Call phones from gmail

So today, I got all excited because gmail introduced this new facility where you can call phones from within gmail using their chat facility. I installed the necessary plugin and fired it up. Google generously credited me with a whole 10 US cents of airtime. I called my South African cell phone number, and it rang! So now all I needed to do was buy some airtime and I could start calling, and that’s where it all fucked out.

When I clicked the link to add airtime, google informed me that my country was not yet supported. So, there’s this wonderful VoIP facility right there in my gmail but I can’t do shit with it until google decides to get off its fat ass and take my money.

Check out the google blog entry.

Google vs China

Yesterday, Google reacted strongly to what it alleges is widespread surveillance by the Chinese government of the gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists all over the world.

According to a blog post on the Official Google blog posted on January 12 2010, Google detected “a highly sophisticated and targeted attack” on their corporate infrastructure originating from China in mid December 2009. Google alleges that the cyber attack was successful in stealing intellectual property. In addition, Google discovered that 20+ other large companies had also been targeted by the Chinese attack.

Further investigation by Google has allegedly revealed that the Chinese cyber attacks had as its real goal the hacking of gmail accounts belonging to Chinese human rights activists. This led Google to discover that many such gmail accounts had already been comprised and were regularly accessed by (unauthorised) third parties.

It is clear from Google’s post that they feel the Chinese government has abused the trust they once shared, and as a direct result of that breach in trust, Google has now decided that it is no longer prepared to dance with China. Google has announced that they are now no longer willing to offer a localised Google.cn, which is censored, and if that means ending its operations in China, then so be it.

Will Google ChromeOS compete with conventional operating systems?

Perhaps, but it’s too early to tell.

Earlier this year in July, Google announced on their blog that they were building a new operating system, The Google Chrome Operating System, or ChromeOS for short. Yesterday, Google announced on their blog that they are open sourcing ChromeOS and they published a whole bunch of videos to YouTube describing their vision and released their source code to the public.

Google’s idea, in a nutshell, is that they believe there is demand for an operating system that is really fast, really secure and exists purely to facilitate Internet access. All user created data is stored in the cloud, in fact on Google’s servers. All applications are web applications. So the only thing installed on the computer is the operating system. Everything else is accessed via the Internet.

Is such an operating system competition for Windows, Linux, Apple Macs?

Well, for starters, Google’s ChromeOS is not going to be designed to run on any old white box pc, like Windows and Linux are. ChromeOS is going to have custom firmware and a narrowly defined hardware specification, because that is necessary to achieve its goals of fast boot and security. Businesses which deployed ChromeOS based workstations, would have to be comfortable with storing their data on Google’s servers instead of their own, unless Google builds a ChromeOS server, but that is not currently envisaged.

So the market for ChromeOS seems to be people who are prepared to accept a machine that is very locked down, runs a limited set of applications and is tightly integrated with Google’s online services.

Personally, it doesn’t hold much appeal for me because I want to be able to play games on my PC for relaxation. Yes, it is true that a lot of what I do depends on having an Internet connection, but not everything. If my Internet connection is unavailable, I still have access to all my data, which allows me to continue developing applications, for instance. It seems to me, that ChromeOS is so tied to the Net, that if it loses it’s connection then the box running it reverts to being a giant paperweight.

If ChromeOS was developed to run on a wider range of hardware, store its data on user chosen servers and allow continued productivity if the Net connection is lost, it would be of greater interest.

UPDATE:
This Wired article (Why Google Should Cool It With Chrome OS) agrees with me and suggests that Google ChromeOS should be engineered to co-exist with other operating systems on NetBooks so that people can enjoy a hybrid experience.

Firefox add-on Search Cloudlet for Google and Yahoo

This is a truly innovative add-on for the Firefox web browser, that is causing me to rethink my use of Google Chrome as my browser of choice.

Currently Google Chrome does not support add-ons, but apparently will in the future.

With the Search Cloudlet add-on, when you search with either Google or Yahoo, you will get a tag cloud generated which summarises your search results into a tag cloud. The tag cloud comprises all the keywords relevant to your search term. Clicking a tag, adds it to your search terms and refreshes the search with results which zero in on what you want.

You can also see which sites are represented in the search results.

This add-on was written by a research organisation - The International Software and Productivity Engineering Institute (INTSPEI).

Google assassinates Wikipedia from its (grassy) Knol

The web has lit up with stories about Google’s release of its alleged Wikipedia killer, Knol, yesterday.

However, despite the numerous comparisons drawn between Knol and Wikipedia, upon investigation, it appears to me that Knol is a very different beast to Wikipedia.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how to classify Knol. One can describe its features and abilities, and yet still not arrive at a correct classification because ultimately to correctly identify what Knol represents to the web world it is not so much what it can do but how it will ultimately be used which is relevant, and that is so very very much dependent on us.

Will people adopt Knol in great numbers?

Knol’s stated aim is to be a repository of authoritative articles written by users with expert knowledge in the topic.

On Wikipedia a topic is covered by one article authored and edited by numerous users. On Knol a topic can be covered by numerous articles authored by numerous different people. Although collaboration is possible on Knol, by default any edits made must be approved by the article’s owner (the person who created the article).

Wikipedia’s editors work on a purely voluntary basis and receive no remuneration whatsoever. Knol, however, has a revenue sharing model whereby a Knol user can associate their Adsense account with their Knol account and earn ad revenue from their Knol articles.

Knol also allows articles of a commercial nature to be published, for instance, covering your own business interests. Wikipedia, by contrast, strongly discourages editors from editing articles in which they have a personal interest to avoid having to deal with the conflict of interest issues that arise. Wikipedia also demands that articles meet notability requirements. Those articles which do not are deleted. Wikipedia articles also may not contain original research. Knol makes no such demand.

So, it’s clear that Knol is a very different beast to Wikipedia entirely and I therefore posit that Knol will fulfill a very different function. It will not become an encyclopedic reference that Wikipedia is.

Personally, so far Knol does not appeal to me. For starters, there’s very little content on it as yet. There’s no active community to interact with. There are also no stats associated with Knols, so I cannot even tell how many times a knol I author is viewed. I want full metrics on all Knols I author, so that I can tell whether it is worth my while expending the effort on the site.

Google now offers so many publishing tools that I’m sure some may be getting confused as to which online publishing tool is best suited to them. Google also offers personal blogs, Google Pages, and Google Sites (collaborative Wikis).

FURTHER READING:
Google’s Knol Launches: Like Wikipedia, With Moderation