An unofficial blog that watches Google's attempts to move your operating system online since 2005. Not affiliated with Google.

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December 20, 2014

Word Origin Google Search Card

Last year, Google updated the dictionary card and added a lot of useful features, including etymological information, a translation box and a graph that shows the use of a word over time. If you only want to find the origin of a word like "basilica", you don't have to search for [define basilica], expand the card and scroll to the word origin section. You can search for [basilica origin] or [basilica word origin] and Google shows a special version of the dictionary card that highlights etymological information.

Reduce Data Usage When Playing YouTube Music Videos

YouTube doesn't offer yet an audio-only version for the desktop, but there's a simple way to save bandwidth when playing a YouTube video in a different tab or in the background.

Let's say you're listening to a 2-hour concert while reading a book. Since you only care about the audio, YouTube wastes bandwidth by streaming the entire video. YouTube now uses adaptive streaming (DASH) and there are separate streams for audio and video.

I mentioned in a recent post that the mobile YouTube app for Android downloads only the audio files when playing music videos in the background. The desktop site doesn't do this, but you can save bandwidth by switching to the lowest quality option that's available: 144p. Click the player's settings button (the wheel icon) and pick 144p from the "quality" dropdown.

It may not seem obvious, but YouTube uses exactly the same audio stream, whether you're watching 144p, 240p, 360p, 480p, 720p or 1080p videos. You can check this by right clicking the player, selecting "stats for nerds" and watching the DASH section when switching to other resolutions. The first numerical value is the ID (itag) of the video stream, while the second one is the ID of the audio stream.  You'll notice that the audio ID is the same: 140.


Here's an example: the 2-hour David Gilmour concert from the screenshot above uses 237MB for the 360p stream and 94MB for 144p stream, while the audio stream uses 111MB. That means you can save more than 140MB by switching from 360p to 144p.

Please note that this only works if you're using the Flash player or you're using YouTube's HTML5 player in a browser that supports Media Source Extensions (Chrome, Opera, Safari, IE11).

December 19, 2014

Gmail Links to Google Inbox

Gmail now promotes Google Inbox. If Inbox is enabled for your account, you might see this message in Chrome: "Good news – Inbox by Gmail is enabled for this account. To use it on the web, go to inbox.google.com. You can always use Gmail at mail.google.com."


Gmail also shows a promotional link for Google Inbox at the bottom of the page: "Take me to Inbox".


If you click "x", Gmail hides the link and shows this message: "You dismissed the Inbox link." Click "Don't show this again" to permanently hide the Inbox link.

Chrome Data Saver, Compression Proxy for Desktop

Chrome has a data compression feature that works in Chrome for Android and Chrome for iOS. There's an unofficial extension that enables the compression proxy in Chrome for desktop and Google works on its own extension called Data Saver (the codename is Flywheel).

Jerzy GÅ‚owacki found this screenshot:

Add Google Docs, Sheets and Slides to App Launcher

You can now add Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides to Google's app launcher from the navigation bar. Just visit each desktop app, click the app launcher and then click "add a shortcut" at the bottom of the pane. Use drag and drop to move the shortcut or hide it by dragging the shortcut to the "more" section. Make sure you are signed in to your Google Account to be able to customize the app launcher.



I added Docs, Sheets and Slides to the app launcher, so I can quickly open the apps from almost any Google service.


To switch between Google's Office apps, you can also use this menu:


{ via +Google Drive }

Save Bandwidth When Playing YouTube Music Videos

I've checked to see what happens when you play a YouTube music video in the background when using the YouTube app for Android, while YouTube Music Key is enabled (it's bundled with the Play Music All Access subscription). I played U2's Beautiful Day on my Nexus 5 and opened the app data usage section to see how much data is used by the YouTube app.

When playing the video in the background, the YouTube app used about 4MB.


When playing the same video in the foreground, the YouTube app used about 24MB.


By default, YouTube selected the highest video quality that was available for this video: 480p.


This means that you can save bandwidth by playing music videos in the background. YouTube uses separate chunked streams for audio and video, so it can download only audio files when playing videos in the background.

December 16, 2014

Add Google Drive Files as Gmail Attachments

You can now attach Google Drive files to Gmail messages. When you compose a message, click the Drive button, pick a file and select "insert as attachment" at the bottom of the pane. Then click "insert" and the file is added as an attachment, not as a link. You can only use this feature for files that haven't been converted to Google's formats.


Here's an example of attachment from Google Drive:


If you pick a file that's too big, you'll get this error message: "Your message could not be saved because it exceeds the maximum size of 25 MB. Try removing an attachment."

"There are now more ways to share Drive files with friends and family through Gmail, without having to worry about accidentally removing their access. By selecting the 'Insert as Attachment' option from Drive you'll be able to attach non-Google files directly to your Gmail message. Now you can be sure your friend will always have that great candid photo from your weekend getaway, or the PDF for your aunt's fruitcake recipe (do people actually eat Fruitcake?) even if you delete it from your Drive," informs Google.

Google Zeitgeist 2014

Google announced the list of the top trending searches in 2014: Robin Williams, World Cup, Ebola, MH370, ALS, Flappy Bird, Conchita Wurst, ISIS, Frozen and Sochi. There's a site that shows more information about these topics and you can check Google Trends for more charts.



The top trending consumer electronics products in 2014: iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy S5, Nexus 6, Moto G, Samsung Note 4, LG G3, Xbox One, Apple Watch, Nokia X, iPad Air. According to Google Trends, Chromecast is the fifth most popular tech gadget in the US, while "Okay Google" is the 8th fastest rising tech query in Germany. Ironically, iPhone 6 is the most popular IT-related query in South Korea.

Google Slides Imports OpenDocument Presentations

Google Drive's support for OpenDocument files has never been a priority for Google. Until today, you couldn't even open .odp files in Google Slides. "We now offer support for importing all three major ODF (Open) file formats: .odt files for documents, .ods for spreadsheets, and .odp for presentations," informs Google.


An interesting article from Computer World UK offers more information about Google's support for ODF:

"Magnus Falk, deputy CTO for HM Government, told the audience that the decision to adopt ODF (alongside HTML and PDF) as the UK government's required document format is now well in hand. (...) As a result, Google faces significant pressure securing government business in the UK – including in the health and education sectors – now that ODF is a requirement. The support for ODF in Google's products is weak and uneven. (...) Chris DiBona, head of open source at Google, told the PlugFest audience that support for exporting ODS and ODT files in ODF 1.2 format (the one used by all modern suites including MS Office and LibreOffice) is now under development. He also said that support for ODP presentations was under development and could be ready as soon as summer 2015. (...) DiBona explained that Google's internal metrics suggest to product groups there is little use of the existing ODF facilities, but he admitted that may be because of both the poor quality of the import and export, the weakness of the viewer implementations (which fail to display many aspects of ODF documents) and the lack of integration of the collaboration mechanisms into ODF."

Google+ Notifications Sidebar

The new icon for Google+ notifications is not the only change: previously read notifications can only be found in Google+, which now has a notifications sidebar. "Use the tray on the right to browse through your Google+ notifications," informs Google.


You can pick between all notifications, unread notifications or other notifications. When you click a notification, Google sends you to the Google+ post, Blogger post or YouTube video and doesn't show a preview inline.


Here's the notifications tray from Google's navigation bar. "Looking for your previously read Google+ notifications? They can now be found in Google+," informs Google.


Showing two bell icons is confusing. I'm not sure why previously read notifications were removed from Google's navigation bar. Maybe Google wants to drive more traffic to Google+.

Update: Google switched back to the old interface. "We’ve realized that there were a few shortcomings in the new desktop Google+ notification tray, so we're reverting back to the original notifications experience for now," says Balaji Srinivasan, from Google.

{ Thanks, Neil Capper. }