Archive | Apps RSS for this section

Flipboard for Android gets updated to support sound playback in Audio category

Flipboard has just announced that its Android app now supports content in the Audio category, including NPR’s Fresh Air and more. The audio feature also allows for the playback of SoundCloud content if you connect it up to Flipboard.

There is a music note in the top bar of the section that you can use to control your audio. Audio was launched as a part of Flipboard back in May of this year, when they added music, podcasts, news and more for playback while you browse other content. At that time, it launched partnerships with National Public Radio and Public Radio International, as well as SoundCloud.

The update also brings some bug fixes and performance improvements.

Microsoft Debuts Skype For Windows 8: Offers Modern Design, Live Tiles & Focus On Tight Windows 8 Integration

Days ahead of its official release, Microsoft has announced a new version of Skype built especially for Windows 8. The app is being made available in the Windows Store, and once installed, it will display on the Start screen as a Live Tile showing missed calls and messages.

Like other Microsoft apps, Skype’s look-and-feel is that of what would have formerly been called “Metro Design,” before the trademark dispute with a German retailer. There has been a little confusion as to whether we should refer to the style as the generic-sounding “Modern Design” or the even more generic “Windows 8-style UI,” perhaps. But today’s Skype blog post appears to clear that up. (Skype is owned by Microsoft). It declares “Modern Design” the winner, apparently.

The new app places recent chats and calls front-and-center, as they’re the first things you’ll see when the app goes live. You can also build out a list of favorites, and these then appear on the app’s homescreen with big thumbnails next to your full list of contacts. To begin a call or chat, you simply tap or click on your friend’s profiles. These contacts are also integrated with Windows 8′s nativePeople app, so all of your Skype’s contacts will display in this central address book, even if you had not created contacts for them. You can kick off Skype calls from the app itself, too, as contacts’ info will be updated with their Skype details when the app is installed. Note that this requires you to log into Skype using your Microsoft account.

Skype for Windows 8 also now includes an integrated dial pad for calling landlines, and shows the amount of Skype Credit you have remaining as well as your active subscriptions, if any. Recent calls display next to the dial pad, so you can easily phone your regular contacts again.

The app runs in the background on Windows 8, and will display a pop-up notification when you have new calls or incoming messages. As you use the app, you can also browse the web, look at photo, use maps and more while chatting, by taking advantage of Windows 8′s “snap” feature that lets you quickly place two applications side-by-side.

A closer look at the update is included in the video below.

Chrome OS matures, but it’s not a Jedi-level operating system yet

The good: Chrome OS continues to mature, as regular updates bring rapid improvement to the browser-based operating system. New changes we like include Google Play integration and 100GB of Google Drive storage for free.

The bad: Chrome OS continues to be hamstrung by familiar limitations: popular cross-platform programs like Skype don’t work, Chrome is terrible with large numbers of tabs, and non-Google sites can’t be easily integrated as apps.

The bottom line: Chrome OS struggles with the delineation between apps and Web sites, even though they are fast growing together. Great for students and casual home use, the day is coming when it’ll be competitive, but it’s not yet a replacement for a more mature OS.

Installation
Installation is not an issue for the Chrome OS since it comes preinstalled. There is a simple setup procedure, however. When you start up your system, it’s recommended that you sign in using a Google account. You’re not required to, and if you’d prefer, you can opt for the Guest mode.

Guest mode in Chrome OS cleverly uses the Chrome browser’s trackless browsing mode, called Incognito. Incognito prevents guest users from leaving any traces of their session, as well as keeping them from making any changes to your apps and other settings.

After choosing your log-in method, you’re asked to read through and accept the EULA. This will only appear for the initial log-in; it won’t show up for subsequent uses and users. Next, you can take a photo of yourself with the Webcam, use a provided icon, or use your current Google account avatar. Gone from previous versions is the mandated Webcam photo. It took our avatar about 30 seconds to synchronize our existing account avatar from the cloud.

Chrome then takes anywhere from 30 to 60 seconds to synchronize your Google settings, if any, and then the computer is ready to be used. There’s no doubt that the EULA is annoying, but we’ve never seen another new, unused operating system start so quickly.

Interface
Google has clearly spent some serious time developing the new interface. It looks and feels like a personal computer, finally, where before it was little more than a full-screen browser. There’s an actual desktop that looks a bit cribbed from Windows 7, with Chrome-the-browser pinned to the far left of the Launcher, and other apps pinned right next to it.

While most of the desktop has been designed to feel like modern personal computers, the App List brings a more mobile flair to the new Chrome OS layout.While most of the desktop has been designed to feel like modern personal computers, the App List brings a more mobile flair to the new Chrome OS layout.(Credit: Google)

The desktop itself shows only your background by default, but a Tic-Tac-Toe-style icon on the Launcher reveals all your installed apps over the desktop background. When you install an app, it’ll appear here. The lower-right corner shows the time, Internet connection status, battery status, and shows your Google account avatar to indicate who’s logged in. Click the avatar to show shutdown options and reveal more information and settings.

You can customize the background with one of several dozen options, or upload your own image. However, it must be either locally stored or in your Google Drive — it won’t pull in an image from a service like Facebook.

All the Settings have been moved to open in their own tabs, but you probably knew this from using Chrome-the-browser. Changes made in the browser tend to be reflected in Chrome OS about a month or so later.

The look of Chrome has changed remarkably little since its surprise debut in September 2008. Tabs are on top, the location bar — which Google likes to call the Omnibar — dominates the minimalist design, and the browser has few visible control buttons besides Back, Forward, and a combined Stop/Reload button.

On Chrome OS, the upper-right corner of the browser hosts a square icon and an X. The X is to close the browser window. Drag the box down to minimize the browser, drag it to the edges to “snap” it to the side and make it half the width of your screen, or click it to switch from windowed mode to full-screen mode. The window snap is another cue taken from Windows 7, but it’s a clever and intuitive one, and works well in Chrome.

The interface’s strongest point is also its weakness. What works well in the browser works well here, but the faults of one are reflected in the other, too. Some controls, such as page zoom, are readily available from the “wrench” options menu. Others, such as the extension manager, are hidden away under a Tools submenu. Hiding essentials like that remains an odd design choice to make. As is true about every aspect of this operating system, updates are much more likely to tweak the layout and design of the interface.

Chrome’s extensions are fairly limited in how they can alter the browser’s interface. Unlike Firefox, which gives add-on makers a lot of leeway to change the browser’s look, Chrome mandates that extensions appear only as icons to the right of the location bar. The benefit maintains a uniform look in the browser, but it definitely restricts how much the browser can be customized.

Even with its limitations, the browser interface design has remained a contemporary exemplar of how to minimize the browser’s screen footprint while remaining easy to use and versatile. The new desktop, on the other hand, finally brings to Chrome OS a sense of familiarity that is essential for any new PC experience.

Features
Chrome OS isn’t quite as reliant on the Internet as it was before, but it’s still reasonably crippled without it. This is a vehicle, first and foremost, for leading a Web-based existence. As such, what Chrome OS does is create a space where Web-based applications can function and thrive. The operating system itself doesn’t do much — it’s a browser.

Chrome has made great strides in the past year bringing console-quality games to the browser via HTML5 and Native Client.Chrome has made great strides in the past year bringing console-quality games to the browser via HTML5 and Native Client.(Credit: Google)

However, it’s a heavily modded browser, and it achieves its main goal of getting you on the Web as fast as possible. This comes from both the solid-state drive (SSD) on your Chromebook or Chromebox, and the various optimizations that Google has been building into Chrome. This is where the second bit of genius in the Chrome OS comes in: because everything is Web-based, you can log in to any installation of the operating system and instantly have all of your apps, settings, and other personalizations at your fingertips. That’s still an incredible feat.

It’s an important one, too, as Chrome OS improves with each regular iteration of the operating system. In Chrome OS’s first year, it updated eight times. Things that were buggy originally, such as touch pad support on the demo hardware Cr-48, started to work properly. Many Chrome-safe extensions that wouldn’t install on the Chrome OS beta, but would on the browser, now work in Chrome OS. It’s currently on a six-week update cycle.

Google has also leveraged its successes in other departments to benefit the Chrome OS. Google+ Hangouts, for example, come as a preinstalled app so you have video conferencing as an option right off the bat. Google’s notorious for not always having good integration between its services, so this — and solid Google Play integration for Books, Movies, and Music — are welcome improvements.

Also welcome is Google’s decision to expand everybody’s Google Drive to 100GB when it detects a Chromebook associated with your account. The $250 price for the latest Samsung Chromebooks is nearly worth it for that upgrade alone.

The Chrome OS has a usable file-browsing system, accessible via Control-M or under the Tools submenu of the Options wrench. When you take a screenshot using the Ctrl-Next Window button, for example, you’ll find it saved locally via the File Browser. It now supports a wide range of popular file formats, including PDF, PPT, DOC, ZIP, XLS and RAR, and the newer Microsoft proprietary versions of those formats like PPTX.

Famously, Google has killed the Caps Lock key and replaced it with a dedicated Search key. Tap it and a new tab will open, with the cursor ready in the location bar. What’s less well-known is that you can remap the Search key to Caps Lock, and that Google makes it easy to do through the Settings menu under System, then Modifier keys. Here you can modify the bindings of the Control and Alt keys as well. But also missing is a dedicated Delete key to remove characters to the right of the cursor.

The default settings for the hot keys are among the best things about the Chrome OS. Hold down Ctrl and Alt with the question mark key to bring up a color-coded map of combinations that you can use. The map and colors change depending on which key — Shift, Control, or Alt — you’re pressing.

Google is to be commended for building an operating system that goes from sleep to fully functional in what feels like a second. There’s simply no lag time, and the updates have fixed previous lagginess in logging in and out. Your Chromebook or Chromebox may just be the fastest PC you’ve used when it comes to booting, shutting down, and logging in and out.

Two other low-profile but well-executed features in Chrome are autoupdating and translation. Chrome automatically updates when a new version comes out. This makes it harder to revert back to an older version, but it’s highly unlikely that you’ll want to downgrade this build of Chrome since this is the stable build and not the beta or developer’s version. You can toggle the build among the three under About Chrome. The second feature, automatic translation of Web pages, is available to other browsers as a Google add-on, but because it comes from Google, it’s baked directly into Chrome.

Google Plus hangouts now come as a default app in Chrome OS so you have video conferencing pre-enabled. The company doesn't always have good integration between services, so this is a welcome improvement.Google+ Hangouts now come as a default app in Chrome OS so you have video conferencing pre-enabled. The company doesn’t always have good integration between services, so this is a welcome improvement.(Credit: Google)

Already mentioned a little bit, the biggest OS hang-up in the operating system is offline support despite the improvements. Chrome OS will support the core Google apps of Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs offline, but for most of your other apps, you’ll be left in the dark. That might not be an issue on the Chromebox, Google’s answer to the Mac Mini, but for the portable Chromebooks, prepare for a severely hamstrung experience. Anyone outside of the cloud crowd likely won’t be comfortable with it.

You can print with Google Cloud Print, accessible via the common printing hot-key combo of Control-P. Google has anticipated the problems that still plague cloud printing, and so it offers instructions on how to do it. Still, most people will probably find the process way too fiddly because what’s simple to print off a basic Windows 7 Netbook will take effort to set up properly from a Chromebook. Cloud Print does now come with access to FedEx stores in the United States, which is a nice improvement for remote printing.

Google says that security will not be a big concern in Chrome OS and that it’s the most secure operating system ever shipped. There are some toggles via about:flags and the Settings menu that will allow you to restrict content that requires plug-ins. Cookies, image management, JavaScript, plug-ins, pop-ups, location information, and notifications can be adjusted from the Content Settings button. This includes toggling specific plug-ins, such as the built-in Adobe Flash plug-in and the Chrome PDF reader.

Google is basing most of its claim of a secure operating system on a new feature in Chrome OS called “verified boot.” Chrome OS will check its own integrity when booting, and if it detects any changes, it will allow you to restore a last-known good configuration.

Performance
The following benchmarks are of the original version of the Chrome OS that shipped on the Cr-48. There have been significant improvements since then, and CNET will update the results below as soon as possible.

 

Chrome OS beta cold-boot benchmarks.Chrome OS beta cold-boot benchmarks.(Credit: Chart by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

 

Benchmarking the first beta of the Chrome OS proved to be a bit tricky. It’s hard to measure the impact of various essential programs, such as a productivity suite or media player, on the operating system because they exist largely in the cloud. However, because the operating system is also the browser, we were able to run browser benchmark tests against it and compare them against the same version of Google Chrome, but running on a Windows 7 laptop.

 

Average of three cold runs of Chrome v8 on the WebKit SunSpider v0.9.1 test.(Credit: Chart by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

 

These tests are admittedly not a direct apples-with-apples comparison. Google has not yet released the specifications of the Cr-48, saying only that it’s running an Intel Atom processor. The Windows 7 x86 laptop we used is a high-powered Lenovo T400 laptop, running on an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 at 2.53GHz, with 3GB of RAM. However, they do provide a snapshot of what the Cr-48 with Chrome OS is capable of at this time, and we can expect these numbers to improve as Google continues to upgrade both the Chrome OS and Chrome browser. The two laptops were running nearly identical versions of the Chrome browser. Tested in December 2010, the Cr-48 was running Chrome v8.0.552.341, whereas the Lenovo was running Chrome v8.0.552.215. (By comparison, the version of Chrome OS available in early June 2012 is 12.0.742.77.)

 

Average of three cold runs of Chrome v8 on the Mozilla Kraken test.(Credit: Chart by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

 

What we can see from these tests is that the hardware will have a massive impact on the performance of both the browser and the operating system. This isn’t news, but the fact that the Cr-48’s version of the Chrome browser was so dramatically affected in all three tests tells us that what hardware future computer makers choose to support Chrome OS on will almost definitely change how well the public receives it.

 

Average of three cold runs of Chrome v8 on the FutureMark Peacemaker test.(Credit: Chart by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

 

We were also a bit surprised that the full cold-boot and log-on procedure, not counting the time it took to type in the log-on password, averaged to nearly 30 seconds. Some Windows 7 computers have, anecdotally, been found to boot up cold in similar times. As mentioned earlier, this time had been cut in half by early June 2011.

Of course, the real time-saving feature of the Chrome OS is the resume from wake, which is practically instantaneous. As long as the computer isn’t shut down, it will wake extremely quickly.

Conclusion
Although Chrome OS does update regularly, the current iteration is more usable than where the operating system was even six months ago. The quirkiness of a PC without the traditional touches of a PC desktop have been replaced by something recognizable and usable. As long as Google continues to support the project, Chrome OS will keep improving. One day, and perhaps sooner rather than later, it might even be ready for all.

AOL May Have Invented Email’s Next UI Paradigm

Alto does not require an AOL email address, but rather works with services such as Gmail and Yahoo..

AOL ALTO, A NEW WEB-BASED EMAIL CLIENT, IS FILLED WITH GRAND IDEAS, INCLUDING A PINTEREST-LIKE SYSTEM FOR ORGANIZING YOUR INBOX.

Bill Wetherell, a senior director of UX design at AOL, is struggling to find a recent message from his wife in his Gmail inbox. He’s mashing and mashing and mashing on the down-arrow key while squinting at his laptop screen. Wetherell eventually finds the right email, but not before admitting his true feelings for Google’s popular messaging product. “It’s a frickin’ mess right now,” he says. “I just want to find that frickin’ email, but I have to go all the way down here–wait, wait, there it is–way down here. This is basically the inbox fatigue we’re all now dealing with.”

The exercise is not without a purpose: Wetherell is in New York to show me the true innovations of AOL Alto, a new service that the company promises will revolutionize how we interact with email, which goes live today as an invite-only beta program. As Wetherell describes, email has largely gone unchanged in years. Yes, there have been improvements–in search, contacts, storage size–but they’ve been incremental at best, and based on an outmoded architecture of lists, folders, and more lists. Alto is a radical rethinking of inbox design, and features a stripped-down interface that’s spruced up by visual cues and intuitive navigation tools. “Lists are horrible at revealing the treasures of your inbox, and folders are failing people,” Wetherell says. “We took all the pixels that were dedicated to that space and just said, ‘Screw that.'”

As a Gmail addict, I’ll admit I was initially skeptical of Wetherell’s claims, especially considering he was speaking for AOL, where email has been typecast as a 1990s-era Nora Ephron movie–a service geared toward oversize-font-reading aunts and uncles. But Alto is not AOL Mail. (In fact, you do not need an AOL account to use the service, which will work with most existing email platforms.) It’s actually proved to be a more modern and nimble alternative to many of its mainstream counterparts, and boasts many novel features that Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft, even with its beautiful redesign of Outlook, should all heed lessons from.

 

 

STACKS, NOT FOLDERS

How many times have you searched your Gmail account for an old photo? Had your inbox overwhelmed by daily deals from Groupon and Living Social? Or had to sift through mounds of emails for an attachment? “I don’t know about you, but one of the most annoying things today in Gmail is having to find an attachment by looking for that stupid, little paperclip icon,” says Wetherell. “Not so anymore.”

Alto is divided into two main windows: a streamlined column of mail that matters, and a grid of tiles for navigating leftover inbox clutter. In Alto, many messages and files are automatically and neatly aggregated into tiles of common categories: for photos, attachments, social, daily deals, and retail. So, for example, say you get an email offer from Amazon or iTunes–Alto will automatically pull those messages into the retailers stack, seamlessly and without hassle. Or say you receive a Facebook message from a friend, or a LinkedIn notification from a coworker–Alto will pull those emails into its own clean social stack. “We basically attached a big vacuum cleaner and sucked everything out,” says Wetherell.

So all you’re left with, in the side column next to the stacks, are the emails that matter to you most now. Essentially, a stack is a combination of a folder, label, and filter–only without having to perform the frustrating task of creating a folder, label, and filter. And if you want to create your own stack, it’s a simple matter of dragging and dropping a message into a new stack.

The innovation derives from, of all things, snail mail. When Wetherell was recently watching his wife sift through a pile of mail at home, he noticed that she would swiftly organize catalogues into one pile and correspondence into another, while sticking any coupons to the kitchen fridge and placing any bills by the couple’s bedside table. They’d both address these different piles at different points–the mail from friends immediately, say, while the deals on a weekly basis and the bills at the end of every month. “At AOL, we started to wonder if we could recreate that same physical process but in the digital world,” Wetherell says, talking up the “skip inbox” feature that allows messages to jump right into a stack. “We realized stacks are good for the emails you don’t want clogging up your inbox–the messages that you want, but you don’t want right now.”

 

 

PINTEREST-LIKE NAVIGATION

But the real secret sauce of Alto is the way users can navigate these various stacks. Traditionally, to find an attachment or photograph, you’d often have to search for that one message, from that one contact, containing that one file. But in Alto, all photos, attachments, and other stacks are presented visually, allowing for navigation that’s much easier than scrolling through never-ending pages of text-based lists.

When you click into your photo stack, for example, you can see all the photos from your inbox in one place, aligned in a Pinterest-like grid of tiles. (“We’ve heard the Pinterest comparison before, yes–the concept of stacks is to represent the inbox visually,” Wetherell says.) Finding a recent attachment is a simple matter of clicking the stack, and finding the right PDF or Word document, which can be previewed right within Alto–no need for downloads or new browser tabs. What’s more, even the email messages from daily deal services and retailers are viewed in carousel mode, allowing for window-shopping-like functionality.

In the social stack, notifications are culled from Twitter, LinkedIn, Path, Facebook, and more. But Alto goes the extra mile to display infographics to help users navigate through fragmented social network updates.

You can narrow down what’s displayed by contacts, dates, and so forth, which helps shift away from inbox search to inbox discovery. And just in case, Alto also offers real-time visual search, which categorizes results by emails, contacts, photos, and attachments to offer users immediate context.

Ultimately, Alto is a more visual interpretation of the inbox, without much of the text and manual organization which can fatigue users. (Users can still create and manually organize traditional folders, if need be.) Alto has recognized the inbox is used to find more than email–it’s the central hub of many of your social contacts, buying habits, work files, and photos. “We’ve turned the inbox inside out,” says Wetherell.

 

 

LESS IS MORE

To hear Wetherell describe Alto is to hear him describe how traditional inbox UIs need “airing out.” Gmail, for instance, has become an overwhelming source of colors, text, numbers, time stamps, buttons, and boxes, which combines elements of Google search, Google+, and Gchat. Alto’s user interface has more white space and less text; more visuals and fewer menus. “We wanted to give a sense of visual relief,” Wetherell says.

To the left of the tiles is Alto’s main inbox, which is slim and elegant. The colors are softer on the eyes than Gmail’s scheme; there is less junk mail; and the myriad icons that normally overwhelm inbox screens (stars, trashcans, checkboxes, numbers) are gone, save a select few that appear upon mousing over a particular message. It’s a clean experience reminiscent of your simple, thin iPhone email message list.

Even the interface for composing messages has been stripped down. In traditional email clients, when composing a message, you’re faced with a long list of Microsoft Office-like editing capabilities: for fonts, formatting, colors, sizing. “There’s the To section, CC, BCC, subject line, and all this stuff,” Wetherell says. “It’s a pretty high cognitive load when you’re composing a message, and we wanted to shrink that form down. A lot of time when you’re dealing with weight loss, the first thing they tell you to do is get a smaller dinner plate–portion control is very important.”

Alto’s default compose mode is a simple message form that features boxes for the receiver, subject, and message. (Users can also jump to the the full compose message mode.) The box overlays on top of your inbox–no need to refresh to a new page or open a separate window.

Indeed, much of the navigation in Alto is done via in-site navigation, meaning Alto tabs are kept within one browser tab, rather than needing to open up a slew of different browser tabs as often happens with Gmail. It’s a cinch to jump between composing a message, reading a message, or browsing stacks.

Overall, Alto is a dramatic improvement in the way inboxes are designed, and proves that competing email services are far from having perfected the right interface, despite how many millions of users they all tout.

By organizing email into novel and visual stacks, Alto’s UI feels clean and less cluttered than its competitors’ inboxes.

Navigating stacks in Alto is simple, visual, and intuitive.

Alto offers in-site tab navigation, meaning Alto tabs are kept within one browser tab, rather than needing to open up a slew of different windows on Chrome or Firefox to reference an email as you write one.

The dead-simple “skip inbox” feature automatically moves inbox clutter to out-of-the-way stacks.

Alto also offers real-time visual search, which categorizes results by emails, contacts, photos, and attachments to offer users immediate context.

In the social stack, notifications are culled from Twitter, LinkedIn, Path, Facebook, and more, but Alto goes the extra mile to display contextual infographics.

Alto’s stripped-down UI for composing messages features only the essentials.

Google Calendar for Android becomes stand-alone app

Google has historically broken out preloaded Android apps like Gmail and Maps as stand-alone titles so that they don’t have to be upgraded in lock-step with the main OS, but its Calendar app typically hasn’t had that privilege. The isolation ends with a newly distinct Google Calendar that’s treated as just another Google Play download. You’ll need at least Android 4.0 or 4.1, which leaves relatively few differences between the download and what’s already on your device, but that’s not the point — the change really lets Google move users on to the Jelly Bean app and beyond, even if their device makers aren’t ready. Owners currently running Jelly Bean will still get a few extras, such as better support for non-Nexus hardware and a wider time range for calendar syncing. Hit the source link if you’re game for that kind of futureproofing.

Pokki Brings the Start Menu Back to Windows 8

When Windows 7 gets replaced with Windows 8 later this month it will take the Start button along with it.

A long-time staple in Windows computers, the operating system’s new Metro interface will change how PC owners interact with their computers. To help users who might be making the transition, SweetLabs introduced a new version of Pokki for Windows 8 Tuesday that brings back the Start Menu.

“We didn’t just bring back the old one, “ Chester Ng, co-founder and CMO of SweetLabs, told Mashable. “We agree with Microsoft that that one is outdated, and has a bunch of things that people don’t use. So we decided to take a familiar yet modernized take on what the start menu should be today”

The Pokki Menu in Windows 8 includes a centralized notification center, as well as a smartphone-like home screen where users can organize Pokki apps as well as websites, files, folders, and other Windows applications that are important to them. Just like the home screen on your phone, icons can be organized in any way you’d like. So, if you want one-click access to Facebook or even Microsoft Word, you can have it. A centralized inbox displays all of your unread notifications from apps beside the home screen.

Since Pokki is a creator of apps, such as Instagrille, which brings Instagram to your desktop, the experience works particularly well with Pokki apps and includes one click access to those apps as well as a recommendation service for new apps you might like.

The Pokki Menu also offers one-click access to programs, apps, and settings on your computer. Programs and apps you use often can be pinned to the top of a list for easy access, so you’re not constantly scrolling through the list of all of the Programs on your computer to find the one you need.

A Search function can search your entire computer as well as the web simultaneously for anything you might need, an upgrade from Windows 7 search that just looked on your computer.

You can also manage all your computer’s power settings from the Pokki menu, a function that seems pretty basic on the surface but Ng says is one of the biggest hurdles for new Windows 8 users with the removal of the Start menu.

If you give Windows 8 a try and decide it’s not for you, Pokki also has a setting for having your computer boot directly to the desktop rather than the Metro interface, as well as one for disabling Metro entirely.

Are you going to miss the Start Menu in Windows 8? Can you see using something like Pokki along with the operating system? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Great games that support the new iPhone 5 / iPod touch

A few weeks ago, Apple introduced the iPhone 5 with its new, 4-inch screen, and last week Apple dropped a new line of large screen iPod Touches. The extra real estate is a boon for touch games. However, many old apps are bookended by black bars, waiting for their developers to release a screen-filling update. At present there’s not an easy way to determine which games use the entirety of the new screen, so we thought it’d be helpful if we picked some of our favorites to help guide you on your way.

Note: While all of these games have been updated on the iPhone 5, a few may still be waiting on new iPod Touch updates. But, according to the developers, they will arrive soon.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery

If you still haven’t played this artistically-inspired adventure game, now’s as good a time as any. No one has done pixel art quite like Capy and Superbrothers and the increased screen real estate means you can ogle the lush and dangerous wilderness without as much scrolling. This is the kind of game that belongs in an art gallery as much as in your living room.

Infinity Blade 2

In terms of raw graphical power, no one has been able to trump Infinity Blade 2 by Chair Entertainment. The developer’s parent company, Epic, designed the Unreal engine that powers IB2, so that probably gives them a bit of an edge. While the Infinity Blade series was always pretty playable on an iPhone, the wider screen does allow for easier gold hunting and spell casting.

Tiny Tower

There aren’t a ton of vertically-scrolling games in the App Store, and even fewer have achieved the sort of popularity thatTiny Tower has. The added screen height on the iPhone 5 and new iPod Touch means less time scrolling for new tenants, assigning jobs and picking up your rent checks.

Jetpack Joyride

It may not seem like much, but Jetpack Joyride supporting the slightly wider screen is a boon to high-score junkies. That extra split-second of reaction time may just mean the difference between a face full of laser and a pocket full of coins. The free price tag makes it even harder to pass up.

Minecraft Pocket Edition

Mojang’s blocky phenomenon has been on iOS for a while now, and every time I play I can’t help but feel a bit cramped. It is, after all, a PC game jammed on a much smaller screen. That’s still the case with an iPhone 5, but by pushing the virtual sticks to the far corners, you’ll have more space in the center to appreciate your mighty architectural creations.

SpellTower

This thoughtful word game has been charming the pants off audiences. The latest version makes full use of the new iPhone 5 / iPod Touch screen, though it doesn’t much impact gameplay, since you won’t be able to see more tiles on the screen. And yet, I find it a little less stressful to play when there’s some room to breathe around the edges. Don’t you?

Pinball Crystal Caliburn II

Seems like the new screen on the iPhone 5 and the iPod Touch was taylor made for a pinball game, doesn’t it? Well, many developers are still scrambling to take advantage, but Pinball Crystal Caliburn II has beaten them all to the punch. Play vertical and experience pinball the way it’s meant to be played. Well, the way it’s meant to be played on a touch screen, at least.

Wild Blood

Gameloft has been getting more and more ambitious with their titles as of late, but it seems like screen real estate is always too cramped and your thumbs keep getting in the way of the action. Wild Blood, which works great on the iPad, was always too crowded on the iPhone. The latest update brings the resolution up to iPhone 5 levels and it makes all the difference. Just keep an eye on your battery levels!

Galaxy on Fire 2 HD

Like the Infinity Blade series, Galaxy on Fire 2 has always been on the front lines of a new hardware launch from Apple. It took FishLabs no time at all to support the new screens on the iPhone 5 and iPod Touch, and we’re left with what remains the best space sim on the App Store. This is another game that has always been cramped on anything but an iPad, but the extra space really, really helps.

Doodle Jump

It’s hard to imagine a game that would be more impacted by a taller screen that Doodle Jump. That extra layer of visible platforms means all the difference in the world if you’re trying to surmount your last high score. Sure, it’s not the prettiest game in the bunch, but it remains a heavy hitter, even after all these years.

Google expands trial for including Gmail results in search box, now includes Google Drive as well

Google has expanded its trial that includes results from your Gmail inbox to more users today, as well as your Google Drive account. You can sign up now to have results from your inbox appear as you search while signed in.

Google says people have been liking it so far:

We’ve gotten very positive feedback from those of you testing it out — such as this note: “The Gmail results feature is awesome! The fact that it’s all integrated into one screen is huge.” Many testers have requested being able to find Drive files as well — as one of you put it, “It would be awesome if I could search my google drive from google search as well 🙂”.

If you’re unfamiliar with how this affected your Google search results as a Gmail user, this is what seeing contacts and emails looks like in the interface:

Screen Shot 2012 10 15 at 2.51.36 PM 520x229 Google expands trial for including Gmail results in search box, now includes Google Drive as well

The expanded trial will take on many of the same features as the initial one, offering up results in the Google search box that present email messages, relevant information and, brand new to this trial, results from your Google Drive:

field trial 520x286 Google expands trial for including Gmail results in search box, now includes Google Drive as well

You can try out the new results options in the field trial now, as long as you speak english and have a Gmail.com address. The trial was instituted back in August, when Google Director of Product Management, Universal Search Sagar Kamdar called it part of Google’s ‘Universal Search’, saying that “Gmail is almost larger than our web corpus and it continues to grow.”

A Dragon That Takes Dictation and Controls a Mac by Voice

I am writing these words—without touching a key. I’m dictating them into a word processor on a laptop. To do this, I’m using a very versatile program that not only allows me to dictate text but to correct it, delete it, and format it, all with my voice.

This software enables me to perform other tasks on the computer by just talking. I can launch and close applications. I can search the Web and jump directly to Web pages using only my voice. I can address, compose and send emails. And I can even dictate and post status messages to Facebook and Twitter.

The product that’s letting me do all this is the latest in the software line called Dragon. In particular, I’m using the newest Dragon dictation software for the Mac, called Dragon Dictate 3. Dragon’s maker, Nuance Communications Inc., has for years focused on the Windows platform. In fact, it released a new version for Windows, called Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12, in July. But with Dragon Dictate 3, which launched last month, Nuance has finally brought its Mac version nearly up to speed with the Windows version.

image

Dragon Dictate uses a small window to show its status and often displays two larger windows, one with available commands and one with alternate spellings

Despite some feature differences, the two versions use the same improved voice-recognition engine, so the company said my experience on the Mac would be a good indicator of its Windows product’s performance. I chose to test the Mac version because it can finally do some things formerly limited to Windows, such as selecting a single word by voice for correction or deletion or formatting. Based on my tests, I can say that Dragon Dictate 3, and by extension Dragon NaturallySpeaking, are quite accurate.

However, this is old-school software. By that I mean it’s relatively costly, at $200, and requires time to learn how to use. It could take weeks or months to remember and master the specific wording of each of the many commands. For example, you need to say “File Open” as it won’t respond to “Open File.” So you’d need a good reason to make that investment in money and time.

The software would be a good choice for people who are disabled and can’t type, or even those prone to mild repetitive stress injuries.

So why choose a $200 program? Especially since Apple recently added free built-in dictation to the Mac. First, Apple’s dictation doesn’t allow you to command the computer, or edit by voice. Macs do have a feature that make a limited number of spoken computer commands available. But they don’t match Dragon’s voice command set. You also can’t use Apple’s dictation feature unless you’re connected to the Internet, while Dragon works right on the computer.

The Dragon software has many, many functions (the user manual is 207 pages), but you can boil it down to two: dictation and computer control. The latter means controlling menus and commands either common to the whole operating system or specific to a program you’re using. You can say “File New” to open a new document or “Jump to Wall Street Journal” to open the Web browser and go to the Journal’s website.

One of the deficits still lingering in the Mac version is it has fewer sets of application-specific commands than its Windows counterpart. Also, the Windows version allows you to navigate from link to link on a Web page; while the Mac version doesn’t.

Dragon comes with an over-the-head microphone and earpiece that connects instantly via USB, but it also works with many types of microphones. The included gear offers the greatest accuracy. But I was able to get decent results using a Dragon wireless-mic app on my iPhone and even using the built-in mic on the Mac laptop, either directly or via the tiny mic included in Apple’s standard earbuds. You can also use a Bluetooth microphone.

This new Mac version finally is able to transcribe audio files recorded on a digital voice recorder or an iPhone voice-recording app. It worked pretty well, but wasn’t as accurate as real-time dictation.

For best results, you have to train Dragon Dictate before using it, by reading one of several canned texts. This takes five to 10 minutes or so. You can teach the program about uncommon words you use by letting the program analyze documents you wrote. And you can add words or pronunciations manually.

The program relies on context to decide what you meant to say, even if the words sound the same. In a test exercise suggested by Nuance, Dragon Dictate flawlessly handled the phrase “you were right to write me right now.”

I found it could handle many—but not all—proper names, product names, long words, addresses and phone numbers. It recognized the sentence “I’m dictating this on a MacBook Air, but I could be using a Lenovo Ultrabook” perfectly, with correct capitalization. It automatically formats phone numbers and addresses. Other sentences it handled with ease included “Barack Obama is running against Mitt Romney” and “I prefer chrysanthemums to hydrangeas.” But it stumbled on some names, like “Kara,” which it interpreted as “Camera” or “terra.”

And it made other errors, some of them simple, like misinterpreting “an” for “in,” even if it got that right most of the time. Fortunately, if you do see a mistake, you can just say, “Scratch That,” and try again, or you can choose an alternate spelling from a window that pops up.

And there are other downsides. For best results, the company suggests you use Dragon in a fairly quiet place, speak in complete sentences and phrases, and think ahead to what you want to say. Meeting those conditions isn’t easy.

Also, Dragon can clutter up your screen. It has a small window showing its status, and often displays two larger windows, one showing available commands and one showing alternate spellings.

Finally, on the Mac version, one of its best features—the ability to learn the names of your contacts—is crippled by an arbitrary limit of 300 names. The feature won’t work at all if your contact list is larger. The company says it plans to fix this.

Overall, however, Dragon Dictate is a step forward for Mac users who need, or prefer, to use voice to write and control a computer.

How to download Firefox 16 right now

While Firefox 16 isn’t due to launch until October 9, the latest version is already available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

If you prefer to wait for the official launch, keep your browser pointed to firefox.com. You may also want to check out the Mozilla blog, which is bound to have an announcement soon.

The biggest addition in this release, in my opinion, is Web app support for all desktop operating systems, but we’ll only start seeing the results of this new feature once developers start to take advantage (much like in Chrome). It’s also worth noting Mozilla has integrated incremental garbage collection into Firefox 16.

This essentially translates into better performance, although it will likely be very negligible on most systems. The feature improves the browser’s responsiveness by dividing the garbage collector’s work into smaller pieces. Mozilla explains:

This is a major feature, over a year in the making, that makes Firefox smoother and less laggy. With incremental GC, Firefox responds more quickly to mouse clicks and key presses. Animations and games will also draw more smoothly.

There’s no official Firefox 16 changelog as of yet, but the beta changelog should serve as a decent guideline:

  • NEW: Firefox on Mac OS X now has preliminary VoiceOver support turned on by default.
  • NEW: Initial web app support (Windows/Mac/Linux).
  • NEW: Acholi localization added.
  • CHANGED: Improvements around JavaScript responsiveness through incremental garbage collection.
  • DEVELOPER: New Developer Toolbar with buttons for quick access to tools, error count for the Web Console, and a new command line for quick keyboard access.
  • DEVELOPER: CSS3 Animations, Transitions, Transforms and Gradients unprefixed in Firefox 16.
  • DEVELOPER: Recently opened files list in Scratchpad implemented.

We will update you with more information (including the official changelog) when Firefox 16 officially launches tomorrow.