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July 2, 2015

Old Google Drive Goes Missing

Last year, Google launched a new desktop interface for Google Drive. If you missed the old interface, the "settings" menu allowed you switch to the old interface by clicking "Leave the new Drive". The classic Google Drive also added a link to the new interface, so you could click "Experience the new Drive" and switch back to the new UI.

Now the "Leave the new Drive" option is missing and you can no longer switch to the old Google Drive. Even the URL for the old Google Drive doesn't work:

Google still has a help center article about "switching between versions of Google Drive", which is now outdated. "Have you noticed that your Google Drive looks different? Or are you trying to do something in Drive and the instructions don't work? This may be because there are now two versions of Google Drive on the web – a new version and a classic version. The new Google Drive is gradually rolling out to all users, but you can switch to the new version, or back to the classic version, at any time," mentions the article.

{ Thanks, Frodo Baggins. }

Customize Gmail Themes

Gmail's theme gallery added hundreds of new high-resolution photos and many of them were taken by Google employees like Romain Guy and Greg Bullock. Click "more photos" in the "pick your theme" dialog to find all the new photos. You can still use your own photos, upload photos or paste a URL.

After you select a background image, Gmail lets you customize it using 3 features: select light or dark text background, add vignette to make borders darker or you can blur the background image. The nice thing is that Gmail remembers your settings for each theme, so you don't have to adjust them every time you select a new theme.

My favorite feature is the vignette effect:

The "theme" tab from Gmail's settings page is no longer useful, now that there's a separate theme picker. All the themes used to be displayed there, but now the tab only includes a link to "set theme".

"Your inbox is home to some of your most meaningful and entertaining messages — from that acceptance letter, to those throwback photos — so we think it's important for Gmail to feel just as personal (and fun!)," says Google. To make Gmail more fun, Google also added emojis for almost every occasion.

June 29, 2015

Earth View Update

Google has a cool Chrome extension called Earth View, which replaces the new tab page with a stunning satellite image from Google Earth. The latest release brings a lot of new features: there are 500 new images, you can see the images from the last 10 tabs you've opened, there's a download feature in the menu and a sharing button. You can share images on Google+, Facebook, Twitter or copy the URL and paste it somewhere else.

How to see the images from the last 10 tabs you've opened? Just mouse over the bottom of the new tab page and click "recent imagery". You should see a list of 10 clickable thumbnails.

If you don't want to install the extension or you use a different browser, there's a web gallery that shows all the 1500 images. Click the arrow button or use the left/right keyboard shortcuts to navigate between images. There's also a slideshow feature called "leanback mode".

"Earth View is a collection of the most striking and enigmatic landscapes available in Google Earth. The colors, shapes, textures and patterns all contribute to the strange beauty of our planet, reminding us of nature’s uncanny geometry and bewildering simplicity. Each of the 1500 images featured in this collection was hand curated and available for download as wallpaper for your desktop or mobile," informs Google.

Google Earth celebrates its 10th birthday and the desktop software adds a new layer called Voyager, which integrates Earth View, Street View highlights, 3D cities, a map of recently published satellite images and a tour that shows a few of the thousands of Voyager locations to choose from.

June 25, 2015

Listen Again in Google Translate

Emanuele Bartolomucci, a reader of this blog, noticed an interesting feature in Google Translate. If you click the "listen" button next to the text you want to translate or the translation, Google converts the text into speech. Click "listen" again and the speed decreases, probably because Google assumes that you are listening again to better get the correct pronunciation. It's like asking Google: "Could you speak more slowly, please?"

If you click "listen" the third time, Google goes back to the normal speed. Click again and the speed decreases. The two text-to-speech versions alternate.

I've checked Google Translate's URLs and the second version has the following parameter: "ttsspeed=0.24", which changes the text-to-speech speed.

{ Thanks, Emanuele. }

Classic Google Maps, No Longer Available

Classic Google Maps has been replaced by Google Maps Lite back in April, but there were a few URLs you could use to access it. Now they no longer work, so you'll have to get used to the new interface or switch to a different service like Bing Maps or There are still various sites that use features from the Classic Maps, including Google's own Map Maker.

Last week, I had to print some directions in Google Maps and I realized that the classic Google Maps had a much better printing feature. You could include a map for each step or add Street View imagery. The new Google Maps offers two options: print text only or print including maps. There are fewer maps included since directions are now grouped and you can no longer customize each step.

Google's Updated Privacy Policy

Google has recently changed its privacy policy and there's a page that shows the differences. It's not clear if there are actual changes or the updated privacy policy only clarifies some existing features.

The new privacy policy states that information like your name, email address, phone number or credit card could be stored with your Google account, which is not something new. Another change is that the "cookies and anonymous identifiers" section is now called "cookies and similar technologies", which is a broader title.

The following text:
We and our partners use various technologies to collect and store information when you visit a Google service, and this may include sending one or more cookies or anonymous identifiers to your device.
... has been replaced with:
We and our partners use various technologies to collect and store information when you visit a Google service, and this may include using cookies or similar technologies to identify your browser or device.
Basically, Google removed all the references to "anonymous identifiers" from the privacy policy and replaced them with "similar technologies", which includes anonymous identifiers, but also HTML5 Local Storage, local shared objects (Flash cookies), Web beacons and more. The privacy policy clearly states that Google can use cookies and similar technologies to identify your browser or device. Google says that it uses "these technologies to collect and store information when you interact with services we offer to our partners, such as advertising services or Google features that may appear on other sites."

There's also a new paragraph:
Information we collect when you are signed in to Google may be associated with your Google Account. When information is associated with your Google Account, we treat it as personal information. For more information about how you can access, manage or delete information that is associated with your Google Account, visit the Transparency and choice section of this policy.

June 24, 2015

Undo Send Graduates From Gmail Labs

After spending 6 years in Gmail Labs, "undo send" is now a regular Gmail feature. You can find it in the settings, bellow "send and archive". The feature is disabled by default, but it's enabled if you've already used the Gmail Labs feature.

So what's so great about "undo send"? Gmail doesn't send email immediately and there's a short delay that lets you undo sending the message, just in case you changed your mind, you noticed a mistake or you picked the wrong sender. There are 4 options for the cancellation period: 5 seconds, 10 seconds, 20 seconds and 30 seconds.

After sending a message, you'll get an "Undo" link next to "Your message has been sent". If you click the "Undo" link, you can edit the message, save it as a draft or delete it.

"Undo send" has been recently added to Google Inbox for desktop and mobile. Mashable reports that Gmail's mobile apps will also add this feature: "Google said it will roll out the feature to mobile in the future but didn't elaborate on the timeline."

Add Google Drive Files to Google Calendar Events

The latest version of the Google Calendar app for iOS brings a few useful features, catching up with the Android app.

You can now add Google Drive files to calendar events in the iOS app, as well as the desktop Google Calendar site. This feature was already available in the Android app since February and in Google Calendar Labs since 2009. "Event attachments" graduated from Labs and it's now available for everyone (including developers).

If a Drive file isn't shared with all the guests, you'll see a prompt and you can change how the file is shared.

Here's a screenshot from the desktop site (the feature may not seem new if you've used the Event Attachments feature from Google Calendar Labs):

Another feature already available in the Android app is the 7-day view, which lets you see more events at a glance. You can now switch to the 7-day view in the iOS app and customize your calendar with week numbers in the settings.

Google takes advantages of the improved notification features from iOS8 and adds interactive notifications for events, so you can email guests or view the map without having to open Google Calendar first.

June 23, 2015

Picasa Web Albums, Back to the Future

Picasa Web Albums is fully functional again. The site no longer redirects to Google+ Photos and the search feature works, at least for personal photos and videos. The search feature was removed in 2013.

I thought that Google will discontinue the service and replace it with Google Photos, since Google+ is no longer required. For now, Picasa Web Albums is here to stay and that's surprising.

Google+: Then and Now

Here are 2 screenshots that show the importance of Google+ today and a few years ago. Back in 2013, Google changed the navigation bar and added an app launcher: the first shortcut was for Google+.

Google has recently tweaked the app launcher. The first shortcut is now for "My Account", followed by Search, Maps, YouTube, Play, News, Gmail, Drive and Calendar. Google+ is now the 10th shortcut, right next to Google Translate and Google Photos. This is the default app launcher for new users and those that haven't customized it:

Here's the 2013 app launcher for logged-in users:

And the same app launcher today: