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  • Bye Bye Google Reader

    I woke up to the news this morning that Google Reader will close down on July 1st. My twitter feed was full this morning people who use it on daily basis now having to consider alternatives.

    It’s part of a broader “spring  clean” Google have been on for some time but the specific reasoning was described in a couple of lines,

    While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader. Users and developers interested in RSS alternatives can export their data, including their subscriptions, with Google Takeout over the course of the next four months.

    I’d be interested to know what numbers Google take to mean a “loyal following”.

    I’ve been using Google Reader pretty much since it was launched in 2005. I’ve tried various other feed readers, both desktop and online but Google Reader worked best for me as it’s simple to use but mostly importantly for me it works everywhere. Specifically the mobile web version of Google Reader is what I’m talking about here. I’ve never needed any apps for it so the platform or device I’m using becomes unimportant (I’ve even used it on my Kindle!)

    I’d really like something I can use entirely in the browser but I’ve not found anything yet that fits that bill.

    Maybe as that July 1st date approaches some of the alternatives will step up their game to try and grab some new users and start adding new features.

    Some alternatives I’ve seen mentioned so far include:

    Feedly, NewsBlur, The Old Reader, Netvibes, Feedreader, Feedly, Pulse and Taptu.

    I’ll be checking these out I think!

    What I’d really like is for Google to make the source code available and I’ll put it on my own server! I can only wish.

    If you’re not a Google Reader user what are you using to keep track of your favourite sites/blogs?

    If you are a Google Reader what are planning on doing now?

    .

  • Protecting Your Gmail Account with Two Factor Authentication.

    It’s not always obvious but your email account is one of the most important things you have on the Internet. (Jeff Attwood wrote a really good post about this back in 2008!)

    Your email account is like the keys to the city because when you sign up for just about any service on the Internet they’ll ask you for your email address. If you forget your login details guess where they’ll send your password reminder?

    This means if someone can get access to your email account getting into anything else is pretty simple. Also consider that email accounts now give us gigabytes of storage so we rarely delete emails meaning it’s not difficult to browse through old messages and figure out what accounts to target.

    Thanks Google!

    So why is it a big deal? Your money and your identity!

    If you pay for stuff online it’s highly likely you’ll be using something like PayPal.

    Once this person has your email address resetting the passwords to those other services is a bit of a doddle and they are free to do whatever they want with your cash! Yes you may eventually realise what’s going on and cancel the card but how long will that take and how much inconvenience will it cause?

    imageOn top of all this your Gmail account password can also be used in lots of other places like Google Docs, YouTube, Google Reader.

    More and more websites are allowing you to sign in with credentials from other websites.

    So what to do?

    First make sure you’ve got a good password..that goes without saying. If you want an additional layer of security you should think about activating two factor authentication for your Google account.

    What’s two factor authentication?

    To login to a website at the moment all you have is something you know.

    The problem with that is if someone else knows the same thing you can’t do much about it.

    Two Factor Authentication means that as well as something you know you also rely on something you have.

    imageIf you’ve worked in a large enough company you’ll have already seen this in action with something like a SecurID from RSA (if you work in the SMB market AuthAnvil is a good option)

    Google are calling this “Two Step Verification” – presumably to make it sound a little less scary. Winking smile

    All well and good but Google aren’t going to hand out tokens to everyone right?

    In a manner of speaking yes they do.

    There is one thing that just about everyone who uses a computer will have on their person at all times

    A mobile phone.

    Here’s how it works.

    Each time you logon with your username and password Google can send a text message to a designated mobile phone. (They provide backup options too – they’ll even call you and read the code to you!) image

    You can’t login until you’ve provided the code.

    You can then optionally choose to stay logged into that computer for 30 days.

    This means if anyone else guesses your password they still won’t be able to login!

    imageThere is also an app you can use as an alternative way to do this that effectively turns your phone into a SecurID token and doesn’t even require an active internet connection. This is called Google Authenticator.

    It’s worth mentioning that other services also have similar schemes

    Hotmail will send you single use code via text message if you’re on a computer you wouldn’t normally use. These codes expire after 15 minutes and you enter it instead of your password. It’s not quite two factor authentication but would stop a keyboard logger from stealing your password. Details on that are here.

    Facebook will send you a code via text message when you login to a computer it doesn’t recognise (you can authorise your computers) they call this “Login Approvals”. Details are here. Only thing I’ll say about this is that when I tried to set it up I gave up after 30 minutes as I didn’t receive the first text message!

    I’m talking specifically about Gmail here though as it was the first account I held that offered this extra security.

    Setting it up is pretty straightforward.

    1) Visit this link: https://www.google.com/accounts/SmsAuthConfig and sign in.

    image2) From the drop-down menu, select the country where your phone is registered, and enter your phone number in the box.

    3) Choose whether you’d like to receive your codes by text or by voice call. You can always change this later.

    4) Enter your phone number, then click Send verification code to receive a code on your phone.

    5) Enter the code from the text or voice message into the box, then click Verify.

    6) Next you’ll be asked whether you want to remember the computer you are using. If you check the box, you won’t need to enter a code to sign on with this computer for the next 30 days. Don’t check this box if you are using a public computer or a device that you don’t regularly use to sign in.

    7) Click Turn on 2-step verification to finish the process!

    Done! At this stage if you wanted to use the Google Authenticator app you can set this up with these instructions.

    The only other thing left to consider are any applications that may be accessing your account where you can’t use the verification process. You may be checking your email via Outlook or via an app on your phone for example. It’s designed to ask for a user name and password and doesn’t know anything about verification codes.

    To get around this you can generate an application specific password. This is a password that when Google receives it in combination with your user name won’t ask for verification. Google will generate a password for you that you enter into the application. It doesn’t get used anywhere else so you don’t have to memorise it.

    These passwords can be revoked at any time if you’re worried it may have been compromised or if you want to generate a new one. Google has good setup instructions for this here. (otherwise this post would end up even longer than it is!)

    Hopefully all this makes sense and it’ll at least make you think about how you secure your important accounts. It’s good that companies are taking steps to help improve security which will only improve over time but ultimately you’re responsible for your own data.

  • I’m officially a two browser person

    Since Google Chrome is actually out of Beta I’ve installed it on my PC at home and my laptop (and i plan to install it at the office too). I have mentioned before about why i thought i might run two browsers, compatibility with some Microsoft products, Application shortcuts and the speed increases are just a couple of reasons

    Another reason is this though

    Internet Explorer 7

    image

    Google Chrome

    image

    Note: the screenshot from Chrome looks wider as it render the page across the whole screen. In IE it the page was centered with white space down both sides – i cropped out the white space

    Now i know this may not actually be the browsers fault. It could be the way the web site designer has put the page together but the average browsing public wont really care about that

    Just for fun i fired up my Windows 7 virtual machine and opened it in IE8 (i don’t like to use Beta software on my main system where i can help it!)

    Internet Explorer 8 Beta

    image

    Internet Explorer 8 Beta (running in compatibility mode)

    image

    This isn’t a me taking a shot at Google Chrome. I’m sure if i look hard enough I’ll find pages that render just great in Chrome and look awful in IE

    That it’s worth I’m really enjoying using Chrome and since i spend a lot of time in Google Reader and Gmail it makes sense for me to take advantage of Google’s own browser

    All areas of IT seem to have their own religious wars and the browser wars are one of the fiercest. Just remember with any software you have the choice to use which ever fits your needs and for me that means using multiple browsers. Not blindly swearing that my first choice of browser is the best there is, everyone should be using and all other browsers suck!

  • Unreasonable?

    Isn’t amazing how demanding some people can be, even when they are getting something for nothing

    Google have introduced a channel system for releases of Chrome

     

    You can subscribe to one of our update channels:

    • Stable channel. Everyone is on the Stable channel when they first install Google Chrome. The Stable channel is updated with features and fixes once they have been throughly tested in the Beta channel. If you want a rock solid browser but don’t need the latest features, the Stable channel is for you.
    • Beta channel. People who like to use and help refine the latest features subscribe to the Beta channel. Every month or so, we promote stable and complete features from the Dev channel to the Beta channel. The Beta channel is more stable than Dev, but may lack the polish one expects from a finished product.
    • Developer preview channel. The Dev channel is where ideas get tested (and sometimes fail). The Dev channel can be very unstable at times, and new features usually require some manual configuration to be enabled. Still, simply using Dev channel releases is an easy (practically zero-effort) way for anyone to help improve Google Chrome.

     

    Sounds like a pretty cool idea.

    They also mentioned some of the new features available for people in the dev channel (release notes here) with one of them being a move away from the WinHTTP library so they can become more platform independent (Linux/Mac)

    I finished reading the blog post and thought it was good post that communicated where they are at the moment

    As always the comments on blogs can sometimes be better than the article and a couple jumped out at me

    Blah blah blah. When’re ya gonna release a Linux version is all I care about.

     

    and

    This Article lacks a Linux version. You can help by releasing one, asap.
    Cheers,
    Torrid

     

    I actually laughed out loud at that last one

    It conjured an image in my head of someone writing a letter to customer services

    Dear Sir

    I’m writing with regard to your latest blog post about your Chrome browser

    It’s not enough that you are giving us the capability to preview upcoming features via you beta and dev channels. Nor will I accept that developing your own implementation of the HTTP network protocol shows that you have plans to make the software available on other operating systems

    The article is severely missing a Linux version!!

    I demand that you release a Linux version immediately

    I pay good money for this software……..

    Regards

     

    Can’t you tell it’s the weekend!

  • Google Chrome – First Usage Thoughts

    Yes I know it’s been out a while but yesterday was the first time I’d gotten around to installing Google Chrome. Mainly because I didn’t want to install it on a production machine (being a beta and all) so with after getting back yesterday afternoon it was the first time in ages I actually had a couple of hours with nothing specific to do!

    I’ve commented on the features that caught my eye a little while back so I’ll start there with two of the features I mentioned

    Application shortcuts

    This feature isn’t a groundbreaking technological advance but I think it’s a really great idea

    There are many places we visit on the web now that we consider applications instead of just web sites

    Google reader and Google Mail are good examples of this. If your a heavy Google mail user you would potentially have it for the entire time you have your computer on. When using it along with your other Internet activities it can get lost in the other tabs. Application shortcuts allow you to a create a desktop shortcut that launches the application in question and also removes all the browser UI fluff you don’t need (other tabs, address bar, etc)

    This also makes it appear like just another desktop application your running. The effect works quite well and when you click links within the application it’s clever enough to pass these onto a regular instance of Chrome for your browse with (again the same as a desktop application)

    I found it quite effective

    So if the IE team and the people from Firefox are listening..could you “borrow” this please?

    V8 Javascript VM

    A brand new java engine built from the ground up that does away with interpreting java code and actually compiles it

    Does this make any difference?

    Definitely

    When I tried it with GMail and Google Reader the whole experience felt “snappier” 

    As consumer test I browsed to the Sky Sports page as for years as found this page to be quite slow and it certainly made it feel more responsive. I also noticed a big difference when using Facebook

    That said I tried to buy something online last night and it just would not play ball. When I switched back to IE it went through first go

     

    I haven’t tried any of the Gears features yet so wont comment on those

    So overall it’s not bad. It won’t replace IE as my browser of choice just yet (I prefer the “premium” version of Outlook Web Access too much!) but it will certainly change my habits

    I’m thinking of using IE as my main browser but using Chrome to setup application shortcuts for my online apps.

    From a performance perspective they have definitely raised the bar so I hope the completion step do their best to get as near as possible which will be of the benefit to everyone.

    With the whole cloud computer paradigm about to explode we’ll be doing far more in the browser and application developers will be doing more interesting and complex things so we’ll be expecting a lot more from our browsers

    I’m not sure if it’s the start of a new browser war but it’ll certainly be interesting!

  • Google Chrome – One interesting bit, ok two, maybe three

    When the Internet is in full blown hype mode I usually don’t even bother to blog about it. But this I thought I’d make an exception on this one

    However, I haven’t even downloaded Chrome yet! (I have seen it in action though – some people can’t wait!)

    However, a few things caught my eye

    Application shortcuts

    Didn’t fully appreciate this when I first read about it but the Gmail blog explains it well

    If you use Gmail or Google reader (or whatever) you can create an application shortcut. The idea is that when the browser opens the page it gets rid of the all the interface elements that remind you that your working in a browser (tabs, address bar, etc) so that it looks like a regular “desktop” application

    V8 Javascript VM

    Read about it here but in a nutshell Google have started from scratch with the javascript virtual machine. If it’s as fast as they claim it will make vast improvements to the more complex web apps (have you got any friends on Facebook with a million apps installed? Fed up of waiting for that page to load?)

    Google Gears (or just Gears as it’s now known)

    When I first read about Google gears I didn’t pay it any serious attention. My initial thoughts were “offline access? if I was that bothered about offline access to my RSS feeds I’d use a desktop app!”

    I know realise i was missing the point. As well as doing lots of caching to help speed things up it’s also a local database engine. The web developer can shift some of the database load to the client and help prevent lots of trips back to the server (vastly simplified I know!)

    MySpace are using it, as are WordPress and obviously Google apps like Google Reader are using it

    The thing here though is that it’s built into the browser. Previously you had to download as an add-in for your preferred browser and I never got around to it. Have you?

    So what’s my point?

    Well I don’t really have one. As I said these features jumped out at me. They are pretty unique to Chrome. Things like tabs in separate processes, sandboxes, incognito mode, crash control and the like are appearing in the “other browsers” already

    That said if you put all three of these features together and then use some of Google’s apps it could make for an interesting experience

    I’m a pretty heavy user of Google reader, regular user of Gmail and occasional user of Google docs

    I could still keep my preferred browser (if I wanted to) and install chrome then setup application shortcuts and use chrome just for using my google apps

    I’ll get speed increases, offline access and it will behave in a similar way to a desktop program so they is a chance I wont even notice I’m using a browser!

    Anyway just thinking out loud

    I wont be installing it on my main machines just yet due to it’s brand new beta status, security flaw and questionable EULA

    My poor old laptop is looking like a candidate though

    If you want another opinion on Chrome, Vlad obviously has one (which is definitely worth a read) so take a look here

  • Could i ask for a feature please Google?

    Dear Google Reader Team,

    Could you do one of two things for me please?

    Either put an undo button somewhere or move the refresh button away from the mark all as read button…..

    Why? 

    Last night i was doing some bits and pieces, it was late and i accidently clicked the mark all as read button when i meant to press refresh

    “It’s your own stupid fault for having so many unread items”

    Hmmmm….maybe but i have a “system” for reading my feeds

    When i first get to the office while i’m having my first cup of tea and before the office actually opens i’ll browse through whats new.

    I’ll take a look at the title and the length, who has posted it, how i have the feed tagged and a couple of other factors

    Depending on these variables i’ll either mark it as read but ignore it, actually read it or mark it as unread . Then later on in the day or week(usually weekends or evenings) i have time set aside for reading blogs, books, webcasts, etc

    This does mean i can get a build up of unread posts that i think a relevant

    Now i’m sure someone is going to say, “why don’t you create an tag for the posts you want to come back to”

    The simple answer is marking a post as read/unread is a simple press of the M key. So if i’m dealing with a large number of post the keyboard shortcuts are godsend and tagging is just too many keypresses

    There’s another feature idea…..

    It would be cool if I could assign a couple of tags to shortcut keys. This would get around the problem i have and would also make my unread count look healthier!

  • So this google reader..

    After an endorsment by Vlad i figured it would rude not to check out google reader!

    So far i’m pretty impressed. I like the speed of it. One thing about a lot of web services is clicking then waiting which you obviously don’t get with a desktop reader.

    The shortcuts are a god send! I like how the tagging “just works” as i’d tried to use a combination of categories, flags and search folders in outlook to help find stuff but found it too much hassle. The ease of which you can add subscriptions whilst still in reader is great and the fact the interface is pretty similar to google mail is helpful.

     I also like that when i select a folder it shows all the items of the feeds inside. It’s something i had wished for in Outlook

    What dont i like?

    Not much to be honest. I wish there was a “mark all as unread”  (or mark selection as unread) option as i’d subscribed to a couple of feeds and they were already marked as unread. I didn’t fancy going through each item

    I also had some strange things going on..I tried added the subscribe feature to my links bar and it worked at the office but not at home. Also on some feeds (not all) when i press the ‘M’ button to toggle the read status i just get a script error. Of the ten feeds i’m current subscribed to it only happens to two, Vlad’s feed (spooky!) and the google reader team blog (even spookier!). This happens at the office and on the home pc as well

    Those problems aside my initial impression is good so i’ll run with it for a week and make the move after that

  • Bye Bye Outlook RSS

    I’ve never found an RSS reader i’ve been 100% happy with

    I started with NewsGator (online version) and tried various desktop offerings such as RSS Bandit but thought Outlook 2007 would be the answer to my prayers. I know that it doesn’t have the features that other readers have but it does mean i keep my main sources of info (email,calendar,tasks,contacts,etc) all in one happy application and i can flag and categorize items of interest and also easily shift things into OneNote

    I also cheated a little to enable me to use my PDA for keeping up

    Before i leave the office i make sure i keep Outlook open. That way when it updates the feeds they automatically get saved to the Exchange server so that when i do ActiveSync over the Internet i get them delivered to me automatically. The same applies to OWA so i can access while i’m away or at home

    The down side is that if Outlook loses it’s connection to the exchange (for whatever reason!)  i then lose that ability. As i’ve been out of the office most of this week it’s meant i’ve missed lots of stuff i normally would have read and i’ve now got loads to catch up on

    So for now i’ve going to give Google Reader ago as i know it’s quite popular and ticks all the boxes i’ve mentioned above

    For now i’ve going to just add my frequently read feeds and leave the rest in Outlook. If i’m happy i’ll move the rest across

    Anyone else using anything different am i just really late in coming to Google Reader?