Archive for the ‘Google’ Category

The best web browser of 2015: Firefox, Chrome, Edge, IE, and Opera compared

We put the screws to all five modern browsers, testing them in all manner of scenarios. If you’re looking for a fast, efficient, convenient browser, we’ve found two that we think you’ll like.

The best browsers go beyond benchmarks, racing through real-world webpages as well as canned routines. They’re easy to set up, flexible and extensible, and connect other devices and services into an ecosystem.

Look, throwing a few benchmarks at a browser just doesn’t cut it any more. Just as you expect us to test graphics cards against the latest games, we think your browsers should be tested against a collection of live sites. Can they handle dozens of tabs at once? Or do they shudder, struggle, and crash, chewing through your PC’s processor and memory?

To pick a winner, we put Google Chrome, Microsoft’s Edge and Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera to the test, barring Apple’s abandoned Safari for Windows. We used the latest available version of each browser, except for Firefox, which upgraded to Firefox 40 late in our testing. And we also tried to look at each browser holistically: How easy was each to install and set up? Does Opera make it simple to switch from Chrome, for example?

For 2015, we have a newcomer: Microsoft’s Edge browser, which has been integrated into Windows 10.
the word start on a running track

You’ve already seen part of our tests, where we showed you how much of an impact enabling Adobe Flash can have on your system. Disabling or refusing to load Flash can seriously improve performance—some sites, like YouTube, have begun to transition to less CPU-intensive HTML5 streams. Still, other readers pointed out that they simply need to run Flash on their favorite sites. That’s fine—we tested with and without Flash, so you’ll have a sense for which browser performs best, in either case.

Oh, and Microsoft: We found that your new Edge browser isn’t quite as fast as you make it out to be. (Sorry!) But it still demonstrated definite improvement over Internet Explorer.

The benchmark numbers favor Chrome and Firefox

We do consider benchmarks to be a valuable indicator of performance, just not a wholly defining one. Still, they’re the numbers that users want to see, so we’ll oblige. We used a Lenovo Yoga 12 notebook with a 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-5600U inside, running a 64-bit copy of Windows 10 Pro on 8GB of memory as our test bed.

We tested Chrome 44, Windows 10’s Edge 12, Firefox 39, Internet Explorer 11, and Opera 31 against two popular (though unsupported) benchmarks—Sunspider 1.0.2 and Peacekeeper—just for reference purposes. But we’d encourage you to pay attention to the more modern benchmarks, including Jet Stream, Octane 2.0, Speedometer, and WebXPRT. The latter two are especially useful, as they try to mirror actual interaction with web apps. We also tested using Oort Online’s graphics benchmark as well as the standardized HTML5test—which is not so much a benchmark, but an evaluation of how compatible a browser is with the HTML5 standard for Web development.

From our testing, Chrome and Firefox topped the Speedometer and WebXPRT tests, respectively. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Google was the fastest browser under the Google-authored Octane 2.0 benchmark. But Microsoft’s Edge led the pack in the Jet Stream benchmark—which includes the Sunspider tests, which Edge led as well. (For all of the benchmarks, a higher number is better; the one exception is Sunspider, which records its score in the time it took to run.)

browser testing benchmarks 1st set
Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox do well here. (A higher result is better, except for the Sunspider benchmark.)

What’s surprising about Edge is that it led the pack in the Jet Stream benchmark, but fell way behind on Speedometer, only to record a quite reasonable score in WebXPRT. (Microsoft claims that Edge is faster than Chrome in the Google-authored Octane 2.0 benchmark as well, but our results don’t indicate that.)

Chrome flopped on the Sunspider test; the only test Firefox failed equally miserably in was the Oort Online benchmark, which draws a Minecraft-like landscape using the browser.

For whatever reason, I noticed some graphical glitches as Edge rendered the Oort landscape, including problems drawing a shadow that slid across the bay in the night scene. But Oort proved even more problematic for Firefox, rendering “snow” as flashing lights and rain as a series of lines. (We’ve included the test result, but take it with a grain of salt.) Internet Explorer 11 simply couldn’t run the Oort benchmark at all.

We also included the HTML5test compatibility test, which measures how compatible each browser is with the latest HTML5 Web standards. Although some developers focus extensively on each browser’s score, even the test developer isn’t too concerned:

HTML5test scores are less interesting to me than people think. Any browser above 400 points is a perfectly fine choice for todays web.
— HTML5test (@html5test) August 2, 2015

And the only one that fails that test, of course, is the semi-retired Internet Explorer 11.

What does all this mean? It doesn’t indicate a clear win for any specific browser, including Chrome. Based on our benchmark tests, many of the browsers will handle the modern web just fine.

Next page: Real-world testing and “the convenience factor.”

Real-world testing: Opera makes its case

Opera Software has always lived on the periphery, with what NetApplications says is just 1.34 percent of the worldwide browser market. With Opera considering putting itself up for sale, it may not be long for this world. But in terms of real-world browser performance, Opera is worth a long hard look while you still can.

Why? Because in real-world browser tests, Chrome and Opera performed very well.
It’s important to know how each browser will actually perform while surfing the live web. Testing this is a challenge—some canny Web sites constantly tweak their content, and ads will vary from one visit to the next. But we tried to minimize the time over which we visited each site to help minimize variation.

We used a selection of 30 live sites, from Amazon to CNN to iMore to PCWorld, as well as a three-tab subset of each, to see how performance scaled. Our tests included adding each site to a new tab, one after another, to weakly approximate how a user might keep adding new tabs—but quickly, so as to stress-test the browser itself. Finally, we evaluated them with Adobe Flash turned on and off. (Both Opera and Firefox don’t natively ship with Flash, so we tested without, then downloaded the Flash plugin.)

After loading all 30 tabs, we waited 30 seconds, then totaled the total CPU and memory consumption of both the app itself, the background processes, and the separate Flash process, if applicable.

So what does all this mean? If you own a mid-range and low-end PC, you might have purchased one without a lot of memory, or with a less powerful CPU. In that case, you might consider switching your browser to something that’s more efficient.

This chart contains a lot of information; you can click it to enlarge it. But what you should focus on are the differences in memory consumption (the yellow bars) and the differences in CPU consumption. We’ve included the raw data in a table at the bottom of the chart. In each case, a lower number indicates a more efficient browser, with the one exception being Firefox (with Flash)’s zero scores, which we’ll cover below.

Oddly enough, we noted an actual decrease in CPU consumption when Flash was enabled on the three-tab test, specifically within Edge, Firefox, and Opera—perhaps because the Flash plugin was more efficient at lighter workloads. As our previous report indicated, however, CPU and memory consumption soared when we started throwing tab after tab at each browser.

The other discrepancy that you may note is that Chrome, with Flash enabled, consumes nearly the memory that Edge does without Flash enabled. We double-checked this, but we did so on another day, where Edge’s memory consumption was even higher than what we recorded. (That’s probably due to just a difference in the ads and video the sites displayed.)

Chrome has a reputation for sucking up all the memory you can throw at it, and these numbers prove that out. But it also consumes relatively little of your CPU—which, if you scale down your tab use, makes its impact on your PC manageable. Opera, however, really shines. In fact, without Flash, Opera consumed just 6.6 percent of the CPU and 1.83GB of RAM during our stress test. With Flash on, Opera consumed 3.47GB of memory and 81.2 percent of my computer’s CPU.

And Mozilla was getting on so well—but with Flash on, tabs essentially descended into suspended animation until they were clicked on, then began slowly loading. It was awful. “Tombstoning” tabs that aren’t being used is acceptable, but please, load them first, Mozilla!

Finally, we tried loading pages, then timing how fast before the page became “navigable”—in other words, how soon one could scroll down. Fortunately, all the browsers we tested did well, although some were faster than others; Chrome and Opera did exceedingly well, especially with Flash turned off. In all, however, we’d say that any browser that can load pages at three seconds or less will suit your needs. (Keep in mind that the time to load pages depends in part on your Internet connection and the content of the page itself.)

The convenience factor
Since all of these browsers are free, ideally you should be able to download every one and evaluate it for yourself. And each browser makes it quite easy to pluck bookmarks and settings from their rivals, especially from Chrome and Internet Explorer. But manually exporting bookmarks is another story. It’s almost like telling the browser that you’re fed up with it—and Firefox, for example, passive-aggressively buries the export bookmarks command a few menus deep. Even stranger, Opera claims that you can export bookmarks from its Settings menu, but only the import option appears to have remained in Opera 31.

More and more, however, browsers are using a single sign-on password to identify you, store your bookmarks online, and make shifting from PC to PC a snap—provided that you keep the same browser, of course.

Chrome, for example, makes setting itself up on a new PC literally as simple as downloading the browser, installing it, and entering your username and password. You may have to double-check that the bookmark bar is enabled, for example, but after that your bookmarks and stored passwords will load automatically. (As always, make sure that “master” passwords like these are complex.)

Chrome isn’t alone in this, either. Firefox’s Sync syncs your tabs, bookmarks, preferences and passwords, while Opera syncs your bookmarks, tabs, the “Speed Dial” homepage, and preferences and settings.

That’s an area where Edge needs improvement. Edge can import favorites/bookmarks from other browsers, manually, but doesn’t keep a persistent list of favorites across machines—at least not yet. But if you save a new favorite in IE11, it’s instantly available across your other PCs. Other browsers—not Edge—also allow you to access your desktop bookmarks within their corresponding mobile apps.
edge homepage info

You can configure the Microsoft Edge homepage to show you information that allows you to start your day. (iGoogle did this too, years ago.)

It’s also interesting that, more and more, browsers are moving away from the concept of a “homepage” in favor of something like Edge or Opera, where the browser opens to an index page, with news and information curated by the browser company itself. But you still have options to set your own homepage in Chrome, Edge, and Firefox.

Honestly, all of the browsers we tested were relatively easy to set up and install, with features to import bookmarks and settings either from other browsers or other installations. You may have your own preferences, but it’s a relative dead heat.

Final page: Little extras and PCWorld names the best browser of 2015

Going beyond the web
Modern browsers, however, go beyond merely surfing the web. Most come with a number of intangible benefits that you might not know about.

Perhaps you’d like your browser to serve as a BitTorrent client, for example. In the early days, you’d need to download a separate, specific program for that. Today, those capabilities can be added via plugins or addons—which most browsers offer, but not Edge, yet. (This can be more than a convenience; Edge will store your passwords, but not in an encrypted password manager like LastPass.)

If there’s one reason to use Firefox, it’s because of the plugin capability. Mozilla has a site entirely dedicated to plugins, and they’re organized by type and popularity. Installing a plugin is as easy as clicking through a couple of notifications, then restarting your browser. And given the market share of Chrome—and the plugin popularity of Firefox—you’ll find developers who will focus on those two first. A good example is OneTab, which transforms all of your open tabs into a text-based list, dramatically cutting your browser’s memory consumption. Note that the more plugins you add and enable, the more memory and CPU power your browser will consume.

Opera doesn’t appear to have nearly the number of available plugins that Firefox does, but it does have a unique twist: a “sidebar” along the left hand side that can be used for widgets, like a calculator or even your Twitter feed. Opera is also extensible via wallpaper-like themes, but they’re far less impressive.

Chrome hides a wealth of options to manage what you see on the Web, but only if you want to explore.
But you’ll also notice browsers adding more and more functionality right in the app itself. Firefox includes a Firefox-to-Firefox videoconferencing service called Firefox Hello that works right in your browser, and you can save webpages to a Pocket service for later reading. And this is where Edge shines—its digital assistant, Cortana, is built right in, and there are Reading View options and a service to mark up webpages, called Web Notes. Cortana does an excellent job supplying context, and it’s certainly one of the reasons to give Edge a try.

Over time, we expect that this will be one area where Edge and Chrome will attempt to “pull away,” as it were. In a way, it’s similar to the race in office suites: a number of apps mimic functionality that Microsoft Office had a few years ago. But Microsoft has begun building intelligence into Office, and Edge, elevating them over their competition. Given that Chrome is also the front door to Google Now on the PC, we may eventually see Google try to out-Cortana Cortana on her home turf.

So who wins? Here’s the way we see it.
Give credit where credit is due: Edge’s performance has improved to the point that it’s competitive, though perhaps not as much as Microsoft would make it seem. Still, its lack of extensibility and proper syncing drag it down, at least until they’re added later this year. Firefox also performed admirably, until it bogged down under our real-world stress test. We also believe Opera would be a terrific choice for you, since it zips through benchmarks and real-world tests alike. Sure, it lacks the tight OS and service integration of Chrome, IE, and Edge—but some may see that as a bonus, too.

All that said, we still think Google’s Chrome is the best of the bunch.
Chrome has a well-deserved reputation for glomming on to and gobbling up any available memory, and our benchmarks prove it. But it’s stable, extensible, performs well, integrates into other services, and reveals its depths and complexity only if you actively seek it out. For that reason, Google Chrome remains our browser of choice, with Opera just behind.

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Project Fi’s winners and losers

Winners: frequent international travelers; losers: small wireless companies

Project Fi, Google’s Wi-Fi and cellular network service announced Wednesday, can variously be described as low-cost, disruptive, cutting edge, tantalizing, confusing, even awesome.

Google is offering the lowest entry-level wireless price plan in the U.S. at $30 a month. That sum includes $20 for talk, text, Wi-Fi tethering and international coverage in 120 countries plus $10 for 1 GB of data. The plan adds $10 a month for each additional 1 GB of data thereafter. Google is partnering with Sprint and T-Mobile for the cellular service.
MORE ON NETWORK WORLD: Here’s what reply to Google Fi invite request looks like

One big drawback is that the service, so far, is described as a “project” that is invitation-only for select users who join an Early Access Program. The plan also requires a Nexus 6 smartphone, which went on sale in October for $649. Those invited also must live in a zip code where Project Fi has coverage.

To be sure, there are potential plums with Project Fi. The biggest winners, according to analysts, will be entry-level smartphone users, frequent international business travelers and anyone who loves technology innovation and disruption, and in the wireless industry in particular.

There could be downsides as well. Users could face gaps in wireless coverage or less-than-smooth handoffs between Wi-Fi and the cellular networks of either Sprint or T-Mobile. Google customer service could be shoddy. Small wireless companies could be threatened. Google could ultimately decide to back off Project Fi, similar to what’s happened with Google Glass.

Here’s a rundown of winners and potential losers.
Winner: Entry-level, low-data smartphone users

The biggest pricing advantage with Project Fi goes to single individuals who are light users of data. The plan will likely be $15 to $20 cheaper than many competing offers from major carriers. (Computerworld blogger JR Raphael shows price advantages for Project Fi in 10 different comparisons with some of the major U.S. carriers’ plans.)

Average data consumption in the U.S. is 2 GB to 2.5 GB per month. “The moment you use more than 4 GB of data, you are better off at Sprint, and if you use more than 5 GB per month, you are better off being on T-Mobile,” said Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics.

Bill Menezes, an analyst at Gartner, agreed. “This plan is clearly aimed at lower-usage customers who are paying greater than $10 per gigabyte for what they use,” he said.

Using Entner’s analysis, 4 GB on Project Fi would cost $40, plus the $20 monthly fee for voice and other services, for a total of $60. Sprint offers an unlimited data plan for $60 a month that includes talk, text and data. With the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, the price drops to $50 a month.

For 5GB of data on Project Fi with talk and text, the total would be $70, which is a tie with what T-Mobile offers for talk, text and 5 GB. But T-Mobile also has an unlimited plan for talk, text and data at $80 a month.

What’s interesting about Project Fi is that both the cellular carriers working with Google have unlimited plans, while Project Fi does not. “It’s very interesting that Project Fi is not unlimited, which is Google’s tacit admission that no matter how much the public wants it, bandwidth costs money,” Entner said.

Menezes used his own experience as a T-Mobile customer to note that he and his wife have two unlimited voice, data and text lines for $100 a month. In a recent month, he paid his half– $50– for use of 4 GB of data and unlimited voice and text, which would have compared to $60 on Project Fi.

He also noted that volume discounts for data on both AT&T and Verizon can drop to below $10 per gigabyte. (Example: Two smartphones on the AT&T Mobile Share Value plan with 10 GB of shared data is $130 a month, while Project Fi would cost $140 a month.)

Winner: Frequent international travelers
Some of the major U.S. carriers can’t compete with Project Fi on international wireless voice and data services.

Google’s plan offers international coverage in 120 countries, and it’s included in the same $10 per GB of data users pay for service in the U.S. Data speeds, however, are limited to 256 Kbps, which is considerably slower than the 10 times faster (or more) LTE data speeds seen in the U.S.

For international calls, the cost is 20 cents per minute, which is considerably less than prices of as much as $1 per minute on many carriers. Texts are unlimited within the $20 per month rate, according to Google’s FAQ.

Google has set up roaming arrangements with carriers in all 120 countries, For other countries, users will need a SIM card that works with a specific carrier. For the international business traveler who visits 10 to 20 countries on Google’s list, “this is a very, very good plan,” Entner said.

T-Mobile also offers competitive international roaming, although data speeds are somewhat slower than what Google is offering, Entner said.

Small businesses with up to five workers, whether in the U.S. or traveling internationally, might benefit as well with Project Fi, especially if each user is using less than 4 GB of data per month, Entner said.

Google also described new technology for Project Fi that will allow users to move seamlessly from 1 million high-quality Wi-Fi zones to LTE cellular from Sprint and T-Mobile.

With the help of a special new SIM card in the Nexus 6, users are supposed to get access to the highest-quality connection on the fastest network, whether Wi-Fi or one of the LTE networks. Phones can access the better of the two LTE networks in any given location, according to Google’s description.

“If you’re on one network and we detect our other 4G LTE network partner has a stronger signal, you’re moved over to the other network to get the fastest available speed,” Google’s website says.

While roaming between network providers has gone on for years, it is unique that Google, as a new MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator), is able to do so. Menezes said the shared cellular network feature “could be the most revolutionary part of Project Fi.”

Entner said it’s likely that voice calls on cellular would still be carried via older GSM on T-Mobile and then connect to a different voice technology, CDMA, on Sprint. However, T-Mobile now has Voice over LTE in place, and other carriers are moving toward VoLTE. Google’s description of Project Fi on its website refers to using LTE with both carriers, with no mention of GSM or CDMA for voice. Google couldn’t be reached to clarify whether those older technologies will be used.

In any event, the claims that these various mobile connections will be automatic for Project Fi users remains to be seen. “Quality of service will need to be good,” said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar WorldPanel. “The moment you are trying to figure out why you have no coverage is the moment you give up.”

A wireless industry disruption

While an AT&T official downplayed Project Fi as a niche idea, others see it as potentially disruptive in challenging rates and service approaches.

Menezes said that if the network-sharing features work well for Project Fi, both T-Mobile and Sprint may decide to extend a similar capability to their own postpaid customers.

As the major carriers have adapted pricing and no-contract approaches to T-Mobile’s disruptions over the past year, Google could do the same.

“Google is not trying to take over the wireless market, nor do the major cellular carriers have anything to fear,” said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates.

“Google is just trying to shake up the market, just as they did with Google Fiber in Kansas City, with Nexus phones when they thought no one was making a good enough phone, and with Google Voice. They are basically having a trial to see if the switching technology between Wi-Fi and cellular works as stated, something that people have been trying to do between networks for years with mixed results.” T-Mobile offers connections from cellular to Wi-Fi, but the process is not automatic, Gold said.

If Google is successful, other carriers might have to respond. “But I don’t expect them to start offering $20 cellular plans anytime soon,” Gold said of the competitors.

Entner put it this way: “Google is trying to change the shape of the wireless industry with a relatively modest effort.”
Potential losers and a laundry list of concerns

In addition to whether Project Fi can successfully transfer connections from Wi-Fi to cellular with its unnamed innovative technology, there are other concerns.

The first is coverage. Google won’t even invite users to join Project Fi’s Early Access Program if they live outside of network coverage areas.

Google’s coverage map includes nearly all of the U.S., plus parts of Canada and Mexico. In the vast area west of Kansas, there is sparse LTE coverage and mostly 2G and some 3G cellular service. Montana is almost devoid of any coverage at all, at least for cellular. (But Google might have a trick up its sleeve with various low-altitude balloons or the use of low frequency spectrum.)

The plan also only works with the Nexus 6 smartphone. Google will eventually need to move beyond a single handset if Project Fi is expected to advance beyond the project phase.

“The impact of Project Fi will be minimal given the link to Nexus 6,” Milanesi said. She noted that buying a Nexus 6 for $27 a month for two years, plus $30 a month for service and data, “doesn’t sound bad on paper, but with the new plans from T-Mobile and AT&T, you have similar options with a broader choice of devices.”

Still, it’s clear that Google wants to test its Project Fi idea carefully. “In the beginning, when you launch something like this, it’s important to limit the number of moving parts to be able to find out more quickly what the real problem is should trouble arise,” Entner said.

By using a single device, it will be easier to introduce new “nifty” services and software. “They will come up with things we haven’t thought of,” Entner said.

However, Milanesi said if Google wants to move beyond the project phase, it will need other phone models to “show how serious Google is to make this a mass market service versus an experiment.”

Another concern are the the Invites and Early Access. Even if a Google fan gets into the Early Access Program for Project Fi, it’s possible that after a few years, Google could pull back and decide not to proceed. As with Google Glass, the wearable technology that may be resurrected someday, there could be a degree of uncertainty on the minds of many users.

“It’s a possibility users would be left in limbo, like Google Glass,” Entner said. He recalled that Google launched Goog-411, a speech-recognition-based business directory search, in 2007, only to abandon it in 2010. Google later admitted it used the service to gather a large database of voice sounds to be able to improve its speech recognition engine.

“I don’t know what Google expects to get from a beta user base except more data on how well the service works and how well the Sprint and T-Mobile handovers go,” Menezes added.
Loser: Small carriers

While Project Fi is sure to stir up interest, Google’s success is bound to hurt smaller carriers, including those that operate over both Wi-Fi and cellular but don’t have the name recognition, cash and mammoth size of Google.

“Overall, I think Project Fi is a positive and any new innovation is positive for the market,” Entner said. “It shows how open the market is that you have something like a Google offer a differentiated wireless service.”

But, he added, “the small guys will suffer the most – the Republics and the Tings. Google is like WalMart coming to town. It’s not Kroger or Stop & Shop that suffers, it’s the mom and pop stores that will die.”

According to its website, Republic Wireless offers phones that work on both Wi-Fi and cellular, and the carrier commits to offering phones that are optimized to use Wi-Fi.

Ting began wireless service in 2012, and in March it became the first North American carrier to offer shared usage over both GSM and CDMA. It also launched gigabit fiber services in Charlottesville, Va., in April.

A final concern is customer service. Google has experience at customer service with its Google Fiber launches in the Kansas City and Austin areas, but customer service could be Project Fi’s biggest hurdle.

“Customer service is one of the most maligned parts of wireless service and it’s extremely difficult,” Entner said. “To see how Google solves the customer service problem will be very, very interesting. I can just imagine a service call to Project Fi where the customer starts asking about all the things Google already does, like how to use Google Search or Hangouts.”


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Google wants to manage your work email with Inbox

Gmail Inbox could prioritize email from your boss, HR and clients

Google’s Inbox by Gmail, launched five months ago was designed to help users manage — instead of be inundated by — their email.

Now, Google is moving ahead with plans to roll out Inbox for Google Apps so people in the workplace can use it to manage email from their bosses, HR, colleagues and friends.

Starting next month, Google will enable Inbox for a small group of Google Apps users. Companies interested in trying it out can email from their Google Apps for Work administrator account to apply for an invitation to enter the early adopter program.

“Have you ever felt like your inbox was someone else’s to-do list?,” Alex Gawley, a director of product management for Google, asked in a blog post. “Requests, project updates and action items stream in all day. You move between your computer and the phone in your pocket to try to manage, and instead of focusing on the most important things, you find yourself focusing on the most recent things.”

Now, the company is focusing on enterprise users.
“Even before the first invitations went out to use Inbox for your own email, Googlers have been using it to get more done at work,” wrote Gawley. “Whether it’s snoozing the expense report notification until after the big presentation, or adding a reminder to schedule lunch with a favorite client, Inbox helps put email on your terms. And since Inbox was built on the same infrastructure as Gmail, it meets the same high security standards you expect from email.”

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research, said this could be a a big help for workers.

“I believe it’s the number one time waster for workers today,” said Kerravala. “Some workers get thousands per day and just the process of triaging email to understand what to keep and not keep can take hours.”

Some analysts have had concerns about letting software pick and choose what is a priority in an avalanche of email. Kerravala, though, said Inbox could be the beginning of a solution to email overload.

“Even solving part of the problem is better than trying to do it manually,” he added. “Even if doesn’t solve the entire email problem, kudos for Google for taking a shot at trying to solve it.”

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Buying Uber might give Google a ride into the future

Google’s data, and Uber’s transportation expertise, might be mutually beneficial

Google CEO Larry Page likes to talk about taking “big bets” into new areas like driverless cars and delivery services. An acquisition of Uber might be a gamble that could pay off for both companies.

The companies are heading in some of the same directions. Both Uber and Google are now working on driverless car technology and transportation and delivery services.

On Monday, Uber announced the creation of the “Uber Advanced Technologies Center” in Pittsburgh through a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, which will focus on long-term technology in the areas of mapping, vehicle safety and “autonomy technology.”

Were Google to acquire Uber, it might head off a possible confrontation between the companies as both push deeper into developing similar services.

There’s no clear sign that Google is actually trying to buy Uber, which has been valued at more than $40 billion. But it’s already a major investor, having put at least $258 million into Uber, and it may have good reasons to go all the way to a buyout.

Delivery is one business where the companies might be better off together, with Uber’s transportation know-how and Google’s consumer data.

Both are just getting their feet wet in this area. Google has its same-day Shopping Express service, which uses cars to deliver items from select retailers, though only in a handful of cities including San Francisco, Chicago and Boston. It’s also looking to use drones to deliver items from the sky, like packages for disaster relief, through its Project Wing initiative. Uber, meanwhile, began testing a cargo delivery service in Hong Kong last month, and has also tested fast food delivery in Los Angeles. Its UberRush courier service for package delivery is available in New York City.

Increasingly, Google knows what people want and where they go, while Uber knows how to manage things that move around.

“Google buying Uber makes a tremendous amount of sense as long as Google understands that it’s not buying a ride hailing or ridesharing service, it’s buying a new transportation platform,” said James McQuivey, an industry analyst at Forrester who studies digital disruption among major consumer companies.

“In some ways, Uber will never become the Uber it promises to be if it doesn’t team up with a company that knows as much about you — and has as much permission to offer solutions to you — as Google does,” he said.

The companies may also be heading for a showdown on Uber’s turf. Google is preparing to offer its own ride hailing service, according to a report in Bloomberg Business on Monday, though a subsequent Wall Street Journal report said the app was geared more toward internal employee carpooling.

Google responded only in the form of a cryptic tweet that said, “We think you’ll find Uber and Lyft work quite well. We use them all the time.”

If Google doesn’t have its own ride hailing app in the works, Uber’s own would be handy to have.

But there are also good reasons for Google not to buy Uber. For one, Uber faces opposition on multiple fronts, from regulators, safety advocates and the taxi industry. Those are issues Google might not want to take on, though it would have more money and lobbying power to bring to the fight.

And let’s not forget how much Google would be biting off if it tried to buy the company. Even at its $40 billion valuation, with no premium, Uber would be a big acquisition for any company.

But Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp, which closed at $22 billion, shows how much some companies are willing to pay to expand their business and customer base.

Uber may well fit into Google’s big picture, which is to be the entry point through which people go about their day, whether it’s with search, media, communications or entertainment. The company showed it wasn’t afraid of tackling new areas when it entered the connected home last year by buying Nest for more than $3 billion.

“Getting around is another one of those common things that people do that is stuck in analog technology, for the most part,” said Brian Blau, an industry analyst at Gartner who studies consumer technology.

Uber, he said, represents to Google another path away out of the analog world and into the digital realm where it thrives.

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Google prices its gigabit-Internet service in Austin at $70 a month

The broadband service is already in Kansas City and Provo, Utah

Google will offer a basic version of its broadband service for no monthly charge when it launches soon in Austin, Texas, with the 1Gbps service priced at $70 per month.

The basic plan will provide download speeds of up to 5Mbps (megabits per second) and upload speeds of 1Mbps, according to Google, which announced its pricing plans Monday and said consumers in some neighborhoods will be able to sign up next month. Customers will pay a one-time “construction” fee of $300, but there will be no monthly charges after that.

The middle-tier plan that provides Google Fiber’s promised 1Gbps service will be priced at $70 per month, with the construction fee waived for a one-year commitment. That plan includes 1TB of cloud storage across Google Drive, Gmail and Google+ photos, the company said.

The most tricked out plan will be priced at $130 per month. That includes the 1Gbps Internet service and 1TB cloud storage, as well as more than 150 TV channels and the ability to record up to 8 shows at once.

Google didn’t say when the service will be switched on. It says it’s made “great progress” but has “lots more digging to do” to lay the 1,000-plus miles of fiber that will make up the network.

It’s also putting the finishing touches on its operations base for Austin Fiber at 201 Colorado Street.

Google Fiber is already available in Kansas City and Provo, Utah — at prices similar to Austin — with plans for expansion in a handful of others like Phoenix, Arizona, and Nashville, Tennessee.


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Driving with Google Glass not a good idea

New study shows driving with Glass nearly as unsafe as driving while using a cell phone

Think it will be easier and safer to drive using Google Glass to text or make a call instead of your smartphone? Sorry. Think again.

A joint study by the University of Central Florida and the Air Force Research Laboratory showed that driving while using Google’s wearable computer still is a distraction.

However, the study also showed that using Glass while driving is less distracting than using a smartphone, since drivers can look ahead when using Glass, while drivers tend to look down to text or swipe their smartphone.

“Texting with either a smartphone or Glass will cause distraction and should be avoided while driving,” said UCF researcher Ben Sawyer, in a statement. “Glass did help drivers in our study recover more quickly than those texting on a smartphone. We hope that Glass points the way to technology that can help deliver information with minimal risk.”

Distracted drivers, who either text or make calls while behind the wheel, have been a significant safe issue. According to the National Safety Council, cell-phone use is the cause of at least 1.6 million auto crashes each year.

With the emergence of Google Glass and other wearables, several states are considering banning drivers from wearing those technologies.

“As distractive influences threaten to become more common and numerous in drivers’ lives, we find the limited benefits provided by Glass a hopeful sign of technological solutions to come,” Sawyer said.

The UCF and Air Force research team conducted the experiment with 40 drivers in their 20s. Each participant drove in an automobile simulator. While using either Google Glass or a smartphone, they needed to react to a virtual car ahead of them slamming on the brakes.

Researchers compared the reactions of those using Glass with that of those using smartphones. They also compared both to drivers who weren’t using a mobile device at all.

According to UCF, drivers using Glass were no better at hitting their brakes in time than their counterparts who were using smartphones. However, the drivers using Glass were able to return to driving normally more quickly.

“While Glass-using drivers demonstrated some areas of improved performance in recovering from the brake event, the device did not improve their response to the event itself,” Sawyer said. “More importantly, for every measure we recorded, messaging with either device negatively impacted driving performance. Compared to those just driving, multi-taskers reacted more slowly, preserved less headway during the brake event, and subsequently adopted greater following distances.”

While this may be the first study on driving safety regarding Google Glass, it all comes down to common sense, according to Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy.

“No big surprise here,” he said. “Both Google Glass and smartphones are dangerous to use while driving, but Glass is less dangerous because you are looking straight ahead. it is nice to get a reminder that doing anything other than driving, whether it’s using Glass or a smartphone, is dangerous.”

Glass is still a prototype, though it is for sale as such.


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GREmailRobot: Powerful email automation (and cheap!)

GREmailRobot is a powerful SMTP and POP3 Windows utility that can perform sophisticated email filtering, modification, and routing tasks at an incredibly low price.

Wouldn’t you like to take control of your email and be able to filter and manipulate it it without a Big Brother organization such as Google or Yahoo being able to look over your virtual shoulder?

Filtering and manipulation really matter these days because we’re drowning in email; we’re forced to wade through oceans of “junk” just to find the pools of useful stuff we really need that we then need to organize.

I think Google’s Gmail does a great job of organizing messages (and getting rid of spam) so that you can sort the wheat from the chaff (though I know many people who loathe Gmail with a surprising passion which is odd because most of them are still on Outlook which they also seem to despise).

Even so, Gmail’s filters, importance ranking, labeling, and categorization are a huge improvement over any other Web mail service and, dare I say, over Outlook. On the other hand, The Google gets to see everything you send and receive and the automated parts their filtering and classifying don’t always do exactly what you want.

If, however you want to get serious about taking a do-it-yourself approach to email handling you might want to consider GRSoftware’s GREmailRobot for Windows.

GREmailRobot is a small n SMTP and POP3 client (just under 4MB installed) which boasts a remarkable array of features. You can run it from the command line or install it as a Windows service and it will examine the message based on a list of “jobs” and perform operations on each message.

A job, which can be set to run only after a certain date and time, can examine a message’s :

Attached file names

GREmailRobot edit job GRSoftware
Then, based on a range of conditionals, operations can be performed on the message contents and attachments including:

Unzip attached file (overwrite existing)
Unzip attached file (NOT overwrite existing)
Save attached file (overwrite existing)
Save attached file (NOT overwrite existing)
Save the message body text (NOT overwrite existing)
Save the message body text (overwrite existing)
Save the original message (NOT overwrite existing)
Save the original message (overwrite existing)
Do Nothing
Save the message body text (overwrite existing)
Save the original message (NOT overwrite existing)
Save the original message (overwrite existing)
Forward the message to a specified email address
Leave or delete the message from the email server.
Notify you by email when an action has been done.
Execute each Job only after a specified date.
Can execute an application with optional parameters in order to pass to it pieces of the message or attached file names to be processed.
Execute some simple macros inside the body text.
Rename the attached files before saving them.
Change the destination path using the body or subject of the email message.

GREmailRobot log GRSoftware

All jobs are logged and the only You can obviously use this software for sophisticated filtering and routing but there’s a lot more potential; GRSoftware suggests some novel uses:

If you need to update or transfer some files from one computer to another but, for security reasons, you do not want to install any software that can open unwanted ports in your computer then Email Robot will solves this problem using email messages. You can easily zip your files and then create a “custom” email message so that the Email Robot software on the other computer can find and handle it the way you want. Optionally you can also execute a specified application that will process the received  files. Of course this is not the only problem you can solve. Email Robot can automatically handle your email accounts the way you define with simple rules. The program can also be used as a backup software to receive your data from another computer using email transfers.

Also check out an example of using GREmailRobot to remotely control a snowmelt system by email … way cool.

That’s a lot of functionality in a small, easy to understand package and when you consider that GREmailRobot is priced at just $39 for the Workstation Edition and $79 for the Server Edition, it’s a steal.

GREmailRobot is a terrific tool and gets a Gearhead rating of 5 out of 5.


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Chromebooks’ success punches Microsoft in the gut

Chromebooks’ success punches Microsoft in the gut
Amazon, NPD Group trumpet sales of the bare-bones laptops in 2013 to consumers and businesses

Chromebooks had a very good year, according to retailer and industry analysts.

And that’s bad news for Microsoft.

The pared-down laptops powered by Google’s browser-based Chrome OS have surfaced this year as a threat to “Wintel,” the Microsoft-Intel oligarchy that has dominated the personal-computer space for decades with Windows machines.

On Thursday, called out a pair of Chromebooks — one from Samsung, the other from Acer — as two of the three best-selling notebooks during the U.S. holiday season. The third: Asus’ Transformer Book, a Windows 8.1 “2-in-1” device that transforms from a 10.1-in. tablet to a keyboard-equipped laptop.

As of late Thursday, the trio retained their lock on the top three places on Amazon’s best-selling-laptop list in the order of Acer, Samsung and Asus. Another Acer Chromebook, one that sports 32GB of on-board storage space — double the 16GB of Acer’s lower-priced model — held the No. 7 spot on the retailer’s top 10.

Chromebooks’ holiday success at Amazon was duplicated elsewhere during the year, according to the NPD Group, which tracked U.S. PC sales to commercial buyers such as businesses, schools, government and other organizations.

By NPD’s tallies, Chromebooks accounted for 21% of all U.S. commercial notebook sales in 2013 through November, and 10% of all computers and tablets. Both shares were up massively from 2012; last year, Chromebooks accounted for an almost-invisible two-tenths of one percent of all computer and tablet sales.

Stephen Baker of NPD pointed out what others had said previously: Chromebooks have capitalized on Microsoft’s stumble with Windows 8. “Tepid Windows PC sales allowed brands with a focus on alternative form factors or operating systems, like Apple and Samsung, to capture significant share of a market traditionally dominated by Windows devices,” Baker said in a Monday statement.

Part of the attraction of Chromebooks is their low prices: The systems forgo high-resolution displays, rely on inexpensive graphics chipsets, include paltry amounts of RAM — often just 2GB — and get by with little local storage. And their operating system, Chrome OS, doesn’t cost computer makers a dime.

The 11.6-in. Acer C720 Chromebook, first on Amazon’s top-10 list Thursday, costs $199, while the Samsung Chromebook, at No. 2, runs $243. Amazon prices Acer’s 720P Chromebook, No. 7 on the chart, at $300.

The prices were significantly lower than those for the Windows notebooks on the retailer’s bestseller list. The average price of the seven Windows-powered laptops on Amazon’s top 10 was $359, while the median was $349. Meanwhile, the average price of the three Chromebooks was $247 and the median was $243, representing savings of 31% and 29%, respectively.

In many ways, Chromebooks are the successors to “netbooks,” the cheap, lightweight and underpowered Windows laptops that stormed into the market in 2007, peaked in 2009 as they captured about 20% of the portable PC market, then fell by the wayside in 2010 and 2011 as tablets assumed their roles and full-fledged notebooks closed in on netbook prices.

Chromebooks increasingly threaten Windows’ place in the personal computer market, particularly the laptop side, whose sales dominate those of the even older desktop form factor. Stalwart Microsoft partners, including Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard and Dell, have all dipped toes into the Chromebook waters, for example.

“OEMs can’t sit back and depend on Wintel anymore,” said Baker in an interview earlier this month.

Microsoft has been concerned enough with Chromebooks’ popularity to target the devices with attack ads in its ongoing “Scroogled” campaign, arguing that they are not legitimate laptops.

Those ads are really Microsoft’s only possible response to Chromebooks, since the Redmond, Wash. company cannot do to them what it did to netbooks.

Although the first wave of netbooks were powered by Linux, Microsoft quickly shoved the open-source OS aside by extending the sales lifespan of Windows XP, then created deliberately-crippled and lower-priced “Starter” editions of Vista and Windows 7 to keep OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) on the Windows train.

But Microsoft has no browser-based OS to show Chromebook OEMs, and has no light-footprint operating system suitable for basement-priced laptops except for Windows RT, which is unsuitable for non-touch screens. And unlike Google, Microsoft can hardly afford to give away Windows.

But Microsoft’s biggest problem isn’t Chrome OS and the Chromebooks its ads have belittled: It’s tablets. Neither Microsoft or its web of partners have found much success in that market.

Baker’s data on commercial sales illustrated that better than a busload of analysts. While Windows notebooks accounted for 34% of all personal computers and tablets sold to commercial buyers in the first 11 months of 2013, that represented a 20% decline from 2012. During the same period, tablets’ share climbed by one-fifth to 27%, with Apple’s iPad accounting for the majority of the tablets.

“The market for personal computing devices in commercial markets continues to shift and change, said Baker. “It is no accident that we are seeing the fruits of this change in the commercial markets as business and institutional buyers exploit the flexibility inherent in the new range of choices now open to them.”

But when you’re at the top of the personal computing device heap — as Microsoft was as recently as 2011 — words like “change” and “choice” are not welcome. From the mountaintop, the only way is down.


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9 Great Google Reader Replacements

These nine RSS feed readers all offer something different, whether it’s speed, simplicity, social interaction, or DIY-level customization. Which one is right for you?

You want content from your favorite blogs, news sources, and sites of curiosities delivered to an inbox-like environment. You want to be able to scan those items, and perhaps read them, or maybe save them to read later. I do, too, and for a long time, I used Google Reader for my RSS feed-reading needs. But as of July 1, Google no longer provides that service.

Many of us who rely on RSS for news updates, streamlined leisure reading, and other direct delivery of information from the worldwide Web have been busy looking for the best service ever since Google announced it was taking Reader to the graveyard.

But not all RSS feed readers have the same features. Do you need a your RSS content to include Google Alerts? Is access to a native mobile app at the top of your list? Do you like your RSS reader service to suggest new content that you may not have otherwise found?

My personal quest for a new RSS feed reader led me to reevaluate what was important. Simplicity and a clean design came out on top. I also spent a long time looking at which readers included tools to help me organize my feeds. I don’t use RSS for breaking news, so speed was a little lower on my list.

Support for OPML file uploads, on the other hand, seemed just as important as anything else, as that function is necessary for former Google Reader users to migrate at their own pace. Any reader that does not support OPML files requires connection to Google on or before July 1, and I feel like those services should do better by their potential users and give them more time to migrate. On the other hand, services that support OPML allow former Reader users to join any time, provided they’ve snagged their Google Takeout data and have their subscriptions.xml file ready to upload.

My colleagues and I at PCMag rigorously tested many alternatives to Google Reader. Two favorites came out on top, which became our Editors’ Choices. But depending on what’s important to you, a different service could fit your needs better. Take a look at these top services and our notes about their pros and cons to see which one will work best for you. And if nothing in this list tickles your fancy, see, “Top Free Picks: RSS Readers.”

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Google Glass still vulnerable to Wi-Fi attack

Glass can fall prey to a long-known issue in wireless networking

Google fixed one Wi-Fi security problem with its wearable computer Glass, but Symantec says there’s another problem, which has been a long-known weakness in wireless networking.

The security vendor has been analyzing Google Glass in its labs and found a second issue that is just as harmful as the now-patched QR-code vulnerability found by Lookout Mobile Security, which was made public earlier this week.

Many Wi-Fi devices regularly look for networks that they have been connected to before, wrote Candid Wueest, a threat researcher for Symantec. The behavior is convenient for users, since they don’t have to manually connect to a known network, he wrote.

But for as little as US$100, a hacker can buy a device that impersonates the known Wi-Fi network by borrowing the network’s name, known as its SSID (Service Set Identifier).

If a mobile device such as Google Glass looks for a known network with the SSID of “myPrivateWiFi,” a device called the Wi-Fi Pineapple can respond, pretending it is the network.

Wi-Fi Pineapple is intended as a tool for security researchers. It sits between a targeted device and the Internet. Once it has tricked a Wi-Fi device into thinking it is the legitimate network, it can then spy on the data traffic.

If the traffic between a pair of Google Glasses and a remote server is unencrypted, an attacker using Wi-Fi Pineapple can view it, a major privacy and security problem known as a man-in-the-middle attack (MITM).

The issue isn’t exclusive to Google Glass and could affect any device used, for example, by someone in a coffee shop. Savvy laptop and mobile phone users may be able to take steps to prevent data from leaking by using a VPN (Virtual Private Network). But the keyboard-less interface of Google Glass could make thwarting this style of attack more complicated.

In early June, Google fixed the vulnerability found by Lookout, which found that Glass would scan a QR Code instructing it to connect to a malicious Wi-Fi access point. Lookout, which told Google of the problem in May, then directed Glass to a malicious website that ran a known Android 4.04 vulnerability, which gave the security vendor complete control over the glasses.

Google issued several fixes, including one that required users to approve instructions contained in QR codes.

The fundamental problem of Wi-Fi devices looking for known networks isn’t an easy one to solve, Wueest wrote. Devices could check a hardware identifier, called the MAC (Media Access Control) address, of a Wi-Fi router and match it with the SSID. But MAC addresses are easily faked, he wrote.

“The more practicable solution is to treat every network as hostile and ensure that all the applications use encrypted communications like SSL [Secure Sockets Layers] or tunnel through a VPN,” Wueest wrote.

Google couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

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Microsoft, Google swap April Fools’ jabs

Microsoft spoofs Google’s minimalist search site, Google knocks with ‘Gmail Blue’

Microsoft today took another shot at rival Google, the target of its “Scroggled” campaign, with an April Fools’ Day prank that turned its Bing search engine into a Google look-alike.

Dubbed “Bing Basic” in an April 1 blog post, and claiming it was a special test, the prank kicks off “if you visit and enter a certain telltale query” that then results in “something a little more bland.”

From, users simply enter “Google” to see a temporary home page that looks very much like Google’s noted minimalist design.

“We decided to go back to basics, to the dawn of the Internet, to reimagine Bing with more of a 1997, dial-up sensibility in mind,” wrote Michael Kroll, principal UX (user experience) manager for Bing, on the blog. “We may see some uptick in our numbers based on this test, but the main goal here is just to learn more about how our world would look if we hadn’t evolved.”
Bing basic
Microsoft’s bogus “Bing Basic” takes a shot at rival Google’s stark search engine UI.

SearchEngineLand first reported on the “Google” trigger for the Bing Basic hoax.

The revamped Bing Basic screen sports a few differences from Google’s real home page, including a renaming of the latter’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” button to “I’m Feeling Confused.” Clicking on that button in Bing’s imitation leads to Kroll’s blog post.

Microsoft has retained Bing’s hover-links, however, and used them to take additional shots at the competition. Hovering the mouse over one such link displays a pop-up that states, “When there’s nothing else to look at … You may take drastic measures.” Clicking directs the user to a search for “watching paint dry.”

Google’s counter — launched earlier in the day — was both more elaborate and more subtle as it spoofed Microsoft’s email service, the rebrand of that debuted last July.

Called “Gmail Blue,” the phony is purportedly a major refresh of Google’s own email service that “Richard Pargo,” supposedly a project manager, says was based on the question, “How do we completely redesign and recreate something while keeping it exactly the same?”

The result? Gmail Blue, with blue fonts, blue lines, blue theme, blue everything.

“It’s Gmail, only bluer,” said Pargo with a straight face in a production-quality video that included a cameo by Blue Man Group.

“We tried orange, brown … brown was a disaster,” said “Dana Popliger,” a faux lead designer. “We tried yellow.”

While some have interpreted Google’s gag as a shot fired at Windows 8 — both directly at the summer’s upcoming upgrade, code named “Blue,” as well as critics’ take on the new OS, which makes a radical change of user interfaces (UIs) in one part, while retaining the traditional desktop in the other — it could also be seen as a bashing of, which by default features a blue theme.

“I think the first thought that’s going to come to the end-user’s mind is, ‘I can’t believe I waited this long for this,'” concluded “Carl Branch,” labeled as lead engineer.

Not coincidentally, today was Gmail’s ninth anniversary. Google launched its invitation-only beta of the service on April 1, 2004.


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How to make a map in Google Fusion Tables

How to make a map in Google Fusion Tables
This free data tool isn’t as well known as Google Maps or Spreadsheets, but Fusion Tables provides an easy way to map a data set by regions such as states or counties


Why Fusion Tables and not Maps?

It’s easy enough to map addresses with markers using Google Maps: Enter your address list and you’re done. But what if you want to map data by regions such as states, counties or ZIP codes, with each one color-coded based on a specific data set? That’s where Google’s Fusion Tables comes in. Still listed as “experimental,” this Google Docs feature has nevertheless been used by media outlets and others to quickly create so-called choropleth maps without writing custom code. Here’s how.




Entering data

Your first step is to make sure you’ve got data in a Fusion Table-friendly format. That means having column headers in the first row and only the first row — not spanning multiple rows — and data in a single worksheet with contiguous columns and rows. Fusion Tables can accept uploads in Excel, comma-separated and tab-delimited formats, as well as in a Google Docs spreadsheet.







Creating a Fusion Table

Create a new Fusion Table within a Google Docs account by clicking Create –> More –> Fusion Table (experimental). You’ll then be given the option to upload a file from your computer or copy and convert an existing Google Spreadsheet into a table. You can also create an empty table, but it’s usually quicker and easier to enter data into a spreadsheet and then convert to a table.








Your new table

Your new table will look similar to a spreadsheet — but it behaves a bit differently. You can sort by clicking on column headers but can’t use formulas. And you’ve got some interesting options available under the Visualize and Merge menus.








Mapping points

One of the visualization options is a map. Fusion Tables recognizes certain words as places, such as state and country names. However, if you choose to map your data using this single table, you’ll get a map with point markers, not shaded polygons. If point markers work for you, you’re done! If not, you need to find a table with geographic boundary information to upload and merge with your data table.







Adding geographic boundary info

You can search public Fusion Tables for tables that have geographic boundary information (some have only numeric data). Here, I searched for “U.S. states boundaries.” (You may have a problem with searches in Firefox; other browsers work fine.) Some public tables let you view boundaries by choosing Visualize –> Map (others may show only point markers). Save the URL of the table you choose — you’ll need it for merging (next slide).

Or you can use files from government and other sources. The U.S. Census Bureau is one good source. A third-party site, Shape to Fusion, can convert Census TIGER files to KML polygon data for Fusion Tables’ use. You can also upload your own GIS data in KML format.





Joining tables

Click Merge to join your geography table with your data table, entering either the name of a table in your account or the URL of your own or a public table. You’ll need to find a common column in each of them — just like you’d join tables in a relational database. Here, I’m joining the data table with a publicly available state geography table, using the column “State” in the data table and “name” in the geography table (each contains the same list of state names).








Color-coding polygons on your map

Select Visualize –> Map now and you’ll still get a map with points on it. To change this, click on “Configure styles” and then choose “Fill color” under “Polygons.”

You can then choose either Gradient or Buckets. Gradient allows you to select one color and the number of slices of your data — here, the data is divided into four groups, and Fusion Tables colors the map from light (lower) to dark (higher) green. Buckets gives you more options in the range of each group and use of multiple colors.

If you’ve got more than one data column, you’ll need to select the one you want to visualize.



Customize the info window

You can also customize what appears when a user clicks on a colored portion of your map by selecting “Configure info window” and choosing the Custom tab.









Embed and share your map

The final product looks like this. To embed the map in a Web page, click the share button at top right (not shown) and make it viewable by the public, then click on “Get embeddable link.” You can also share a link to your map to view on Google.










More resources

For more on Fusion Tables, see this 9-minute tutorial by Google engineer Kathryn Hurley. For more about mapping and other tools, see Computerworld’s interactive chart of 30+ free tools for data visualization and analysis and our review of 22 free tools for data visualization and analysis.


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Microsoft’s secret weapon against Google Maps — open source

One of the many areas where Google is far ahead of Microsoft is mapping, with Google Maps by far the dominant map service on the Internet. Microsoft is employing an under-the-radar approach to fighting back, lending big support and big dollars to the open source map project OpenStreetMap. It looks as if the tactic is starting to pay off.

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OpenStreetMap is run much like Wikipedia, in which volunteers provide mapping information to build a free, open mapping service. People, sites, and companies can then use that mapping information. The services is overseen by the non-profit OpenStreetMap Foundation. The foundation says that a half a million volunteers have already provided data to OpenStreetMap.

The New York Times reported recently that a variety of companies have started to defect from using Google Maps because of the high fees charged for the service, and instead have turned to getting mapping data for free from OpenStreetMap. The mobile social media service FourSquare has jumped ship, and for iPhoto, the iOS photo management app, Apple has switched from Google to OpenStreetMap.

Behind the scenes, spurring all this on, is Microsoft. Microsoft hired OpenStreetMap founder Steve Coast to work for Bing as Principal Architect for Bing Mobile. Coast works on both Bing and OpenStreetMap. In a blog post announcing Coast’s hiring back in November 2010, Microsoft said Coast will “develop better mapping experiences for our customers and partners, and lead efforts to engage with OpenStreetMap and other open source and open data projects.”

The Times reports that Coast is working on developing open-source software that will make it simpler for developers to get data from and use OpenStreetMap. And it also reports that Microsoft has been donating “valuable map data” to OpenStreetMap. Bing also uses OpenStreetMap data for its mapping service.

Any OpenStreetMap success eats into Google’s mapping dominance and bottom line. Given the tight connections between OpenStreetMap and Bing, it also helps Microsoft. At the moment, Google Maps remains dominant; the Times says that 71 percent of the nearly 92 million people who viewed a map online in February were using Google Maps.

Still as the defections from FourSquare, Apple, and many smaller companies show, OpenStreetMap is starting to have some effect on Google Maps. Microsoft’s embrace of open source mapping seems to be starting to work.
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Windows Server 8 to be storage-focused OS

Microsoft executives said Windows Server 8, the beta of which is expected out in the next several weeks, is the most storage-focused OS release to date.

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The new OS will support Hyper-V and SQL Server running over the Samba file sharing protocol Server Message Block (SMB) v2.2, including remote direct memory access (RDMA) over Ethernet and InfiniBand.

The new file-sharing capability allows a virtualized server infrastructure to utilize shared JBOD storage through the use of RDMA-enabled network interface cards (RNICs). To date, Microsoft has qualified one 10GbE NIC from Intel and a 10GbE and InfiniBand NIC from Mellanox Technologies.

RDMA allows servers, through special NICs, to access the memory of other servers without the use of the operating system, offering very high throughput, low latency networking for server clusters.

Jim Pinkerton, a partner architect in Microsoft’s File Server Technologies development group, compared the ability to use RDMA over Ethernet or InfiniBand to that of the high-speed storage protocol Fibre Channel, in that a network interface card is used to offload network protocol traffic from a server’s CPU.

“Think about going over the network for storage to get better performance, but your CPU [use] doesn’t go up,” said Pinkerton said.

SMB 2.2 has a multi-channel feature that enables the use of multiple physical network interfaces in an SMB 2.2 client and server. For example, Microsoft has tested a SQL database running across four 10GbE channels. Pinkerton said a SQL database his team ran achieved 6.5GB/sec total throughput or 280,000 I/Os per second using 8K writes with SMB 2.2.

Windows Server 8, which will replace Windows Server 2008, will also feature Live Migration, a tool that allows administrators to move stored copies of virtual machines from one storage server to another without taking down the virtual machine. The migration feature could allow data to be moved while a bad hard drive or array is replaced, or it could be used for SAN upgrades or just to migrate data from one storage platform to another.

Pinkerton said the Live Migration upgrade will also remove downtime on Patch Tuesdays by allowing admins to migrate virtual machines and applications onto another server node, upgrade the original server and then migrate the applications back.

Additionally, Windows operations such as Check Disk or Check Sum can be used to prepopulate a list of data errors — in a database, for example — without having to take a server or application offline, Pinkerson said.

Windows Server 8 allows admins to take a snapshot of data to create a list of errors that can then be used to take a volume offline only long enough to correct the data problems.

“The time to perform Check Disk today is proportionate to the number of files in a storage system. So if you want to check 100 million files, you have to take the whole cluster off line to check it, and that could take hours or days,” Pinkerson said. “That operation can now be measured in seconds.”

Additional management tools will allow adminstrators to oversee up to 200 hard drives or SSDs, allowing the disks to be seen as a single pool of capacity that can be carved up into logial unit numbers (LUNs) and volumes to be shared among physical servers.

“It’s a lot harder to find guys to mange a Fibre Channel fabric than an Ethernet fabric. A lot of this stuff becomes more self service or doable by people in the data center,” said SW Worth, a senior program manager at Microsoft.

Data deduplication and thin provisioning, or the ability to expand storage volumes on an as-needed basis, is also native to Windows Server 8. “Think of us as a new entry in the enterprise storage space. We’re competing for some of that business,” Worth said.

“The path we’re going down is file-based access, so you don’t need storage rocket scientists to administer your environment. And, we’re also using SSDs to get performance without having to tune the disks,” Pinkerton said, referring to the practice of short-stroking Fibre Channel hard drives to achieve peak performance, which also greatly reduces available storage capacity.

Microsoft also upgraded its access list control (ALC) to enable users to specify who can read and write to documents based on their business unit or the sensitivity of the data itself. For example, documents can be classified as business critical, as containing personal employee data, or they can be classified by business, such as legal, finance or marketing.

Pinkerton said Windows Server 8 will help companies with regulatory compliance and civil litigation by offering document classification.

Google, Motorola must capitalize on regulatory win to battle Apple’s iPad

The US Department of Justice and European Commission have okayed Google’s planned $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility. Now the two have to work together — and fast — to being Android 4.0 to Motorola’s Xoom and XyBoard and whatever other Android tablet platform that can grab some share against Apple’s iPad.

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Governmental clearance of Google’s $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility — both here and across the pond — is no doubt a big win for the open source Android operating system. But it’s no slam dunk.

Google and its new hardware device arm must get more serious in the tablet wars. Unlike Motorola’s roster of Android-based smartphones, Motorola’s Xoom tablet has competed poorly against Apple’s iPad.

And iPad 3 is getting set to debut.

Motorola won’t say exactly when Xoom will get Google’s Android 4.0 update, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich. A spokesman for Verizon confirmed that all of these devices are expected to get the update — Droid Bionic, Droid Razr, HTC Rezound, Spectrum by LG, Droid Xyboard, Motorola Xoom and Droid 4 — but he doesn’t known when.

Motorola, for its part, has said it is working to deliver the ICS upgrade for DROID RAZR and Motorola RAZR in the first half of 2012.

The Xoom? Xyboard? So far, nada news on those releases.

This is all Motorola Mobility has said:

”We are planning to upgrade DROID RAZR™ by Motorola, Motorola RAZR™, Motorola XOOM™ (including MOTOROLA XOOM™ Family Edition) and DROID BIONIC™ by Motorola to Ice Cream Sandwich. We will provide more precise guidance on timing after post-public push of Ice Cream Sandwich by Google, as well as any possible additions to this list of devices.”

Now that the US Department of Justice and European Commission have okayed the deal, Google and Motorola need to act fast.

First, Google must be careful not to stifle tablet innovation by restricting or delaying access to ANY Android 4.0 code to Motorola Mobility’s rivals. Heck, Samsung beat everyone to the punch.

That being said, ICS is a big deal and Motorola — with Google’s supercharged backing — ought to get something out the door fast. Really fast.

Young generations of users — my four-year-old included – are already adept at the iPad in a Droid heavy home. Google could lose the tablet war — and the smartphone war, for that matter — if the resulting merger slows down the Android product delivery cycle.

“Ice Cream Sandwich brings an entirely new look and feel to Android. It has a redesigned user interface with improved multi-tasking, notifications, Wi-Fi hotspot, NFC support and a full web browsing experience. With Ice Cream Sandwich, Android has been rethought and redesigned to be simple, beautiful and useful,” noted David Rothschild, a senior vice president of software and services at Motorola Mobility, which spun off from Motorola last year. “ Ice Cream Sandwich introduces innovations such as Face Unlock to unlock your phone, a Data Manager to control your network data usage, and advanced multimedia and imaging features. Ice Cream Sandwich also provides developers with new APIs, unified U.I for phones and Tablets, and improved performance by enabling developers to leverage hardware graphic acceleration.”

Great. So let’s get moving, Google and Motorola. You’ve got the platform, the patents, the legal clearance and the innovation. But don’t let the bureaucracy and legalities of a merger blow your windows of opportunity. Time could be slipping on the tablet front.

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