Starting today, users can sign up for a preview of the new service from Microsoft.  This new service will replace their current free mail service, hotmail or live mail.  New users are presented with a few keys bullets upon signing up as to why its better:

  • Outlook is modern—you get a fresh, clean design that’s intuitive to use.
  • Outlook is connected—your conversations come to life with your friends’ photos, Tweets, and recent Facebook updates.
  • Outlook is productive—you get free Word, Excel, and PowerPoint web apps built in with 7 GB of free cloud storage.
  • Outlook is private—you’re in control of your data, and your personal conversations aren’t used for ads.

That last bullet looks like a direct hit at Google’s gmail service.  The interface is simple and seems to mirror the flat, almost washed out look, typical of their upcoming Windows 8 operating system, its suite of metro apps and the Office 2013 software products.

There is also a short marketing video upon logging in for the first time.

I think its worth checking out.  So head on over and grab your new email address today.

Well it looks like we recently got another update to SkyDrive[1].  For me SkyDrive has been one of those services that has had limited usefulness(similar to DropBox until recently) .  I have used it for various things over the years.  But due to the difficulty in getting stuff into it,  it just wasn’t convenient.  Well, I guess that is only partially true.  When they opened up 5 gig of my Skydrive space to be used for Windows Live Mesh, I did use that space up pretty quick (because there was a convenient access method).

However with these new updates, it is starting to appeal to me once more.  They did drop the free space from 25 gig to 7 gig.  But for those of us who have been ‘loyal’ users for a long time, they have offered an amnesty program to allow us to request that we retain our free 25 gig[2].  So that’s not an issue for me.  They also add some reasonable options for upgrading your space if you need (50 gig for $25/year, etc.).

With this update, also came a windows application that allows you to access/sync your SkyDrive with your computer(Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Mac OS X Lion)[3].  This was a bit of shock since it was becoming apparent to me that Microsoft was not interested in making it easy to access and use this space.  Apparently that mind set has changed.  With this new app, the barrier to get stuff in and out of your SkyDrive has been lifted.  They also have a Windows Phone 7 app and an iOS app (now supporting iPad).  Sadly there is no Android app.

So how will SkyDrive become a more active part of my life?  Well I am not sure yet.  I am currently as huge user of Windows Live Mesh[4], which is an integral part of my backup solution.  And they don’t appear to be trying to merge these systems (in fact they appear to be separating them even more as my 5 gig of used space does not show up in my used count in my 25 gig of SkyDrive space).  They have created a page entitled “SkyDrive for Mesh Users”[5].  However this page seems more to me to be more of a migration guide and propaganda to get you to move off of mesh and not documentation on how to get them to work together.

There are a lot of collaboration feature built into SkyDrive.  The integrated office webapps makes in browser editing of office docs a breeze.  It is a much, much more elegant solution than Google docs when it comes to a document repository and collaboration environment.  I guess we’ll just have to see.  If its useful, I imagine I will see it starting to creep back into my life more and more as time passes.  If they would just add an Android app to their lineup, that may seal the deal for me.

Fingers crossed!

Dropbox DevicesI am a big fan of file synchronization tools.  For me, file sync’ing across my multiple devices not only makes my life easier but also serves to  backup my data.  But I have yet to find the perfect tool that handles all of the different scenarios I have for my data.  And while I have had a Dropbox account for quite a while, I have rarely used it.  It has a limited amount of space for free (2 gigs) and doesn’t provide simple synchronization between devices only (separate from their cloud storage space).  I am currently using Microsoft Live Mesh as my main tool which allows me unlimited sync’ing between computers and also lets me use 5 gigs of cloud storage from my SkyDrive (not too bad).  I use it mainly for the sync’ing (and backing up) of large amounts of files between computers.  Where it fails, and where dropbox shines, is in its support for the various mobile device platforms.  Mesh currently does not support any mobile device.

However Dropbox is currently testing a new feature which I am somewhat excited about.  They are testing the capability to automatically upload photos and videos taken on mobile devices to a Dropbox folder.  I currently am using Google+ for that (and it works well).  However, things uploaded by Google+ only live on the Google+ servers.  This great for posting to Google+.  But it requires extra steps to get them onto my computer for manipulation, permanent storage and/or sharing to other services.  With this new feature in Dropbox, I can automatically sync  my pictures and videos to any machine I want.  Simply put, its like having a wireless USB cable that continually dumps my photos/videos to a pre-specified folder, from anywhere in the world.

The one downside, 2 gig wasn’t enough for the 1080p videos I had on my phone.  Fortunately Dropbox thought of that and was offering additional space for anyone willing to test the new feature.  Basically I received 500 meg for trying it out (on first photo upload).  I then received an additional 500 meg for every 500 meg I uploaded using the new feature (up to 4.5 gig).  When my phone was done sync’ing, my Dropbox account had jumped from 2 gig to 7 gig.  Now that’s not too bad for scratch space for my photos and videos.  And who knows, if I start actively using it again for this purpose I may actually start using it for others.  Good move Dropbox.

For those who want to participate, I think the deal is still on.  You can go here to get the Android installers for this new test version.  And if you don’t have an Android phone, they are testing out new versions of their desktop clients as well.  These clients supposedly work with any camera or video device that you connect to your computer.  You can find details here.

Happy Sync’ing!

This morning I received my copy of the email letting me know about Google’s new consolidated privacy statement[1].  This new policy will replace “over 60 different privacy policies”[2] currently in use.  For the most part there was nothing surprising.

Here is my summarized interpretation:

  1. We collect a lot of your information both manually (when you give it to us) and automatically (anywhere we can).
  2. We use that information to make money, ‘customize’ your experience across all our apps and improve our products.
  3. We provide a lot of tools for you to modify how your information is shared in some instances.
  4. If you don’t like us using cookies to track you, block them.  But then our stuff won’t work.
  5. If you are stupid and publicly share stuff you don’t want to through our services, it’s not our fault.  But that data is now ours (as well as anyone else’s in the world).
  6. We will make a best effort to make sure info we have about you is accurate.
  7. Even if you delete your stuff, we may keep it forever.
  8. We will share your information with third parties when you give us consent.[3]
  9. We will share your information with partners (who promise to comply with our privacy statement).
  10. We will share your information with the law when required to do so.
  11. We will make a best effort to protect your data both in our data centers and in transit.
  12. This policy applies to all of our products, except to those that it doesn’t (this one is one of my favorites).
  13. We will self regulate .[4]
  14. This policy will change.  But rights will not be reduced without your consent.

That last ones seems like a big promise.  The exact words are: “We will not reduce your rights under this Privacy Policy without your explicit consent.”

This simplified policy seems to fall in line with Google’s obvious efforts to simplify their business and consolidate their products.  Since about September of last year, they have cut quite a few fairly prominent projects[5].  Their last batch of cuts happened just 7 days ago[6].  In my opinion they are paving the way for a large centralized consumer product (Google Plus anyone?).  The rest will either become integrated into this product or an appendage to it.


This morning I wanted to post a YouTube video that was quite long.  But I only wanted to to show people a specific section of the video.  After some searching, I found what I wanted in the YouTube help section[1].  It is fairly straightforward.  You can basically append the start time right in the link as a query string parameter (the variables after the ?).

Here is an example of just the parameter (starts at 22 minutes an 35 seconds).


Here is an example of a full URL.


Of course as soon as I discovered this information I noticed an automated way to create this URL.

  1. From the YouTube video’s page, select the “Share” button.

YouTube Share Button

  1. Doing this will cause new options to appear.

YouTube Share Expanded

  1. At this point you will notice a new option, called “Options”.  Click that and you will be able to add the start time options as well as a few others.

YouTube Share Options

  1. Once you have selected your desired options, just copy the generated URL and paste it wherever you like.

I did seem to notice that these options only seem to affect the URL that you can copy.  They don’t seem to get applied the the other sharing options (embed, email, social networks, etc.).

Latitude AvatarDaniel Mabasa, community manager for Google Maps announced yesterday[1] that a new web interface for Google Latitude has been released.  Now there are really on a few people whose locations I have a desire to keep track of 24/7 (or desire to know mine).   But for my own personal information, it has been interesting to keep track of my own travels.  The new dashboard is kind of fun.  For instance, since I have started using Latitude it has logged 50,829 miles.

Some of the data is wrong, or at least how it interprets it is wrong.  For example, it has me taking off from an Airport in Prescott AZ last year and never landing.  Now in all fairness, I was in Prescott, AZ at the time.  But we drove there.  Maybe the fact that check-ins where inconsistent due to spotty coverage.  Or maybe I had my phone off (or latitude was off) a lot during that trip.

The dashboard also tries to graph your time at home, work and ‘out’.  It has never seemed all that accurate.  Although recently it seems to be getting better.  But it still thinks I spend more time ‘out’ than I do at home or work.  My wife can attest that Google is sorely mistaken in this case.

So if you are a Latitude user, check out the new improvements.  If you haven’t yet tried it, and you own a smartphone, its fun to play with but I wouldn’t rely on its accuracy just yet.