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Google Docs offline: Coming this summer

SAN FRANCISCO -- Somewhat later than had been planned last year, Google is addressing a significant weaknesses of Google Docs and Google Apps: the inability to use the services while not connected to the Net.

"We will make them [Google Docs offline apps] available this summer," said Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Chrome, in an interview here last week at the Google I/O Conference. "We've all been using it internally. It's imminent. We want to make sure they're good."

t's not clear just how high the demand for the feature is. Although I find offline Google Docs' absence a critical weakness, Google cited low interest in the idea as one justification for why it had removed an earlier attempt at the technology in 2008.

One thing is very different from three years ago, though: Chrome OS, which in June will move from prototype to product with Chromebook models from Acer and Samsung.

With Chrome OS, Google is betting that the world is ready for a browser-based operating system. For office workers using a Chrome OS machine to enter customer data into a Web form, offline access is no big deal, but for Chromebooks to reach their full potential, they have to be able to handle a bit more of what even the lowest-end PC can do. That includes being useful when you're on a subway, on an airplane, or heaven forbid, in some primitive backwater that's not saturated with reliable 3G.

Google reassures people that offline Web apps are now possible to program thanks to a number of interfaces such as AppCache and IndexedDB arriving in browsers. But actually taking advantage of those interfaces isn't necessarily easy.

Google Docs was supposed to get offline abilities in early 2011, for example.

Offline Docs hasn't been easy, in part because of years of shifts in the plumbing used to let browsers look for data on a local computer rather than a remote server on the other side of the Internet.

Initially, Google Docs had some incomplete offline support through a Google technology called Gears. Google removed that support when it discontinued Gears in favor of open Web standards that accomplished similar goals. The technology in Gears for offline storage was a SQL database interface that was closely related to the Web SQL Database standard for browsers. However, Mozilla and Microsoft didn't like its approach, and Web SQL's standardization was derailed.

A final challenge for Google might be its own vision. The company is betting heavily on a future in which the Internet is built into the fabric of our lives. Indeed, with lobbying and investments in networking technology, it's trying to hasten the arrival of that future.

Google has perhaps a better idea of what that future looks like. Its campuses are bathed in Wi-Fi and peppered with Ethernet ports. Employees have home broadband, Net-connected shuttle buses, and for those moments in between, wireless data modems.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that Pichai said he must consciously remember to unplug from the Net if he wants to try offline features of Google Docs.

But for those of us not in the Google bubble, with spotty 3G and capped data for our smartphone and home broadband, offline support is essential.


 

Gartner: Android leads, Windows Phone lags in Q1

Android and Windows Phone bookended the smartphone operating system market in the first quarter.

Market researcher Gartner said in a report released today that over 100 million smartphones were sold worldwide during the first quarter of 2011. Google's Android OS secured 36 percent of the market, with more than 36.2 million units sold to consumers during the period. Nokia's Symbian took the second spot, at 27.4 percent of the market and 27.6 million units sold. Apple's iOS platform and Research In Motion's BlackBerry came in third and fourth with 16.8 percent and 12.9 percent market share, respectively.

Microsoft found itself far behind the rest of the pack. According to Gartner, just 3.6 million smartphones using a Microsoft mobile OS were sold last quarter, for a 3.6 percent market share--and no doubt more alarmingly for Redmond, the newer Windows Phone OS saw unit sales of only 1.6 million.

Gartner's figures show just how much of a difference a year can make. During the first quarter of 2010, Android's market share stood at just 9.6 percent, putting it in fourth place. Symbian at the time had a 44.2 percent market share, followed by BlackBerry OS and iOS with 19.7 percent and 15.3 percent market share, respectively. The older Windows Mobile had 6.8 percent market share.



Whether Microsoft can change the tide in the smartphone OS market with the help of Nokia remains to be seen. Earlier this year, the companies signed a deal that will make Windows Phone 7 the "principal" operating system in Nokia's line of smartphones. Windows Phone 7 is expected to be running on Nokia devices as early as next year. In the first quarter of 2011, Symbian was running on Nokia smartphones.

The Microsoft-Nokia deal "will precipitate a competitors' rush to capture Symbian's market share," Gartner said in the report, adding that "in the long term, Nokia's support will accelerate Windows Phone's momentum."

Gartner reported last month that it believes Windows Phone's market share will jump to 19.5 percent in 2015. It thinks Android will lead the market in 2015 with 48.8 percent market share.

Looking at handsets (smartphone or otherwise) rather than operating systems, Gartner found, not surprisingly, that Nokia easily bested all others with 107.6 million units sold during the period. Samsung and LG rounded out the top three with 68.8 million and 24 million mobile phone sales, respectively. Apple sold 16.8 million mobile phones during the first quarter, while RIM sold 13 million devices. All told, 427.8 million mobile phones were sold last quarter, up from the 359.6 million sold during the first quarter of 2010.

Out of all mobile phone makers, Apple's year-over-year growth has been most impressive, Gartner's findings reveal. During the first quarter of 2011, Apple more than doubled its first-quarter 2010 mobile phone sales of 8.2 million.

"This strong performance helped Apple consolidate its position as the fourth largest brand in the mobile communication market overall," Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner, said in a statement. "Considering the higher-than-average price of the iPhone, this is a remarkable result and highlights the impact that a strong aspirational brand can have on a product."


 

How to switch from iPhone to Android

You're tired of the dropped calls, tightly wound interface, and carrier limitations, and you're ready to ditch the iPhone and say hello to Android. But before you dive into your new smartphone's highly customizable interface, faster processor, nice camera, and free turn-by-turn navigation, there's some housekeeping to do.

Here are a video and six easy steps to follow to transfer your contacts, calendar, notes, photos, videos, music, and SMS messages (kind of) from your iPhone to your Android device:



Step 1 : Google Account

On your Android device, go to Menu > Settings > Accounts & Sync > Add Account > Google. If you don't have a Google account yet, you can create one here. Follow the onscreen instructions to associate your Gmail account with your new phone.


Step 2 : Contacts

Connect your iPhone to your computer and launch iTunes. Click on your iPhone's name, then head to the Info tab at the top. Check "Sync Address Book Contacts," then check "Sync contacts with Google Contacts." Click Configure and enter the same account information you just configured on your Android device. Hit Apply and allow the iPhone to sync.


Step 3 : Calender and Notes

On your iPhone go to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars. If the Gmail account you're using with your Android isn't here, add it by going to Add account > Gmail. Go back to Mail settings, tap the Gmail account, and turn syncing on for Calendars and Notes. Within a few minutes, your calendar will transfer to your Android device. Notes will be sent to your Gmail account and filed under a label called Notes.


Step 4 : Photos and Videos

  • Windows: Connect your iPhone to your computer. Open My Computer, right-click your iPhone, and select Explore. Drag and drop all the photos and videos to a new folder on your Desktop.
  • Mac: Connect your iPhone to your computer and open the application called Image Capture. Set a new folder on your Desktop as the destination and hit Download All.


Now, on either Mac or Windows, connect your Android phone to your computer, open the Android drive, and find the pictures folder. There's one titled "DCIM," but you can create your own folder if you'd like. Then drag and drop the iPhone photos from your Desktop to your Android pictures folder.


Step 5 : Music

Keep your Android device connected. On your computer, find the Android's Music folder (if it doesn't exist, create one), and then drag and drop music files from your hard drive to your Android drive, which will put them on the device.


Step 6 : SMS and Voice Mail

Here's the bad news: there's no simple way to transfer your SMS and voice mail messages to your computer or Android device (this process deserves its own How To). If there are specific important messages you want to keep, go to your iPhone's messages, select the conversation, and hit Edit at the top. Tap the message or messages you want to keep, then tap Forward. In the recipient field, enter your Google e-mail address, and send.


   

Unlicensed Google Music arrives tomorrow

Google is preparing to launch a test version of a new digital music service that will enable users to upload their music libraries to the company's servers.

CNET reported in March that Google was testing its music service internally and was ready to unveil the long-anticipated service. And that is what Google intends to do tomorrow at the company's I/O Developer Conference in San Francisco, according to Zahavah Levine, one of the executives in charge of getting the music service off the ground.

While Google and Levine have been negotiating to obtain licenses from the four largest record companies for more than a year, the test version of the service will launch without licensing. This is the same strategy that Amazon employed when it launched its cloud-music service in March.

"We're launching a beta service called Music Beta by Google that lets' users upload their personal music libraries to their own account on Google's servers," Levine told CNET. Users can "access those libraries anytime or anywhere from Web-connected devices," he said.

Levine said Android owners will be able to access their libraries when offline as well.

While the service is still in beta, users will be able to join by invitation only. Initially, Google is prioritizing attendees of the I/O conference and owners of Motorola's Xoom tablets, which is the first device to use Android 3.0. After that, the company will then turn to ordinary users who request an invitation, which they can do at Music.Google.com. To access the service, users will require a browser that supports flash--that means no Apple devices--or on any Android device that's version 2.2 or higher, Levine said. The service will only be offered in the United States for the time being and while in beta it will be offered free of charge.

For more than a year, all the talk about cloud music, the term used to describe third-party computing, was about Google and Apple. Then Amazon beat both companies by unveiling a digital music locker service that allows users to store songs on Amazon's servers and then listen to their collections via computers with a Web browser.

What this appears to mean is that the labels are getting pushed out of the cloud. Any service with ambitions of operating a cloud service has to consider that there's an alternative to seeking licenses from the top labels.

The labels have insisted that offering most cloud music features would require licenses from them. But they didn't do much, at least publicly, to discourage Amazon from going out with its service and that hasn't sat well with executives at competing services. Some interpreted the labels' silence to mean that they didn't have any legal recourse against Amazon.

Amazon and Google appeared to have built their services to carefully avoid violating any copyrights. They didn't make any additional copies of songs. Users upload songs to both services and those same copies are what the users hear when they access their libraries. If Amazon or Google, say, scanned the hard drives of its subscribers to ensure that they owned the music and then streamed back to them a company-created copy--a process known as "scan and match," Amazon and Google would have needed a license.

"This is a personal storage service that doesn't require licenses anymore than Sony and iPod or a hard drive requires licenses," Levine said. "It's like a user making personal copies of their own music and transferring it to their iPod, but rather than a portable hard drive they have a hard drive in the cloud."

Almost certainly, Google doesn't want a copyright fight with the labels. The U.S. government has been holding the company's feet to the fire on doing more antipiracy work. Last month, a group of congressmen chided Google for allegedly looking the other way when it came to piracy. It wouldn't look good right now for the largest music companies to point copyright accusations against the company.

But Google seems intent on giving Android users a new way to store and access music and at the very least this beta service will pressure the labels into offering better cloud-licensing terms.

The good news for digital music fans and Android owners is that they will now have one of the biggest Web companies in the world vying for their attention. Google can boast that it has already built YouTube into one of the Internet's dominant music destinations. It can also pitch its service to the exploding number of Android users. Each day, more than 350,000 Android phones are activated globally.

"With the widespread adoption of digital music, music has become fundamental to two things we care very much about," Levine said. "The mobile experience is one, and the power of the Web to improve people's lives."


 

Report: Microsoft near $7 billion deal for Skype

Microsoft is putting the finishing touches on a deal to buy Internet phone company Skype for between $7 billion and $8 billion, and a deal could be announced as early as tomorrow, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The report cited people familiar with the matter who said negotiations were ongoing and could still fall apart. Microsoft representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Luxembourg-based company provides a software-based communications service that allows people to make free voice and video calls over the Internet to other Skype users using almost any Internet-connected device. The voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP service also allows people to make and receive calls from regular telephone numbers using a paid service.

Interest in the Internet telephony giant has been high since online auction giant eBay, which had acquired Skype in 2006, sold off its controlling interest in Skype. Facebook and Google had previously been mentioned as possible suitors for the company, which has been around since 2003 and averages 124 million connected users per month.

Skype filed plans in August 2010 for an initial public offering that was widely expected to raise about $1 billion. However, those plans were delayed after Skype appointed former Cisco Systems executive Tony Bates as its new chief executive in October 2010.

The $7 billion valuation would place the deal among Microsoft's largest acquisitions. In 2007, the software maker completed its $6 billion takeover of Internet advertising firm Aquantive.


   

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