the first time. The OEMs are tentative and cautious; they’re waiting to see what Google will do with MMI. On one hand, they’re a bit optimistic because the 25K odd patents could land an extra hand in protecting their Android investments. On the other hand, they’re also worried that Google might play favourites with Motorola by giving them special privileges. For Google to really protect Android, it will need the OEM support. Without OEM support, the number of Android handsets sold will plummet and likely resulting in the loss of developer interest and hence equating the demise of Android altogether. Motorola is nowhere near the top in terms of total number of Android handsets sold. It is in Google’s best interest to treat all their OEMs well if they intend to protect the Android platform. I think HTC recognizes this.

There’s plenty of room for everyone
For OEMs to compete with Apple, the only realistic choice is Android. No one is going to out-Apple Apple however the good news as the market has shown, not everyone wants an Apple. There are other factors that people look at when purchasing a phone including price point and form factor. While no one Android phone is dominant in market today, many companies, especially HTC and Samsung, have been able to make successful Android products that compete one another and make each of their parent companies money. Google is very interested in the number of devices activated; it is a metric they actively track. It is quite easy to imply that their own revenue is based on these activities and not so much from the revenue generated by manufacturers or from the marketplace.

I don’t get patents
I have to admit this – I don’t get the patent wars that we’re in. It’s obvious that it isn’t working and that it’s hurting innovation in the US especially at a time where innovation is one of the longer term answers to US economic success in the future. Some of the patent disputes are silly. I remember seeing this article and thinking to myself that yes, all tablets look like iPads but the author seem to also have missed that most devices look similar to each other long before the iPad. The Lenovo PC tablets look very similar to the Dell Latitude tablets that look very similar to the Asus tablets. It’s the nature of the beast. I’d hate to imagine if someone in home building patented open-concept homes or that cars have 4 wheels in the 1920s. Imagine how much further we’d be as a civilization.

WebOS is a failure of HP, not a failure of WebOS
Launching (or in this case re-launching) any new platform is hard. Even when Google first launched Android, it took many a year before it became the success that it is today. WebOS is a decent enough OS. While I read that HP spent a lot of money in terms of marketing it, I don’t think I’ve come across any ads for it. I suspect that HP marketed it like it was 1999 with tactics such as in store marketing, etc. The market has changed but HP hasn’t. I sincerely hope that someone else (even HTC) picks up WebOS. It deserves a much better fate than it got.

Hopes for Google Plus

I haven’t been a big fan of social networks to date. Largely because I believe that social networks are defined by people and not so much by software. Software does have a place though and can play a very big part. Until now, social networks have been synonymous with Facebook. For me, Facebook is a social channel like Twitter, Flickr, Buzz and email just to name a few.

The nice thing about Google’s social effort is that it isn’t about figuring out what features it has to prioritize to go to market with; it’s been mostly about how to package it so that it will be most interesting and useful to the members of a new community. Google was able to start with having Picasa as their default web album, YouTube for their videos, Talk for their messaging infrastructure and Gmail for email and relationships. The concern about not having enough data seems to be a bit unfounded in general.

Here is where I hope Google Plus will be different because it has a strong opportunity to be different. My biggest concern about Google Plus is that it will be another walled garden like the other channels today. If it is, it will have to try to persuade people to add another channel that is unlikely going to be unique. The theme of how Google can be different relates around consolidation and aggregation. This plays into some of Google’s key strength as part of the reason why their search is so powerful is that it intelligently identifies duplication and removes it from the search results.

I am starting to suffer from social channel burn out. Although I have joined as many channels as I know of today, I participate in very few which really defeats the purpose of a channel. One of the nice features that Google Plus has today is that it allows you the ability to interact with others through Google Plus and email. Hopefully, over time they will allow you to interact with people through the other channels as well and allow people to interact with others using the channel that is most meaningful to them. However, in doing do, Google has to duplicate the information at times as there is a strong likelihood that members of the same circle could need to be reached over multiple channels. Plus then needs to consolidate that information so it’s not represented multiple times in my stream otherwise it would generate a lot of noise. This would be no different then any other social channel today.

Personally, I find myself using Google Plus more and more. A large part of that has to do with Gmail being my primary email provider both personally and professionally. This decision makes sense; Gmail is where the concept of contacts and relationships are most prevalent. Lately, Google has also embedded Talk and Voice within Gmail, using it as a launch point for these services. While Google doesn’t work with Google Apps right now, there are plans to accelerate its availability to Google App users. However, making it available will not be enough. They also need a way to somehow consolidate the experience where my relationships between those accounts or personalities are not duplicated by rather aggregated in an intelligent way. Just as I hope that Google will find a way to aggregate the information coming through my stream, I am also hoping that Google will consolidate my critical services (email, chat, voice and video communications) through Plus as well.

There is without a doubt that social is a big deal for Google. In very many ways, it is the same reason why Android is and was important to Google – it’s a way to feed their gigantic advertising machine. It is a way of gathering more information about you so it can feed you more relevant advertisement to you. At the same time, they are also giving you access to the data you create and hopefully manage and own. Regardless of why they launch Google Plus or what features they launch, I hope they will be different because they need to be.

Google Voice

 

The other app that I absolutely fell in love with while I was in Hawaii was Google Voice for Android. Google Voice is the re-brand of Grand Central which Google purchased a while ago. What I love about it is that it is such a pragmatic and usable implementation of VOIP and mobile. Google Voice comes with all of the basic VOIP features such as call forwarding, dedicated phone number, cheap long distance and voice mail that can be forwarded to your email. It also comes with other premium features such as the ability to send SMS and transcribing voice mail to text. All for the whopping price of free.

 

What makes Google Voice, however is how it’s implemented. Google Voice gives you the option to override your current phone number. For instance, I have a Boston area code as my Google Voice number. When I was in Hawaii, my Google Voice number would be forwarded to the Hawaii number. When I call out from my phone, it shows my Boston number. The reason why this is great is because I typically get a new SIM card on most of my trips to the US. This allows me to provide my parents with one constant number where they can consistently reach me at. Since most pre-paid plans don’t cover long distance, routing my calls to Canada through Google Voice allows me to save quite a bit of money. When I’m back in Toronto, Google Voice is forwarded to my Skype number which is then forwarded to my Toronto number. I like this setup as I’m constantly on Skype and it allows me to intercept a call on my notebook if I’m at my desk. Similarly with SMS, I love how I can send and receive US SMS messages for free.

 

Given that it is a Google service, you can also execute most of these features from the web. For instance, I could call my brother from the web and it’ll connect the call from my brother to a phone number that I’ve preset on Google Voice. This is one of the ways I use to save money calling to the US.  I can also send SMS messages like I would send an email message. You also have the ability to listen to your voicemails from the web page. It’s the way managing telecommunication should be.

 

The only issue that I have with Google Voice is that it doesn’t work seamlessly in Canada. In order for me to use the service, I had to set up my account while I was in the US. There is no means to forward the call to a Canadian number unless you had a legacy GrandCentral number. There’s also a change in FroYo that I can’t validate. It seems like Google Voice is disabled in Canada. It will work if you had Google Voice set up before the upgrade. To enable it, you have to pop in a US SIM card and enable Google Voice over wifi. That being said, it’s an awesome service and I can’t wait to be able to use it fully here.

 

 

Google Navigation comes to Canada

After months of waiting, Google Navigation finally comes to Canada. I was lucky enough to have been able to play with it in my trip to Hawai earlier this year and have to say that I fell in love with it. I first dabbled with navigation on the Android with first MotoNav which I found quite confusing and CoPilot which I found better. After all the hype with Google navigation, I couldn’t help but be tempted to try it out.

The way I use Google Navigation is really an extension of Google Maps. In fact, that’s how I typically start my search. I typically try finding the location by address or by name. Once the location is found, one of the options on any point is “Navigate”

Things I like about Google Navigation:

Simple interface. As per Google’s trademark design, the interface is to the point. You have very limited options to what you can do with the screen that doesn’t deal with navigating to a point. If it can’t pinpoint your location via GPS, it keeps you in the route view which then allows you to figure out where you are visually.

Close integration with Google Maps. Let’s face it. For most people, if we are going to look for directions, given a choice, we would naturally use Google as our means to search for anything including direction. Google Navigation makes. This really easy to do through Google Maps.

Smart announcements. One of the small but smart choices when it comes to Google Navigation is how and when it announces things. Google Navigation will announce changes twice only: around 300m and 2km before the exit instead of the sometimes random announcements that was prevalent with Tomtom for Windows Mobile. Another thing that was really interesting is that on the highway, most of the exit announcements matched the signs on the highway making it easier to know when to exit.

It’s free. It’s a free product to use costing only data charges. It also works surprisingly well even on EDGE

Things I don’t love or worry about Google Navigation

The voice is annoying. While I don’t feel that I need the voice of Mr. T or Darth Vader to navigate me on my journey, the default voice on Google Navigation is quite unclear at times and pronunciation is more or less a crapshoot.

Accuracy of routing. While I trust that Google Maps will always have the latest point of interest, I do worry about how frequently will Google update there routing information. There are a number of times in Hawaii when I was routed through a back route to a location when a straighter and simpler path existed.

It’s dependent on live internet access. It works well until you don’t have data. This is bad in the scenario where you’re driving in rural areas (which is likely when you need it most) or if your data provider runs into issues.

Points of Interests functionality is inconsistent. The functionality is also known as Categories in Google Maps. I found that it worked well for me in Hawaii, I couldn’t seem to get it to work in Richmond Hill when I was looking for gas stations.

Despite it’s cons, Google Navigation is quite a usable product. It covers the most requested features for a GPS application and it’s the whopping price of free. I’m curious to see how other vendors plan to compete with Google to make their product more compelling.

Getting news aggregation to work for me – Attempt 1

The challenge of news aggregation has been quite an interesting one for a while. The overall business problem I've been trying to address for a while now is to find a system that will aggregate my news information, read the information and allow me to share interesting articles with others through email or RSS feeds and allow me to tag the information so that I might easily locate this for future use. To top it off, it has to give me this ability on my desktop and through my Windows Mobile device. On the web, the best newsreader for me is Google Reader by far. However, since I read most of my news on my Windows Mobile device, there has been no other program that synchronizes well with an online reader like Newsgator so I find myself using Newsgator for both the web and Windows Mobile device. While pRSSreader has the ability to synchronize with Google Reader, I find that it somehow never seems to finish synchronizing all of my feeds when I reorganize my RSS feeds into folders. Organizing the feeds into folders is critical because I have over a hundred RSS feeds that I subscribe to and continue to find blogs that are interesting and am eager to follow them.

So here's my kick at the can for trying to solve this problem. My folders are typically organized by topics anyway and truth be told, I don't find myself reading most of the blog entries because not everything someone writes is relevant to what I'm interested in. It's the nature of the beast and it in no ways demeans the writer of any blogs that I follow. Social Median is probably the closest thing to an aggregator right now but the site itself works more like a newspaper site and not an RSS aggregator but it does give you the ability to subscribe to RSS feeds of your news network of choice. There are two dilemmas with the RSS feed in Social Median is that it only produces a summary of the feed which for its business purpose makes sense and the other is that it doesn't allow me to interact with the network which is a big part of using Social Median.

After some thinking, I figured that I could leverage Social Median and Google Reader to give me the best of both worlds – at least on the web front. What I've recently done is to export my Google Reader feeds, delete them from my main Google Reader account and re-subscribed to them in my other Google Reader account. I then proceeded to subscribe to create news networks by the topics that are most important to me. I did this at 2 am in the morning when I couldn't sleep; in hind sight, I should have actually looked for existing news networks that best fit my needs as the most powerful feature is the activity of the people within a particular news network. I think I'm going to have a hard time recruiting people to join my news network as most of my friends really aren't that social online. By integrating it to Google Reader, I get an user interface that I'm familiar with and works very well for me. I automatically get the ability to share through the Google Share functionality which I then publish to Twitter. I also get to email people through an integrated contact manager with GMail. There issue where only part of the entry is published through RSS feed is resolved through a combination of Firefox add-ons called Greasemonkey and Better GReader. This gives you the ability to click on the header and it gives expands to bring the page of the entry directly into the Google Reader page. This also then gives you the ability to clip, set the mood or mark it as irrelevant.

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Why Google is THE Killer Platform

Google has the right idea; there's no doubt about it. Even though Google is most famous for it's search, it actually provides a killer service platform for someone like me. When I look at all the web tools that I use today, Google provides a reasonable use of it. It is definitely more useful and provides a much more complete service offering than Facebook. The strategy to expose its APIs is brilliant; it is a simple way of extending functionality while only investing in what they can deem as their core competencies. Here's a summary of how I use or would use Google for the way I live my life.

Personal Information Management/Personal CRM
Any platform that wants to focus at an individual typically starts here. The core functionality to manage my personal life starts with managing my contacts, schedule and tasks. The point of entry for this functionality is through GMail. While I don't particularly reply to or write many emails, it's the natural point of entry for me. I usually start of my relationships through email and if the relationship matures, it eventually evolves to the instant messenger. So email is a natural place to start a contact. Usually people will email me their contact information and we will initiate correspondence that way.

There are multiple ways of synchronizing my contacts and schedule with my other platforms. Google Sync is provided for free. I've run into some issues synchronizing between Outlook and Google for schedule. For some reason, it does something unpredictable with time zones. Plaxo allows you to indirectly sync LinkedIn contact information with Google contacts. And as of recently, Google allows for Exchange ActiveSync synchronization for contacts, email and scheduling. It's starting to provide a very strong case for me to replace my Exchange Server with Google Apps. The one weak link is tasks. Right now, there really isn't very done for tasks. A stronger task manager is Remember The Milk which integrates with Gmail screen.

Communication
Even though I don't naturally think of email that much as the main means of communicating with others is usually through instant messenger. I like the fact that I can write short messages and if the person is around, I can get relatively quick responses. Otherwise, they will ping me when they get back. Integrating GTalk to GMail was a smart move. It allows me to not have to leave that screen to look at my day. In a lot of ways, it provides a very "Outlook'esque" view of mail; it's a single screen where I can perform everything I need to do from there. While people who are extremely security conscious freak out about the fact that GTalk allows you to archive your conversations online, I personally find it useful. As I'm constantly bouncing between instant messaging clients, I like the ability to have a single place to look up previous conversations. Since this is the primary means of my communications, it's really not that different from archiving my GMail.

Google allows you to integrate with GMail through IMAP which is significantly more powerful than POP3. There's nothing more annoying than downloading all your messages and then there's no server copy to refer to when you cannot access your desktop client. IMAP also allows you to synchronize more than just your inbox folder; it allows you to subscribe to any folders that you have as well. For instant messenger, it's based on the Jabber protocol which the majority of multi-headed instant messenger clients now support.

News reader
A news reader is not a news aggregator; it's just a reader. That being said, there is nothing better on the web than Google Reader in my mind. I love the fact that you can tag and share right from it. Another killer feature is that it automatically marks something as read if you've scrolled through it. While it's a detail, the user experience impact is phenomenal. It makes reading all the feeds in my messages a lot quicker. Newsgator allows you to clip an article for further reading and then you can then expose the RSS feed for it to others who are interested in reading your feed. Google makes it much simpler, I have the option to star or share an article. I use starring as an indicator for me to take a look at it later and sharing as a means to share with other people what I am reading. The cool thing about this is that I also get to see what other people are sharing automatically from it. News reading is one of the things that there isn't an ideal way for me to do things right now. I have a few requirements. They are:
I don't want to have to re-sort, re-tag or re-share articles I've already processed if I read it on my mobile device or from another computer
I want to be able to tag my articles as I have shared or starred an article for a reason. It's something that I'd like to refer to again later
I don't want to read read multiple articles that have essentially the same information.
So there is no easy way of integrating my needs for this right  now. pRSSReader and Viigo is supposed to have the ability to integrate with Google Reader right now but it doesn't work well. So for now, I'm stuck using Newsgator.

Photography
Picasa has been a surprise for me. It's relatively easy to upload photos to it and for Windows, the Picasa client is the closest thing to iPhoto, which is my favourite photo editing tool for me. Picasa allows you to do all your standard things like tag, create albums and share with others. The one thing that I think is especially interesting is the facial recognition functionality. Once you tag someone's face, it will try to recognize other photos for the same person. A bit freaky but useful if you don't care so much for privacy. There are two major downsides for me – most of my friends who are really into photography are on Flickr and secondly is the price. Flickr's basic service allows you for unlimited storage and limits you to the number of albums and bandwith of upload. This basically means that upgrading to the Pro service is a fixed cost. Doing a pro service by capacity means that what it's going to cost me is going to continue to grow if I were to use Picasa as my primary photo sharing tool.

Micro-blogging
Jaiku provides you all the features that Twitter does minus the limitations such as no instant messenger client on Twitter. On top of that, it has the concept of groups which is pretty useful. The downside – it doesn't have nearly the volume of people that Twitter has. This is a detriment for me based on how I use Twitter. It's a natural way for me to get current pulse on any topic. Recently Google released Latitude with a very simple functionality – publish your whereabouts using Google Maps for Mobile. It's doesn't even allow you to put any texts like BrightKite. The good thing about it is that integrating it to Google Maps is a very natural way to publish where you are since Google Maps for Mobile will either triangulate your whereabouts using your GPS or cell phone towers whichever is available at the moment.

The ability to use instant messaging as a means of publishing my status in Jaiku makes it a very versatile way of integrating to other platforms.

Document Sharing
In the past, the most common way of sharing information was through email. The problem was doing this was that you would have to go through a tonne of emails and always wondering who has the latest copy of any particular information. Another issue by doing this was that what happens if you lost email. If you're hosting your own environment like I am, losing email is still a reality. Lately, I've been using Google Docs to create email and then share them with co-workers for managing some of the status of where we are with hiring some of the students. I've used it to share my build-books with others who are trying to build out similar infrastructure environments like I've done at home. One feature that I think is really underrated is that if a document is relatively simple, it's just as easy to view and edit it directly on Google Docs without having to go through the tediousness of downloading, updating and uploading.

Integration for Google Docs is pretty straight forward. You can upload any document to Google Docs. If it's one that it can convert, it does. You have the option of either downloading the document to review it offline or installing Google Gears to work with it.

Social Networking the natural way
I'm not talking about Orkut. To me Social Networking really is more about Personal CRM. It's a mean of keeping track of my activities with my friends. I need something that will help me to organize the things that my friends are helping me with or I'm helping them with, communicate where I am with these things, perhaps even broadcast any thoughts, ideas or needs to solicit feedback.  All of the tools I've listed above if fully integrated make it a very natural way of organizing my life. Google is almost there. The best part of all this is that I can "integrate" my friends into how I do things without them being members of the Google ecosystem.

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Google, the Microsoft of the World Wide Web

It has been really interesting watching Google manouver its way into being the next Microsoft of the web. I'm not sure if Google will run into monopolistic issues but I am certain that Google will be the dominant platform of the not so distant future. It's not hard to see if you simply look at Google's investments in terms of what it has purchased and built.

Until the emergence of Google Apps, Google seemed destined to be a search engine that generated a tonne of revenue from its advertisement capability. It had odd offerings here and there that seemed fragmented at the very least. As soon as it launched Google Apps, it was rather obvious that Google was building towards the business markets as well. Looking at Google Apps for the very first time, I couldn't help but think about how close the offering was to Microsoft Exchange; it offered organizations the ability to host email, share calendars and even offer instant messaging capability. With the additional capabilities of wiki, blogging and document sharing, you essentially have most of Sharepoint's capabilities. It's hard not to offer small clients to use Google Apps as it is easy to setup with minimal operational and maintenance cost.

Google reached further to the consumer with Android and Chrome. The reasoning behind it really is simple – it's about control. The hardest thing about developing any software is the inability to determine where it is going to run. One of the most challenging thing about developing for Zoocasa is that we have to cater to a large number of browsers. A lot of our code gets "dirty" to account for the way different browsers react to different pieces of the code. So Chrome makes sense. The strategy would be to develop functionality that would work best on Chrome before venturing out to other browsers. The other thing to note is that the browser is the new desktop. The browser is by far the most used application that I have as it is the window to how I manage my life. I still use Firefox as my primary browser, venturing into Chrome every once in a while.

Android is particularly interesting for me. The one thing that Apple did right was that they limited devices and the Apple App Store was simply brilliant. Google seems to be building the best of both worlds. There already is an Android App Store and by choosing HTC as their first manufacturer, you can be certain to find Android on traditionally Windows Mobile devices. Android will give Google the ability to reach a user in the most personal of spaces. Outside of my wife, my mobile device is my next closest confidante. I have it with me wherever I go. For instance, on this trip, I have my phone but have left my trusty Asus R1F at home. Given that Google has a whole battery of web services, Android makes a tonne of sense. Right away, Android would be a killer device if it integrates into all of Google's core apps like mail (including contacts), calendar (including tasks), reader, news, picasa and of course search.

FriendConnect is going to be interesting. The function that I see it to be most useful is to be an LDAP-like service. One of the most frustrating for corporate users is to have to have multiple login ids and passwords for multiple systems. The web is littered with many small applications that make our life simpler. If FriendConnect can simplify this, it would make life simpler for webizens every where.

What most people fear about and rightly so is handing so much personal and private info to an external entity. This will be Google's Achilles heel and something that they will have to maneouver and struggle with over time. But that being said, Google is going to be the platform to contend with in the WWW.

Sent from my HTC Touch Pro®