Google’s latest tool syncs your browser settings and favorites

The newest addition to Google LabsGoogle Browser Sync – allows you to sync your browser favorites, cookies, passwords and more between different machines. This is one tool I personally have been looking forward to for a long time…

Unfortunately for IE users, GBS currently works only on Firefox. It offers various options to restrict the data you want to share and can also encrypt it if needed. Go check it out and while you're there, check out the other cool stuff they have for Mozilla Firefox users!

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Google Spreadsheets: taking aim at MS Office

After offering an online alternative to Word by acquiring the online word processor Writely, Google has now launched Google Spreadsheets as an online rival to Excel. NYTimes reports:

  • It would make it possible for as many as 10 people to simultaneously edit a spreadsheet document online and chat about it using Google’s instant messaging program.
  • The new service will be able to handle several hundred formulas used to manipulate data in Excel, but not more complex functions like macros.
  • The ability for many people to collaborate was quite different from the standard method of e-mailing files back and forth.

It allows uploads of existing Excel or Comma-separated values (CSV) files and your work can be exported into Excel, CSV or HTML formats. The service currently lacks charts functionality but one can imagine a creative mind at Google linking up the Spreadsheets with Google Gapminder (covered in an earlier post) to create professional charts.

These tools can really open up the vistas for online collaborative working especially between people in different locations / countries. Also, the startup costs and installation efforts are minimal (zero!) enabling mass adoption in developing economies.

Online page design tips

Eyetrack has some interesting research findings and tips on Article-Level Page Design:

  • When readers encountered a story with an introductory paragraph, 95 percent of them read all or part of the introductory paragraph.
  • Those who spent time carefully reading the introductory paragraph of a story on article-level pages typically spent little time with the full story. Those who gave the intro paragraphs little time usually spent even less time with the story text.
  • Shorter paragraphs encouraged testers to continue reading.
  • Story text in one-column format was read more extensively than story text presented in a “newspaper-like” multiple-column format.
  • Subheads in online stories had little affect on how much of the first or top portion of the story was read when the reader’s interest was strongest. However, subheads increased reading for “skimmers” and for those whose attention in a story was beginning to wane.
  • When readers got to an article-level page, they seemed to be there to view the text. Overall, participants’ eyes fixated on the story or other text elements before the accompanying image.

They also have detailed results on everything from eye-viewing patterns to headlines and font size. Useful resource!

Download movies to DVD

Just finished reading a Yahoo news story about how movie studios are finally offering download to DVD technology that will allow users to play downloaded movies on their TVs. As is usually the case, the Adult Film Industry is again taking the lead in this initiative – Vivid has signed up with CinemaNow to offer movies for download to DVD. CinemaNow already offers movies from major Hollywood studios as well but those are restricted to playing on the PC.

NYT also has an article: “Can TV’s and PC’s Live Together Happily Ever After?” where they analyze the 4 important roadblocks to this concept taking off:

  • limitations in broadband infrastructure
  • the degree of readiness among electronics makers to provide a product with mass appeal
  • the behavior of consumers and
  • the agenda of the players in the TV ecosystem.

The reality is that just as the MP3, i-Pod and i-Tunes trio dismantled the traditional way of music distribution, if the movie studios don’t figure out a way to offer movies for download, someone else will.

I can think of 2 ways that such movies can be distributed:

  • a commercial-free premium version which can be purchased/rented in the same way and for about the same price as a regular DVD.
  • an advertising-supported free version which would be supported by highly targeted ads which the viewer is obliged to watch. The studios would have the complete demographic details of the viewers and would place highly relevant ads. Viewers would have an “add to shopping cart” button on their remotes, thus queuing any items which they like for check-out after the movie completes. To take it a step further viewers would even be able to pause Top Gun and buy Tom Cruise’s aviator sunglasses (as forecasted brilliantly by Bill Gates 10 years back in his amazing book The Road Ahead)

NYT: Going online for savings

NYT has an interesting article on online savings banks, covering most of the popular ones like HSBC, ING Direct, Emigrant and Citibank. These banks have started offering upto 4.8% yields in some cases, which at zero-risk (since these are FDIC-insured) makes this a better investment option as compared to several mutual funds / stocks.

My personal favorite is HSBC with its clean interface, trustworthiness, ATM withdrawals and competitive interest rates. They had an offer where you got a $25 bonus by entering the promo code start while filling in your application [thanks Spoofee, for the tip] although I am not sure whether its working now.

Capture streaming video for free using Videolan

PCMag recently had an article suggesting using Replay A/V (a shareware tool for $50) for capturing streaming audio / video streams. I was left scratching my head why they didn't suggest a wonderful free tool like Videolan. Here's the lowdown on using Videolan to capture video streams:

  1. Download and install Videolan for PC/Mac/Linux.
  2. Click on File > Open Network Stream.
  3. In the dialog box click on "HTTP/HTTPS/FTP/MMS" and type in the URL of the network stream you want to record.
    Videolan Open Network Stream Dialog
  4. Select the "Stream output" checkbox and click the Settings button.
  5. In the dialog box select the File option and browse to create a file for the stream to be written to. Leave all the settings as they are.
    Videolan Stream Output to File
  6. That's it! Click on OK twice and the stream will be written to the file. You can stop anytime you want. For best results use Videolan when playing the file.

Tomorrow: recording MP3's from online radio stations for free!

WSJ: Judge okays surfing at work

WSJ has an interesting article on a NY Judge ruling on an employee taken to court for surfing at work. Judge Spooner ruled that “the internet has become the modern equivalent of a telephone or a daily newspaper, providing a combination of communication and information that most employees use as frequently in their personal lives as for work.” And city agencies, he noted, let workers make personal calls as long as they don’t interfere with their jobs.

The Real Time column goes on conclude that:

“…it’s a mix of things, including the productivity gains of information technology substantially outweighing the losses of high-tech goofing off; the fact that the workday has always included a certain amount of goofing off; and the likelihood that workers aren’t any more slothful than they’ve ever been. If anything, perhaps they’re more efficient about doing whatever they shouldn’t be doing: Buying a book for your nephew almost certainly takes less time clicking around Amazon than running out to the mall bookstore on your lunch hour.

But here’s the thing that should give office workers toasting Judge Spooner pause: While the Internet has let us bring our personal lives into the office in new ways, it’s also let our office follow us once we leave. Witness your coworker ignoring his beer because he’s Blackberrying, or your spouse in bed with a VPN-connected laptop propped against her knees. And therein lies the other half of the emerging bargain. If surfing the Web is OK in the office, you’ve got no cause to carp when the boss wonders why you didn’t respond to that 8 p.m. email.”

🙂