Strange But Awesome: Google Maps Monopoly

Starting tomorrow, Monopoly will expand its vast collection of game variations to its biggest “board” yet – Google Maps. That’s right, as of September 9th, you can play Monopoly on Google Maps.

google_maps_monopoly

While all the details are still fuzzy, as of this post the game is set to release around 1pm EST. What we do know is that this will be a full out Monopoly game – except that you could, in theory, purchase the street you actually live on! If my understanding is correct, almost all streets and places on Google Maps will be “playable” in the game. You can build houses, charge rent, and even test your luck with the famous Chance cards.

Be sure to check out the official blog for more details and game rules, and definitely keep checking the website tomorrow for the official release.  Another fine move by Google to think out of the box, uniting a classic game with the web service we have grown dependant upon.

Goodbye Firefox, Hello Google Chrome

As a raving Firefox fan for years, I can’t believe I’m writing this post. My love for all Mozilla products has always been because they “just work”. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case for me.

Over the past week, Firefox has been acting up – mainly sluggish page loads and running processes, even after the browser has been closed. Basically, this just means that I can’t run Firefox again until I end the process in Task Manager.

Google Chrome has been my #2 browser for several months, so I decided to give it a try. Within a day of serious use, I’m sold. As I posted earlier, Google is planning an entire OS built on the Chrome idea – browser/desktop integration. Chrome makes a great start with my current favorite feature – application shortcuts.

Take any website you visit, add an application shortcut, and you’ve now got a shortcut right on your desktop. Clicking this will open your page in a special Chrome page that’s set apart from normal browsing. This way, you can essentially add shortcuts to your favorite sites, saving a few steps if you just want to check your Gmail, Facebook or Twitter (or your Joupes account!).

google chrome application shortcuts

JavaScript effects and plugins (like LightBox) are faster in Chrome than any other browser I’ve used. Page surfing is smooth and fast-loading. Despite it’s limited customization, Chrome looks good and the lack of buttons works to its advantage by freeing up lots of real estate. Other little design features like the downloads section, highlighted entry text boxes and “Most Visited” (much like the Fast Dial plugin for Firefox) links are icing on the cake.

google chrome downloads

Well done, Google. You’ve won me over. I look forward to you doing the same thing when Google Chrome OS comes out.

Recover Google Password With SMS

In keeping with the theme from the past few posts, Google has just introduced an easy way to recover your password.  Hopefully you’ll never have to use this – but just in case, it’s nice to have it set up.

To activate this feature, just go to your Google Account page.  Click here to go to it, as I’m sure many of you have never seen this page before (I hadn’t).  Then, just click “Change password recovery options” and add your mobile number.

password_recovery

Be sure to keep this number updated, as switching mobile numbers could result in your reset code being sent to a random person.

Google Announces Plans for Operating System

Today, Google announced their plans to release an operating system dubbed Chrome OS.  So far, it’s mainly targeted at netbooks, though there are plans for release on all computers.  As with the nature of Google, the focus will be simplicity and effective use.  That is, it will be visually very basic, lightweight, and very user friendly compared to (though they didn’t mention it by name) Windows.

One of the neat things about this planned OS is the focus on a “webtop” environment.  I think Google is the perfect company to dive into this – making email, web browsing, and file access easier and quicker than ever.  As someone who uses every major Google web application (Gmail, Docs, Reader, Calendar, and Maps) quite frequently (and on my Blackberry), I have to say that I’m very excited about this.

Now, I’m not going to even begin to speculate on how Chrome OS will operate.  I think that anyone who does so is a fool – Google has shown us again and again why we shouldn’t predict with them.  They blow us away with simplicity.

Bottom line, I think we have something very exciting in store just around the corner.  Get pumped.  They have taken on a massive project, though.  Even though the technology world is abuzz and tweeting like crazy about this release, the vast majority of desktop users won’t be ready to switch their OS for years.  This isn’t a big deal now – face it, this OS is for the people already using netbooks and web applications.  However, if they are going to truly change the way operating systems work, they will have to prove that they have a safer, simpler, and more reliable alternative to Windows.

What do you think are the major obstacles that lie on the road between Google and a successful Chrome OS launch?  Will they succeed?  Will it be a worthy opponent to Windows?  To OS X?  Unix?!

Startlike – “Your passion. Your startpage.”

Before I officially start this post, I want to make a few things very clear.  First, I am a big fan of Startlike.  Since they are based in Columbia, SC, I feel like it’s necessary to also say that it has nothing to do with their location (or the recent BigPrize project!).  Basically, I just want you to know that this isn’t a suck-up post (though I would never say no to a t-shirt).

So what is Startlike, and why do I like it so much?  It’s pretty simple.  Startlike is a customized homepage, featuring a daily photo from the category of your choice.  Essentially, it gives you a great looking homepage with a Google search bar, news, customized and quick links to your email and Facebook.  You can choose your favorite category from Exotic Escapes, Golf, Hunting and Fishing, SCUBA Diving, Skiing, Space and Astronomy, and The Great Outdoors.  After selecting one of these, you’ll see a different image from that category each day.  You can also link your Starlike page to Facebook to get a more personalized experience and share images easily.

OK, so why does Startlike fit me so well?  Well, it’s simple.  Usually, when I start Firefox, I have a few shortcuts that I immediately open in tabs (I find it easier than starting each in a tab, as this slows FF on startup).  Coincidentally (or not?) enough, they are Gmail, Facebook, and my Google web suite – Reader, Calendar, Analytics, and usually the search page.  With Startlike, I get all this (thanks to my quick links), as well as customized news and, most importantly, the daily picture.

Now, I’m a little different than most computer geeks.  I love love love love love pictures of nature, natural phenomena, and golf courses.  As a college kid who spends way too much money to play horribly on the course, I like to soak up the beauty of the different courses when I play.  Every desktop (work, home, school) I have is complete with either a majestic ice mountain, a great looking beach, or a fresh, dew-dropped golf course.  Now my homepage has a different one each day!

Anyway, even if you are a web hermit, you owe it to yourself to use Startlike.  If nothing else, your white start page will be replaced by a gorgeous picture from something that interests you.  So get started.  Now.

Why I Love Gmail S’Darn Much

I love Gmail.  LOVE IT.  I’ts awesome.  In fact, if it were a 19 year old girl, she’d be smokin’ hot and I’d ask her to dinner.  Alas, it’s not, and I’m left to express my love in other ways and search for a non-Ajax based lady friend.

Labels

Gmail labels are a great way to get organized.  Essentially, labels are to emails what categories are to blog posts.  When an email comes in, you can add labels to it.  Once a label is added, a little tag with the label name will appear next to the email on your inbox page.

Now, if this is where labels stopped, I wouldn’t be writing this – it’d be kind of useless.  However, Gmail allows you to customize label foreground and background colors, so that you immediately know the label of an email.  Plus it makes your inbox look cool.  Still, the real beauty of labels comes when you use it with filters.

Filters

Filters are, in my opinion, the most useful feature of Gmail.  Since I use my Gmail account to send and receive messages for all my other email accounts, sorting email can be time-consuming.   Filters allow you to create…well…filters for your email.

First, you specify conditions.  You can do this by specifying a “From” email address, a “To” address, by subject, or simply words.  After that, you choose what you would like Gmail to do with these emails.  This can be anything from marking them as read, archiving them, applying labels, etc.  I generally choose to apply labels based on the sender.  So, if eBay sends me a confirmation email, it is tagged “ebay” and assigned a yellow label in my inbox.  This works for email accounts too – my university mail comes through labeled “usc”.

gmail_filters_labels

Contacts

Now, there’s nothing particularly amazing about Gmail contacts.  The magic comes with synchronization.  Google Sync for the mobile phone is a great example.  Contacts sync with your phone, updating email addresses and phone numbers.  It’s great to have those addresses on your mobile, since you can text-to-email pictures and send mobile emails.  Since you can set up multiple accounts in your main Gmail account, you end up getting a lot more contacts from all over in one place.

Stars

The idea of adding stars to emails is really quite simple, but it’s a very important feature – at least for me.  I’m a big user of the “Mark as Unread” button (both in Gmail and Facebook!) but adding stars is a nice addition.  If an email needs my attention for several days, or if I was emailed some important information that I need to reference later, I can simply star it.  All starred emails are in a separate folder right under your inbox count on the left sidebar.

Tasks

This is a feature that is currently available in Labs.  You can actually also add Tasks to your Google Calendar, but more on that later.  The neat thing about the Tasks feature is that, unlike lots of other to-do lists built into webmail, it’s always available but out of the way at the same time.  Tasks acts a lot like Facebook chat – it stays minimized at the bottom of your window until you maximize it.  From there, just click on a new line and start typing away.

Backup Contacts With Google Sync

A friend of mine (@mindstorms6) showed me how he uses Google Sync to backup his phone contacts to his Gmail account.  Like many Google mobile applications, I have found this suprisingly very useful.

I am always paranoid about losing contacts.  My phone is strictly for personal use, but I still have over 100 entries (including numbers, email addresses, etc) in the Address Book.  The thing is, even though I try and save them to the SIM card, they usually automatically save to the phone or switch when I add a picture or ringtone to the entry.  In addition, lakes, pools, and other natural beauties provide more cause to stress.

Anyway, Google Sync provides a free (except for data plan charges of course) way to backup all your phone contacts.  Simply download the program (or click here if you’re on your phone – iPhone, Blackberry, etc) and set your synchronize settings.  Next thing you know, all of your phone contacts will be listed in the “Contacts” section of your Gmail account.

And just like that, my stress is gone.  Enjoy.

Gmail RSS Feeds

I noticed something this morning when I went to check my email that I’ve never seen before.  Firefox automatically tries to detect the RSS feed for a webpage.  If it happens to find one, it places an RSS icon in the URL bar – making it easy to subscribe to pages, even if the author didn’t put an easily identifiable link.

Gmail has one of these icons in the URL bar.  Apparently, you can “subscribe” to your email – basically getting alerts each time you receive an email.  You might wonder when you would use this – especially since you don’t have to refresh the page for new emails to come in.  However, by subscribing through Live Bookmarks, then placing the bookmark on your toolbar, you can close out of Gmail – thus saving on system resources, tab space, and optimizing your browser for the ever more popular ideal – simplicity.

gmail_live_bookmarks

Subscribe to your own Gmail RSS feed.

Google Profiles – Simple, Summarized and Searchable

Google announced yesterday that Profiles now appear in name search results at the bottom of the page. For me, at least, this is fantastic news. Since I share the name of an NBA player, getting my sites to appear on the first result page of a search on “Ryan Bowen” has been all but impossible.

As soon as I heard the news, I googled my name.  I was very pleased to see my Google Profile and picture on the first page.

2009-05-06_1615172

If you haven’t yet created your Google Profile, I’d suggest it.  It’s pretty straightforward – like a simplified Facebook, where you can add services (like Flickr streams) and links to your social networks.

Google Profiles

You Too Can Cloud Compute – With Google!

You’ve heard it before.  From podcasts and blogs to tweets and sharply dressed men on TV, if you’re into technology, you’ve heard the term cloud computing.  In case you haven’t, or you have no clue what it means, let me explain.

Basically, cloud computing is the idea that instead of using external, flash, or hard drives, everything you do on the computer will be saved online (in a “cloud”), where it can be accessed from anywhere.  So, if you type up a paper at home, you can access it from work or school without having to save it to a flash drive and check your pockets every 5 minutes to make sure you have it.

One of the most obvious problems with cloud computing is the fact that it’s a lot quicker to save something to a physical hard drive than to wait for it to upload to a web server, depending on your internet speed.  Google, as always, is not only taking the initial steps in making cloud computing a reality, but also finding solutions to this problem.  Currently, Google offers many web services for the collection of personal online items – Gmail, Picasa, Reader, Docs, and Calendar.  All of these free services allow the user to store their materials online.

As I said though, Google is making great strides in online document storage.  Instead of working on a report in a text editor and uploading the document to your web space, you can just type it up within Google Docs (and it saves as you type, so you don’t even have to worry about a power surge, dead battery, or crash).  Don’t worry about using a desktop email client to receive your messages from different email accounts, Gmail gives you 5 gigs of space and allows sending and receiving from multiple addresses.

Google has finally mentioned the new service (GDrive?) that has been rumored for years.  Rumor has it that this online file storage will free (if not expand) the 6 gigs of space (currently restricted to Gmail and Picasa) so that users can store any files.  If so, this will be a big hit to online backup or storage companies – but a big step for cloud computing.

So far, we can save email, documents, photos, schedules and news clips online.  We can use online services to do many of the things that formerly required a desktop program.  And now, with the release of Chrome, web browsers are beginning to behave like operating systems.

So what’s next?  What’s the future look like for operating systems and computer desktops?