Here's one for your diary. Late tomorrow afternoon, Boris Johnson will be holding his first Google Hangout, live from London tech event the InnoTech Summit.
According to an enthusiastic press release, BoJo will be exploiting the search giant's video chat platform to connect with US venture capitalists. He's aiming to promote the UK's growing digital economy and attract investment to London's technology hub, Tech City.
The Mayor of London is, apparently, the first high-ranking UK politician to hold a multi-party video chat in this way. On the international stage, it's fair to say Barack Obama got there first, holding a White House Hangout in February.
However, although the discussions might be interesting, it seems likely many will join the Hangout to see how Boris manages to juggle the twin challenges of handling technology and communicating with an international audience.
As this video shows, it didn't go so well last time he attempted to operate a complex piece of machinery:
If the thought of watching Boris hanging out doesn't horrify you too much, you can join the Hangout here from 5pm tomorrow. Let us know how it goes.
I'm a long-time user of Google Mail. By and large, I think it's brilliant.
The enormous amount of storage space means my email archive contains thousands of messages going back over half a decade. I can log in from anywhere and find exactly what I need in moments.
The old interface might look rather traditional, but it does the job well:
The line of icons across the top ensures you're never more than one click away from inserting bullets or links, indenting text, changing formatting or running the spell check.
Contrast that with this new, cleaner interface. When you start writing an email, this pops up over your inbox:
With icons stripped from the interface, it takes more clicks to find functions that were previously obvious:
Google says the new interface is faster and more focused. I contend that having to think harder about how to insert a bulleted list or embolden text is almost certainly going to break your focus more effectively than the old icon toolbar did,
Besides, the new interface keeps your inbox visible behind it, so you can see new emails as they arrive. That won't be distracting in the slightest, will it?
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The way email works is important because we spend so much time using it (more than a quarter of the average day, according to some research).
When companies alter services like these that we're comfortable with and rely on, it can make us less efficient, change our working practices and make us feel uneasy.
That's the way I'm feeling at the moment. And that's why I'm irritated by Google's unneccessary tinkering and arbitrary changes. Maybe it's time I switched to Microsoft Outlook instead.
So far, Google's range of Chromebook laptops has been firmly aimed at the budget end of the market. The small, cut-down machines can come in at under £200, giving you a basic computer that's a decent - if relatively unusual - choice for mobile working.
With a Chromebook, you don't install software on the hard drive. You barely have a hard drive. Instead, you use cloud computing services to do everything online.
Want to edit a document? Log in to Google Documents. Need to check email? Use Google Mail (or your preferred email service) instead of firing up Outlook.
Many experts argue this is the way business IT is going and - with its empire of online tools and services - Google has a vested interest in making it happen.
Buy a Chromebook
But last week the search firm announced the Chromebook Pixel, a new model that definitely isn't for the budget-conscious. With prices starting at £1,049, it's a slick, powerful laptop that's gunning for the top end of the market.
With its aluminium case, big touchpad, full-size keyboard and powerful processor, the Chromebook Pixel has a lot in common with Apple's MacBook Pro, which has cornered a large slice of the premium laptop market.
It includes up to 64GB of storage, depending on which model you opt for. That's nothing compared to other laptops in this price bracket, which typically offer 500GB or more.
The stand-out feature of the Chromebook Pixel is its high-resolution screen. It's a super-crisp display that could even be better than the 'Retina' screen that's available on some models of the MacBook Pro and widely regarded as the best laptop screen on the market.
In fact, there's a good chance the Chromebook Pixel could become known as the 'Chromebook Retina'.
This new laptop also has a touch screen, creating interesting new possibilities for using your laptop and no doubt delighting manufacturers of screen-cleaning wipes.
(Learn more about screen resolution and how it relates to screen size.)
Given the price of the new Chromebook and the relatively limited scope when it comes to installing software and saving files, it seems unlikely Apple will be too worried about it as competition just yet.
But the Chromebook Pixel signals that Google is keen to develop hardware to further its vision of a 'Google universe', where we use a Google device with a Google operating system to run Google apps and access Google services that store our data.
The Chromebook Pixel makes that vision seem just a little more plausible. And while most businesses won't be rushing to move away from their Windows PCs quite yet, perhaps in a few years things will look very different.
Tick-tock: time is precious in business. (Image: Flickr user blue2likeyou.)
Are communication and administration tasks diverting resources in your business that could be better used for other things?
Many of the 3,500 small companies surveyed cited specific problems with communications and admin. They'll probably be familiar to your company too:
Even when faced with these issues, many workers are still clinging to traditional methods of communication, relying on the phone, email and meetings.
However, some businesses are seeking alternative ways to communicate, with 39% increasing their use of online collaboration tools. The study found that these are more commonly used by organisations which saw an increase in profits or turnover in 2012.
This could suggest that more forward-thinking, tech-savvy small businesses are using collaborative technology to gain a competitive advantage.
Do you use any great collaboration tools in your business? Or is it better to pick up the phone and have a chat? Leave a comment to let us know.
This is because Drive is now tightly integrated with Gmail, allowing you to embed Google Drive files in email messages.
Why is this a big deal? It's because email is still the most common way to share files, yet sending larger files as email attachments is fraught with difficulty. They take ages to upload and often they get blocked before reaching the recipient.
Gmail and Google Drive neatly sidestep these two problems, allowing you to send files that are up to 10GB big (that's an awful lot of data).
There's no need to wait to upload a file before you send it because you'll already have it stored in Google Drive. And you won't run into any email server problems because Gmail sends a link to the file, not the file itself.
You don't have to find the location of your file, copy the link and then paste it into an email. You just hit the Google Drive button when writing your email, then choose the files to attach. That's it.
If you use Gmail and Google Drive and want to give this a go, you need to be using Google's new interface to compose emails. To send a file from your Google Drive, just click the Drive icon when you're writing a message. Then choose your file. It's as easy as that. Read more on Google's Gmail blog.
For this Friday's Donut tip, we bring you five things to check to make sure you're not making any major mistakes with your website's search engine optimisation (SEO).
You have to keep working at SEO for it to be effective. Yet many companies start with a well-optimised site, then - despite their best intentions - find things slide as other priorities take over. Sounds familiar? Here's what you need to do:
The title and description are contained in a web page's HTML code, although not displayed on the page itself. They aren't a major factor in where your website is ranked. But Google does usually display them in its search results lists. So these fields have to work hard to encourage people to click through to your website.
When it examines each of your pages, Google places greater weight on the words contained in headings and subheadings. So it's worth reviewing your pages to ensure these contain the keywords you want to rank highly for.
Google also scans all the links on your website. It uses the text of the links (also called the 'anchor text') to work out what pages are about. And it looks at which pages are closely linked when trying to work out if they're about similar topics. So link freely between relevant pages, using keyword-rich text.
The next big thing in SEO is going to be social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Google's own Google Plus. Expect to see the search giant looking at which pieces of content are +1'ed, retweeted and shared most when determining rankings.
Look, it's easy to go round and round in circles with your SEO. You could spend all your time researching keywords, tweaking links and text and asking people nicely to link to your content. But it's the content that really counts. Get it right, make it unique and interesting and the rankings will follow naturally.
What are your experiences with SEO? Leave a comment to let us know.
Previous Friday Donut tips:
Image: Flickr user pasukaru76 under Creative Commons.
Any doubts about whether tablet computers have a future have faded. Apple's iPad might have seemed like a bit of a gamble when it was first announced, but it's been an enormous success.
For proof, you can check the company's impressive sales figures or simply count the number you spot next time you're on a long train journey.
You can also look at new tablet devices. Everyone wants a slice of the action, and recently we've seen two major announcements which could shake up the tablet world.
Microsoft revealed its new tablet computer, Surface, at a hyped-up media event in LA. Surface is a touch-screen tablet computer which Microsoft has designed and built itself. That's a real departure for a company which usually focuses on software.
Surface will come in two flavours: one running a cut-down version of Microsoft Windows for mobile devices, the other running a full-blown version of Windows.
Initial reactions to Surface have been positive: the 11" device looks sleek and capable and has a retro rubber keyboard which doubles as a screen cover. But it won't be available for months, and as no details are available about battery life or price it's hard to judge it fairly.
Having said that, the next version of Windows is meant to be tablet friendly. If it really is (previous attempts have been less than impressive), Surface could be a real contender for business use, because you'll be able to run all your usual Windows apps.
Microsoft Surface is not yet available, and prices are still to be confirmed.
The other tech giant to jump on the tablet bandwagon this week was Google, which showed off its Nexus 7 tablet. With a smaller screen (7") and prices starting from £159, it's unlikely to be a direct competitor to Surface.
But this light and portable tablet may find business fans. At that sort of price, it's easy to envisage companies equipping sales and mobile staff with them as standard.
The most significant feature of the Nexus is its quad-core processor and 12-core graphics processing unit. In English, this means the Nexus 7 can crank up to run demanding apps. But at other times it can turn some of the cores off to extend battery life.
These announcements show that it's an exciting time for tablet computing. If your company is thinking about investing in these new devices, your choice is increasing and stiff competition may drive prices down.
But Surface and Nexus also spell interesting times for business computing as a whole. Are tablet computers soon to become our mobile computing tool of choice? And if so, what does that mean for expensive, super-slim ultrabooks?
Other popular business tablets
More popular content on tablets:
Guess what? Google’s tweaking how it ranks websites yet again. And these changes will have a big impact on some websites, because the search giant has old skool search engine optimisation techniques in its sites.
Google will soon be paying extra attention to over-optimised websites. If you’ve stuffed your pages full of keywords, linked like crazy when it’s not appropriate, filled your footers with keyword links or weird text, you’d better pay attention.
Optimisation experts SEOmoz have taken a look at what’s changing and explained what you need to do with your website. If you rely on Google to bring you business, watching their video will be ten minutes well spent:
Mick Dickinson runs online marketing and PR agency BuzzedUp.
The launch of the long-rumoured Google Drive happened yesterday. But is this online storage a useful new service for businesses, or is it a step too far for a company that already knows so much about you?
If you’ve ever used Dropbox, SkyDrive, Box, SugarSync or any other cloud-based storage, you’ll be familiar with what Google Drive does. It gives you access to online storage, to which you can upload documents, photos, files … any of your data, basically.
You create a special folder on your computer (your ‘Google Drive’). Anything placed in this folder gets uploaded to your online storage. Here’s why you might do this:
But what’s new? All these features are already offered by most of the other online storage services I mentioned above. Is there anything to make Google Drive different?
Perhaps the biggest thing that sets Google Drive apart from its competitors is the fact that it’s one of a whole portfolio of services from the ubiquitous search engine. This means Google Drive is closely integrated with elements of the company's other services. For instance:
There’s one other thing that makes Google Drive attractive, and that’s the price. It’s significantly cheaper than most competitors. For instance, it costs $9.99 a month (all the prices are in US dollars, even though I’m in the UK) for 50GB of storage with Dropbox. With Google Drive, twice that costs $4.99.
As with most cloud storage services, there’s also a basic free option – Google Drive gives you 5GB free, which is actually enough for loads of documents.
Google Drive is poised to shake up the online storage market. Expect prices of competing services to drop over the next few months, as Google takes a big bite of the market.
It may also be worth considering if your business already uses other Google Services, because Google Drive will work very well with them. If you’re using Google Apps for your email and document editing, then Google Drive may be a logical next step.
However, before you jump in with both feet, it’s worth just stopping to think through the implications of the service. Google uses detailed information about its users in order to show them targeted advertising. For instance, the adverts you see in Google Mail are determined – to some extent – by the content of your emails.
Google is likely to extend this capability with Google Drive. It might not show you adverts within your Google Drive, but it will almost certainly analyse your data to help it target ads at you when you’re signed in to other Google services.
So, are you comfortable granting Google access to your files, some of which may contain important business or personal information? The answer to that will probably depend on your attitude towards the company overall, and your feelings about targeted advertising.
As part of its Google Drive FAQ, CNET has a good summary of how Google says it may use your files. You might also be interested in this succinct argument against the service from Chris Armstrong and Aral Balkan’s interesting analogy.
Read Google’s official announcement about Google Drive. Will you be signing up to try the service?
Every Friday afternoon we're going to bring you a great business IT tip. From nuggets of information that make repetitive tasks easier to simple ways to banish business technology annoyances, we’re here to help.
If there’s something you’d like help with, send an email to email@example.com or leave a comment on this post. We’ll try and cover it in a future IT Donut tip.
There’s a reason Google is the world’s biggest search engine. And that’s because it’s pretty good at doing what it does. Most times, you can tap a few words into the Google homepage and it comes up trumps – no matter whether you want a dog on a skateboard or the UK’s population growth rate.
But sometimes, Google doesn’t perform. And that’s when knowing some Google search tips can reveal what you’re looking for.
One of the best ways to home in on the results you need is to start using operators. Entering these special codes into the Google search box tells Google how to restrict its search results. Here are some key operators:
Try it: search for “Illy espresso medium roast” to find a particular type of Illy coffee.
Try it: search for Illy -coffee to find about Illy the place or Illy the rapper.
For instance, a search for income tax bands 2011-2012 using the HMRC website’s own search box returns no results (yes, really). But if you put the same search term into Google and restrict it to pages on the HMRC website, you can find exactly what you’re looking for.
(The exact phrase to enter into Google is: income tax bands 2011-2012 site:hmrc.gov.uk)
There are lots of other Google search operators you can experiment with. Read about them on Google’s help pages, or see this handy infographic. You can also use the advanced search page to access similar Google search tips without having to remember specific operators.
Leave a comment to share your favourite Google search tips or let us know if we’ve helped you.
Google's last attempt at creating a social network to rival Facebook was called Google Buzz. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have ever really caught on.
However, if it's buzz you're looking for, there was certainly a lot of that after last week's arrival of Google+ (Google Plus). If you're not clear on what we're talking about, take a look at this short introduction video.
The search giant's latest attempt to take on Facebook is only available to invited users at the moment, but I've taken a first look to see whether it can really rival Facebook.
Actually getting in is the first battle. A huge number of people want Google+ accounts, but it's tricky to get an invite at the moment. In fact, even if you've managed to snag one, the service is currently over capacity - so you can't try it out anyway!
That's far from ideal - and of course, even if you are one of the lucky few, without your friends and contacts on Google+ it can seem somewhat lonely and boring!
I have been lucky enough to get an early invite to Google+, and the one thing that hit me straight away was the potential for it to bridge the gap between home and work life. It could perhaps genuinely be the first 'all day' social platform.
Here are 10 reasons Google+ wins over Facebook every time:
Having said all that, there's one thing to remember. We have seen this before from Google, more than once. And each time their new tool generated oodles of publicity, only to fall flat.
The company has a history of struggling with social media. But could this be the time they crack it? I'd say it just might be.
Google's first Chromebook (Image: karlnorling on Flickr)
If you keep your fingers on the pulse of technology (so to speak) then you've probably already heard about the Chromebook, Google's latest attempt to take over the world change how we think about computers.
A Chromebook (there will eventually be several models, from different manufacturers) looks just like a bog-standard netbook. It's basically a small, light-ish laptop that's thin and has a good battery life. So far, so-so.
The real difference comes when you turn the thing on. According to reports, it starts up superfast (we're talking under ten seconds) and the first thing you see is a web browser. With the Google homepage on, we assume.
Other software? There isn't any. All you have is your web browser. And - of course - your internet connection, which is about to become more important than ever. Because with the Chromebook, everything is stored online, in the cloud.
You access everything on the internet. Your files, your applications, the lot. Want to check your email? Forget about installing Microsoft Outlook; you'll need to log in to your Gmail account (or your preferred email service).
If you've ever been confused about what cloud computing means, the Chromebook is a great illustration of it in action. Virtually everything you do with it, you'll do online.
You've probably spotted the flaw by now: what happens when you're not connected to the internet? Well, Google's own Chromebook page is keen to point out that not all is lost: 'many apps keep working, even in those rare moments when you're not connected'.
'Rare moments'? I wonder. Sure, some Chromebooks will have a built in 3G connection which means you don't need to be in a Wi-Fi hotspot to get online. But this costs extra - and as many netbook users will know, there are parts of the country where you'll struggle for any sort of signal at all, never mind a fast one.
So, with all your files stored online, all your programs accessed online, and your web browser the only way you have of doing anything, is this taking cloud computing a little too far - especially for business use?
Well, although more and more companies are relying on the cloud to provide various aspects of their IT, it's rare to find one confident enough to move everything to the cloud. But that, effectively, is what the Chromebook does.
There are big management advantages. As Google's co-founder Sergey Brin puts it: "The complexity of managing your computer is torturing users. It's a flawed model fundamentally. Chromebooks are a new model that doesn't put the burden of managing your computer on yourself."
He has a point. I'd dearly love to never see another stupid dialog box urging me to update and restart my computer now. But I'm not sure I'm ready to sacrifice the control I have over my own data just yet. And I suspect a lot of other businesses will be feeling the same.
But then maybe they don't have to. As Google explains, you can 'run your browser-based apps instantly, whether in the cloud or behind your firewall, as well as apps virtualised through technologies like Citrix'. In simple terms, that means you can hook a Chromebook up to servers that you own or operate (your own 'private cloud', in effect). Any more tempted?
What do you think of the Chromebook? Would you use it in your business?