Google Themes Your Gmail. Cloud Computing on the rise?

19 11 2008

While at work today sometime early afternoon, I happened to accidentally click on my GMAIL tab on Firefox to find new colors running across the screen. Was it the Websense filter doing it’s job by filtering out some color script? The blue was a deeper hue than I could recall and after going through the settings on the “settings” link, was not able to find a solution for the color change. The only thing referencing to “color” was the labels. Asked Kaci if her Gmail looked any different but she replied with a negative.

Got home and checked Gmail. Surely, this wasn’t the Google Gmail blue we’ve always known. Had to check again so clicked on “Settings” on the top right corner and booyah, there was a new tab “THEMES” listed at the end – not visible when I was at work. Was this merely a cosmetic upgrade?

It was a tough choice between “Planets” and “Ninja” but we now know who won.

After Microsoft launched a half-hearted theme option on their HOTMAIL/LIVE website 2 weeks ago, I guess this was just an inevitability especially since the iGoogle page had that feature as an option some years back. Also, the iGoogle page had been tweaked recently to get all the gadgets incorporated in a seamlessly convenient package. A positive step from Google but a giant leap towards the social acceptance of cloud computing.

When we say “Cloud Computing,” think of being able to use your computer anywhere you go without having to tug along your laptop. The concept thrives on the notion that any computer that can connect to the internet can connect to your “computer” which in actuality, exists on external servers. When you download an MP3 or movie or any file for the matter, or when you write up papers or make charts, they get stored on a server making them accessible from any internet ready machine at your disposal. The trick is to make the UI (User Interface) all effortless by blurring the lines between what is stored on your computer’s physical hard drive and what is stored on your “online” computer.

In the future, when you log on to your computer, the operating system you see and interact (Mac OS / Windows / etc) won’t be stored in your hard drive. Google Docs, Adobe’s Photoshop Express, and Microsoft’s Office Live Workspace are a few examples of commercial software backed by well known companies basing their ideas on online applications. The full featured desktop operating system is on it’s way out and even Microsoft’s making sure they don’t miss out on this trend (hint: Azure).

Simply put, Google’s Gmail themes is the tip of the iceberg of bigger things to come. We are going to be seeing another major technological paradigm shift in the next 5 years and whether we like it or not, it’s already taking place.


Google chats with AIM

14 03 2008

It appears that Google has successfully teamed up with AOL to allow for cross-chatting activities. As of today, when you log onto your Gmail (Google Mail), you get a small blurb asking you if you want to access your AIM list on your GoogleChat list.

Just so you know, if you use Gmail on your browser (Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Internet Explorer), anyone you come in correspondence with will automatically be added to your “contacts” list to your left. If it’s located too low on your screen, you can click on “settings” and then “chat”. Then on the 2nd line, select the “ABOVE” option and it’s right below the INBOX section. Back to the contacts. If the person you’ve emailed or have received emails from (who also uses Gmail) is currently ON Gmail, they will show up with a green bullet next to their name stating that they’re online and a grayed-out bullet with an “x” if they’re not online.

Well on your browser showing your Gmail screen, below are 2 examples of how your AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) will look on your browser. The one on the right shows up when you click on “options” to make your changes.


Pretty nifty says the Ninja. That way I don’t have to open a separate chat software just for AIM. It’s all neatly integrated. Wonder if fellow Minnesotan, Tom Friedman, would use this in his next book about the flattening of the world through the convergence of popular communication tools. Globalization 3.5?

Google Android mobile platform hands-on video

12 11 2007

Happy Veteran’s Day and now down to a sweet video on Youtube showcasing a variant of the new Google Android mobile platform on an real cellular device. At first I thought it was WiFi but the “G” next to the wireless signal strength bar usually refers to GPRS but then he said it stood for 3G. The name of the service provider is not listed which is why everything is so murky. Maybe they just got 3G broadcasting radio in their testing center and that’s how the dude is connected.

The first narrator (Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google) sporting a bad-hairday do brings us to another dude (Steve Horowitz) who looks like he’s from Apple holding a white nondescript device with a landscape screen. This means the phone has a QWERTY keypad on it and by the finish on it, looks like it could be a yet to be announced HTC device. He tries to dial out to “Erin” at the number 650-555-1212 but when I did a Google look up (ironic lol), it came up as the number to a restaurant to a Marriott located at …

4460 El Camino Real
Los Altos, California 94022

So I’m guessing they’re trying to do that “calimari” thing Apple iPhone ads did when they first came out. Erin is the manager at the restaurant? Probably just a random number Google came up with. But the phone looks really cool from what I can see of it.

The 2nd phone is black and even harder to see anything other than the tall screen and that there’s no room for a keypad at the bottom meaning it would be a slider phone. Most probably another HTC (but probably already out in the market running Windows Mobile). I’m under the impression that Motorola hasn’t had the time to bring out a phone for the Android yet. They even displayed the 2nd (black) phone running a truncated Quake game but that’s no big deal since even a lot of the basic older Nokia S60 phones (104MHz) can do that – without 3D hardware acceleration. Does Android require a 200+ MHz processor and 3D hardware acceleration to run Quake? If so, that is not a good sign.

Both phones are touchscreen and use the same overall UI (user interface). So this could mean that the UI will stay the same on the Android platform but the functionality of the phones will differ depending on the limitations set by the phone service providers like AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, etc. Google also set aside $10 million as prize for the “best user created application” for the Android.

My take on it is this all looks very Apple’ish. The video recording. The nicely toned down facial features and calm voices of the ppl on the clip. The Apple-like coverflow design on the HTML browser when going through it’s history. The touchscreen features etc.

Not sure how this will compete against S60 but I can see hoards of Windows Mobile and Apple iPhone users wanting to switch to these devices. Symbian S60 (3rd Edition) only has a niche market here so the numbers of users switching might be significantly lower than Apple and Microsoft’s users.

EDIT: Apparently you can download the Android SDK (“software development kit” for the nubs) and run the Android emulator to play with a virtual phone on your PC/Mac (even Linux).

Top 3 Free Virtual Email Hosting

7 11 2007

Gizmodo just announced that Microsoft is done testing with LIVE meaning you can go and setup a free new LIVE Hotmail account with … as a suffix to your email id. I just registered ninjatales-at-live-dot-com so you should go get yours too with something that resembles your name more closely than (just an example) or some weird zany nick that you might’ve had instead.

Another thing to consider is that Yahoo! last week officially upgraded all Yahoo! Mail accounts to “unlimited” storage which trumps all other free virtual email hosts.

Yahoo! Mail – Unlimited
MSN Live Mail – 5GB
Google Mail – 4.5GB
MSN Hotmail (unupgraded version) – 1GB

If you haven’t upgraded your Hotmail, you’ll still only have 1GB but fear not, it’ll soon be ported over regardless. So if you prefer the old Hotmail look like me, then you’re better off creating your own new Hotmail address cuz they’ll look the same and both accounts will have 5GB storage.

Google’s email “beta” service also known as Gmail is now languishing in the bottom (if you ignore the unupgraded Hotmail accounts) with only 4.5GB storage. But it’s the only one that allows you to chat with other Gmail users through your browser when you surf into your email. It should be on the left hand column and you are free to move the list of your friends to the top or below. Offline messages and very basic emoticons are supported.

But out of all them, I prefer Yahoo’s mail service. It’s spam filter isn’t the greatest but if you’re using the “Classic” mode like I do, then it loads the fastest and pretty much is a no-nonsense kinda email server. Very easy to use interface and not slow and laggy and memory intensive like Hotmail or Live.

So pick your poison. Yahoo! Mail gives you the most storage space but has a crappy spam filter and it’s hard to find a good username cuz it’s been out for so long. Gmail runs very fast and is reliable but has the least storage 4.5GB which is still a lot. MSN Live Hotmail lets you pick your own name but how long will that last. Also, Live/Hotmail is very slow and has a lot of dependent functions it needs to call from external locations making the whole loading process a pain in the back sometimes. Too many errors with Live/Hotmail but you get to pick your name unless you have a common name like “allah” or “steve_smith” etc.

EDIT 11/29/07: Gmail storage has been bumped to 5GB and is expected to increase again. The old Hotmail has been taken down and everybody has been switched over to the LIVE servers. This means YAHOO has the worst email service from the 3. 

Google’s new mobile platform – Android

5 11 2007

Google unveiled their new “Android” mobile platform with 33 business partners already hooked on including HTC and Motorola as some of the big guns from the manufacturing industry of handsets carrying the Android OS.

So what is the GPhone and when is it going to be released? Contrary to popular rumors, the GPhone might never exist simply because Google, being the smart guys, knows that quick money can be made on software where the ROI is greater and risks are lower. Which is why, they focused on creating the interactive backbone structure based on Linux and called it Android.

Phone manufacturers and telcoms (cellphone carriers) can dictate what they’d like to see on the phones and how it will appear visually etc but the basic overall platform design is Android. THE GPhone might never be made but you never know. Instead Google prefers to liken all phones running Android as GPhones or equivalents whichever way you see fit.

So the GPhone is the equivalent of a Windows Mobile or a Symbian S60 phone (Sorry Palm. No matter how much I liked you, you’re almost dead because you’ve failed to move on from the year 2002).

The basic requirements of Android are: 200MHz ARM9. Since this is open source screen (sizes) resolutions and QWERTY/number-pad inputs can be tweaked to the OS by the manufacturer.

All this spells bad news for Microsoft’s Windows CE-based “Winows Mobile” OS and a similar blow to Nokia’s Symbian S60 OS. SonyEriccson’s Symbian UI and Palm’s Garnet OS are already on their way six-feet under so this news only adds a turbo-charger to the hearse carrying both mobile operating systems.

In the end, it will be tricky. Here’s my take on how this works out in the market.

Windows Mobile 6: Fan boys will continue to use this operating system but Android will steal many who use WinMo only because Windows like to label their phones with a “smart phone” tag next to the product. Phones running WinMo and S60 are both “smartphones” but a lot of people get easily fooled by mere marketing words.

Symbian S60: Similar to WinMo in terms of fan boy appreciation tactics although Android will manage to steal the few S60 users who only use it for it’s multi-tasking capabilities. Symbian S60 is known for it’s durability unlike the constant resetting required on WinMo devices. The new Nokia N-Gage online mobile gaming system will put up a good fight to Google so this is a 50-50 decision. People who like to play games on the go with 3D hardware acceleration will stick with their Nokia S60 phones (esp the N-series).

Apple iPhone: Apple fan boys will always hold a small niche userbase for Apple products despite the availability of equally cooler or better substitutes out there simply because this is an Apple product. Unfortunately for the iPhone, a lot of users who got it are traditionally non-Apple users and in 1-2 year’s time, the batteries of their iPhones will be dead and that is when a chunk of those first timers will switch over to Android.

Symbian S40: The non-smartphone version of the Symbian-based OS will see a huge migration in users unless the “GPhones” come with a hefty price tag. S40 3rd Edition has made this UI very appeasing to the masses especially in the form of the Nokia 5300 slider music phones but like I said, this category is for price and fashion conscious users. The inclusion of Motorola will mean more fashion-heavy devices will HTC will plunder on the feature-heavy section. Expect this segment to go dead in upcoming years like Palm.

RIM (Research in Motion): Black Berry lovers will originally be split between using a Blackberry which is something they’re used to or the new “GPhones” which does all what RIM puts out and maybe more. Sadly for the Canadian company, there appears to be a high possibility of new and potential RIM users to defect over to Android.

Proprietary UI (User Interface): Users of crappy UI’s on most cheap phones will be undeterred from getting a phone that can do all simply because they’re happy to live with a phone that can store address books and make/receive calls. Large swaths of Motorola Razr, Samsung slider phone lovers, and other fashionistas will make the switch. The grannies however will be happy with their phones that acts and looks like one.

Note: Thanks to Engadget and Gizmodo for the coverage on the Q&A section.

Guru of boring spins out 2 cool toys (Pt 1)

22 10 2007

Nokia is usually known for their rather plain-jane looking phones. They’re the Toyotas of the phone industry. Reliable and strong products but very weak in the fashion element. Surprisingly enough, the designers have been given a raise. There are just 2 shiny new gadgets that the ninja really wants real bad aside from the Super Phone aka the Nokia N95 and one of them happens to be the completely kick-ass maemo linux-based Nokia N810 “Internet Tablet OS2008.”

The successor to the much hailed N800 is out in stores for mass consumption and for the average internet user, it does it with great style. First of all, you will notice that the N810 looks a lot sleeker and comes complete with built-in GPS and free mapping software. It’s physical dimensions are smaller overall and the screen’s 20% brighter but manages to maintain the 4.1-inch screen size.

Some of the advantages aside from the cosmetics are the in-built GPS unit, a 60MHz bump in the TI OMAP processor to 400MHz, and a standard internal storage memory of 2GB instead of none (OS stored on default 128 shared memory) as in the previous iteration.

Unfortunately with all that good news, there are a few nagging issues with this Nokia. The N800 had 2 memory card storage slots while the new toy only comes with 1 and it only supports miniSD instead of the dual miniSD/SD support of the former. Then you can’t use T-Mobile/AT&T or Verizon/Sprint GSM or CDMA cellphone bands for cellular communication.

But fear not. The N810 comes with the same WiFi 802.11b/g, Bluetooth 2.0, and USB 2.0 components. The screen resolution stays the same at 800×480 pixels. Also, you can still use the VoIP voice call features. Then you’ll notice it actually has a physical keyboard which slides-out while the size dimensions actually decreased. How cool is that? You can still use the on-board touchscreen virtual keyboard as is present on the iPhone but that just covers up a sizable chunk so tactile feedback keyboards FTW (ie. for you non-doofuses, it’s For The Win)!

This would be the perfect replacement for my aging Palm Zire 71 pda (personal digital assistant). The processor is almost 4 times as fast, same poor resolution but the camera’s better on the Nokia. Cant even compare the internal memory. The Zire 71 came with 16MB and the N810 comes with – 2GB. WiFi and Bluetooth. I think my Zire 71 has a 3″ screen (unconfirmed) compared to the Nokia 4.1 incher but in the end, all I want is a newer sleeker, faster device with some form of wireless connectivity other than the lame infrared crap as evident on my Zire 71. Don’t really care for the GPS part of it but hey that’s a plus.

The price tag for the Nokia N810 is $479. For $20 more, you can get the new 40GB Sony Playstation 3 but that’s not a portable device. Microsoft is sweating buckets and Google’s looking for ways to find ways to get their new upcoming and rumored Google OS onto a similar platform. They (the Googly bros) already have Taiwan-based and world famous HTC committed to making devices running their new OS. While Google and MS ponder on, I’m looking for a miracle to include the purchase of an N810 in my already tightened budget. 😦

Youtube video quality drops?

17 10 2007

Just noticed the degradation of quality in commercial videos on Youtube. One thing to consider is the menu interface which looks slicker and operates without much lag.

The quality must have something to do with their new policy of embedding ads and DRM (digital rights management) onto the videos. What did they do? Downloaded the FLV files and embedded DRM onto the clip. Then re-uploaded the files. Quality loss was experienced between file transfers and editing flash-formatted video clips. Expect quality to get back to their regular selves to newer videos.

Don’t believe me? Try watching the “Paramore” music video or “Jeep” ad below.

Note: this does not seem to affect regular user uploaded videos.

Edit 10/18/07: Looks like the quality drop has been fixed.