Tag Archives: Gmail

Apps for Outlook.com: Build Extensions for 400 Million Users

mail-apps-for-outlook

Microsoft has announced several developer opportunities to extend Office 365, specifically around Outlook encompassing mail, contacts and calendar. All those initiatives focus around the business side of Microsoft’s email, contacts and calendaring, until now.

On October 30, Microsoft announced a similar initiative to have developers build apps to extend the consumer side of their email, contacts and calendaring called Apps for Outlook.com. This initiative will let developers build extensions that target a potential user base of 400 million.

In a sign of Microsoft “merging” the back-end technologies across business and consumer product lines, they also said that even though this functionality will be available only in Spring 2015, developers can start now by building apps against Outlook Web App. In other words, apps built for Outlook Web App today will work seamlessly with Outlook.com too. This is good news for developers, obviously, because now developers building productivity apps don’t have to worry about enterprise vs consumer our Outlook vs Hotmail/Outlook.com.

The APIs for Office 365 are already available, and these apps will use HTML and JavaScript so as consumers, the Apps for Outlook.com will work in any modern browser without the need for plugins. Some documentation for building such apps can be obtained at this MSDN site.

Per Microsoft:

Whenever a customer reads or composes an email or calendar event, your app could be there, helping them get the job done. If you have a great idea for how our customers should interact with their email or calendar, now is the time to make it happen. Not only are these apps simple to build–they use open web technologies such as HTML and Javascript–but you can start building them today.  To learn how to get started, check out Mail apps for Outlook on MSDN and the Office Dev Center.

It should be noted, Google has already built APIs to enable developers build apps against Google Apps which include GMail, Google Contacts and Google Calendar. These APIs also allow access to several other entities in Google Apps.

An example of an Outlook map running Bing Maps contextually:

Bring Back Gmail Mouse Gestures With Chrome Extension

Gmail Mouse Gestures

Back in 2011, Gmail had a labs experiment called “Mouse Gestures” that let you navigate your inbox  using the right click of your mouse. Dragging to the right/left would open the next/previous email and dragging the mouse up would open up the inbox. The experimental feature was one of my favorites so when it was discontinued in May 2012, I was a little saddened to the say the least.

A Change.org petition was launched soon after calling for its reinstatement, but who are we kidding, it’s Google after all. They shut down Google Reader in spite of its loyal following – what chance does a little lab experiment stand?

So I was quite elated when I came across a Google Chrome extension that accomplishes the same task, unofficially. Simply named Gmail Mouse Gestures, the extension does the job just as advertised. There are a few limitations to its functioning however. It hasn’t yet been updated to work with the latest tabbed-and-segregated Gmail interface so if you’re browsing emails in the Promotions tab and drag up to go to the list of emails, the extension takes you to the list of emails in the Primary tab. Left and right browsing works alright in all the tabs, thankfully.

How to Encrypt and Password Protect Your Gmail Messages

In light of the currently en vogue privacy debate raging all around the world and given the flippant stance of many of our often used communication platforms with regards to securing its users’ privacy, it is becoming more and more evident that if the user wants privacy online, he’ll have to snatch it, for it won’t be easily given.

Talking of communication, email comes to mind. Privacy begins with encryption. And encrypting email isn’t exactly an easy task. It is at best annoying. At worst it can be so cumbersome that most people don’t bother. You can use desktop clients and PGP keys, like Lifehacker details. The annoying procedure of making and handling security keys is also mentioned by Arstechnica here in its editorial about why most people don’t bother encrypting email.

So what do you do if you don’t want peeping toms and evil governments looking into your email? The best idea would be to go stone age and use smoke signals, but of course, we’re discussing technology here and I digress. A rather simpler alternative would be to encrypt the email text and share the password via other means. This is what the ingenious Google Chrome extension SecureGmail aims to do.

SecureGmail Encrypt Email

Let’s discuss the pre-requisites here before we begin encrypting our Gmail messages! You and your message recipient both will need the following:

  1. Gmail accounts
  2. Google Chrome
  3. The Chrome Extension SecureGmail 

What does the extension do? The extension will create a new button beside the usual Compose red button. When you click on it, the new mail window box appears but this one is different from the vanilla compose box as whatever you type in here won’t be saved to Google’s servers. For the technically curious, SecureGmail uses an open source JS crypto library from Stanford available here.

SecureGmail

On completing the message, click the Send Encrypted button. You’ll be asked to set a password for the message as well as a password hint. Your recipient will only see the password hint. If he doesn’t have the extension installed, he’ll see a link to install it. Otherwise, the password can be input right away and the email decrypted.

Only the encrypted copy is saved on Gmail’s servers. If you check your Sent items folders, you’ll see something like this.

SecureGmail

The success of this method obviously assumes that you’ve sent your password to your recipient successfully via other means. Maybe it’s the first word on the 37th page of a certain book, maybe it’s an irrelevant word written as graffiti somewhere. Sci-fi movies will give you enough ideas to supply a hint.

What to do if you want to encrypt text with a password but don’t want to use a chrome extension? Googling for “encrypt text” will give you a slew of options.

Interested in encrypting more kinds of files? Learn about the different tools we’ve written about here and here.

Gmail Tries to Tackle Inbox Clutter with Tabs

AOL isn’t exactly a hotbed for innovation, but its Alto mail did introduce a few neat concepts. The chief among them is the idea of stacks and automatic categorization. Unfortunately, Alto also had too many inconveniences to ever become a mainstream product. However, the good news is that Google is taking a leaf out of Alto’s book. Yes, Gmail is taking inspiration from an AOL email product.
Gmail-Tabbed-Inbox-Desktop

Google has annoucned a new tabbed inbox for Gmail that builds on the automatic categorization concept featured in Alto to reduce your inbox clutter. Gmail already has Priority Inbox, which surfaces mails that matter to you. Now, it will be grouping mails further, depending upon its source of origination. For example, one can tuck away all notifications from Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn under the Social category. Similarly mails from Groupon and its likes can be put under the Promotions category. You can setup custom categories and customize how you want your mails to be categorized.

Gmail-Tabbed-Inbox-Android-iPhone

Google will also be updating its Android and iOS apps (for iPhone and iPad) to add support for a categorized inbox. You will see your uncategorized mail by default when you open the Gmail app. You’ll be able to navigate to your categories from the left menu, as shown in the above screenshot. The updated Gmail app will be released within a few weeks, while the desktop version will be rolled out gradually.

Gmail For Android Update Finally Allows You To Archive/Reply/Delete An Email From The Notification Bar

Google has finally updated the Gmail app for Android to add something that has been requested for such a long time from all Android 4.1 Jelly Bean users — the ability to reply, delete or archive an email right from the notification bar. Up until today, the Gmail app only showed you a preview of the email, but today’s update will add the functionality to Archive or Reply to it.

gmail_notification

While the option may not seem a biggie to some people, it will definitely be appreciated by all those people who like to keep their inbox clutter free all the time, and archive or reply to an email as soon as it arrives. The update also contains some under-the-hood optimizations and bug-fixes. Google has also changed the font used in the Email headers to a different variant of Roboto, which makes text a bit clear and sharp. The update is already live in the Play Store and can be downloaded from here.

Beware of This Gmail Phishing Email

There’s a new phishing email that is being sent across to Gmail users stating that their Gmail account might be suspended if they do not verify their account immediately. If you’ve received such an email, it is advised that you delete or report the email as ‘phishing’ immediately.

The following phishing email is being sent across to Gmail users:

Gmail! Mail Account Verification

You are receiving this message due to errors encountered in our regular verification process on your email account.

We need to verify your account, regarding the new security features that is added to your email account.You are required to send us your user name and password to avoid loosing your account

 

Regards,
Gmail! Account Services

Gmail Scam

Messages like this are sent to mass users by spammer and are specifically designed to collect personal information, called ‘spoofing’ or ‘password phishing.’

As Google explains, “phishing is a form of fraud in which a message sender attempts to trick the recipient into divulging important personal information like a password or bank account number, transferring money, or installing malicious software. Usually the sender pretends to be a representative of a legitimate organization.”

Users should be cautious of any message or email that asks for your personal information, such as username & password, credit card number, or any other credential information. Some messages refer you to a webpage asking for personal information, which also should be avoided.

One thing you can be sure of is that Google or Gmail will never ask you to provide this information in an email; if the message asking for it claims to be from Google or the Gmail team, do not believe it. Gmail doesn’t send mass messages asking for passwords or personal information. If you think your Gmail account has been compromised or taken over, you can follow this link to seek direct help from the Gmail team and resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

Outlook.com is out of Preview, Said to Have 60 Million Users

In a blog post (and in interviews), Microsoft announced on February 18th that their new webmail service Outlook.com is coming out of preview. Microsoft claims Outlook.com has 60 million users, which makes it the fastest growing service.

In an interview with The Verge, Dharmesh Mehta, Senior Director of Outlook.com said that about a third of Outlook.com users came from GMail. While this number does not include true switchers, it does show that the service did pique the interest of many GMail users. The real success of the service will be determined by how it is able to retain those users who came from GMail, as well as of course attracting users from other services.

Another point made by Mehta was that all the time while Outlook.com was in preview, they were focused on scaling and tuning the performance so that they can handle the loads which would inevitably come when they start migrating existing Hotmail users over to the new service. This is going to start from the 19th and after sending emails and alerting the users, at some point the migration will happen automatically. Microsoft expects this process to complete by the end of summer.

Now that they are out of preview, Mehta said that they will focus on enhancing the features of the service. I look forward to some of the missing pieces in the service like:

  • Calendar: The beautiful interface (inspired by Metro design principles, and made for touch-friendly devices) extends from email, to contacts (People) to SkyDrive. The one service which has not seen the new coat of paint is Calendar and boy does it stick out like a sore thumb. The calendar needs to be updated quickly.
  • 2-factor authentication: When Outlook.com launched in preview mode, the team did some interviews and even a Reddit Ask Me Anything. When asked about 2-factor authentication like GMail and many other services use, the Outlook team said they don’t have it because most normal users don’t use 2-factor authentication because it makes sign in too complex. Instead, they claimed, they have a one-time password that gets sent via SMS, to use when accessing the service at an unknown PC. I don’t think that is a great substitute for 2-factor authentication. If Microsoft feels it is too complex, they should have an equivalent solution so that hackers cannot easily hack into email accounts.
  • Logged in activity: Continuing with the security trend, GMail also offers a nice snippet of IP addresses which are logged in to the GMail account at any given time, with the feature to remotely log any of those connections out. There is no such feature in Outlook.com. Another very nice feature available in GMail is a notification upon login that there was activity from places like China on the GMail account, potentially signalling an impending hacking attack. These days, it is better to have such measures in place than regret a hacking later, so it would be very nice if Outlook.com can adopt some of these security features in the service.
  • Spam filtering: While Outlook.com’s spam filter is great, I am not a big fan of blocking senders to mark an email as spam. This is especially true when there is a limit on how many senders can be in the blocked sender list. Instead, a message should be marked as spam and the anti-spam engine can then make an intelligent guess about the sender *and* the content of the message for future use. Similarly, moving a message to the Junk folder should trigger the same action as marking a message as Junk does, and that is not happening today.
  • Mobile apps – “Send email as”: What I love about Outlook.com among many other things, is the ability to collect emails from multiple accounts and use it as the only email service. On the web, I am able to decide which of the email addresses I want to use to send messages from, but that is not true with mobile apps. Even on Windows Phone, the email app is unable to send a message from a sender which is different from my Outlook.com/Hotmail account. Hence, when I want to send a message from my GMail address via my phone, I am unable to. I know part of this problem lies with the Windows Phone team, but since Outlook.com and Windows Phone are both from the same “team”, I as a user of both those services should expect things to just work. They don’t.

Let’s see how quickly these (and other) features get included in the service. I am looking forward to the massive marketing campaign for the service that is about the start soon. Unlike the negative Scroogled campaign, this one seems to target all the things that are great about Outlook.com, which is always a nice way to get your message out. See some of the upcoming ads below.

This one talks about Sweep feature:

This one is “Get Going”:

Gmail Adds Google Drive, Now Attach Larger Files

The internet has an intangible presence in everyone’s lives nowadays, and it has grown into a strong content production and consumption platform with a worldwide audience. Some of the world’s most popular businesses are driven through this medium, and overall, the Internet is the one thing that has made life so much better for everyone. However, the Internet has been around for a few decades now, but it is still requires some decision making when it comes to transferring files over the Internet. This XKCD sums it up pretty well.

file_transfer

Email services have limits on the size of files that can be transferred. Recently, Dropbox was able to fill the gap with its file storage and syncing service. Now, Gmail is making it easier to transfer large file to your peers, by integrating its email service with its cloud storage service— Google Drive. Gmail has allowed email attachments up to 25 MB until now, but with Google Drive, we can send files up to 10 GB in size through Gmail. This is 400 times of what was once allowed.

The Gmail Drive integration comes with a new feature, which also checks if the file being shared has the correct permissions. The Gmail blog announces the new feature, saying,

Whenever you send a file from Drive that isn’t shared with everyone, you’ll be prompted with the option to change the file’s sharing settings without leaving your email. It’ll even work with Drive links pasted directly into emails.

The feature is available for those with Gmail’s new compose interface, and will roll out for all users over the next few days.

Google Launches New Compose in Gmail

A new feature has been introduced in Gmail that gives the ability to compose new emails in a pop-up window that appears at the bottom-right of the screen rather than opening the compose email page. Google’s Phil Sharp says that the new view “makes it easy to reference any other emails without ever having to close your draft.”

The new way of composing email in Gmail is not only faster and easier to use, but also enables you to draft your emails right from the inbox screen, with viewing all of the contextual information from other messages. The pop-up view allows you to attach files to your email and works just like the default compose email page. You can also search or view any new emails that come without having to close the compose window. Well, it is very similar to how a chat window works. That said, you can write multiple messages at once and minimize a message to finish it later.

New Compose in Gmail

Other features included are the ability to insert inline images, which many users have been waiting for. Additionally, as you’re typing in the email addresses, the result will also display the profile pictures of your contacts, helping you to visually identify them easily.

Sharp also adds, ” The reply experience has been designed to fit better inline as part of your conversation — replies take up much less vertical height, intelligently expand to fit your content, and always keep the recipients and other controls in view no matter how long your message gets.”

To try out the new compose in Gmail, following the procedure mentioned below:

Click the Compose button, click the “new compose experience” link right next to the Labels button at the top of the message. Until the change is fully launched, you’ll be able to choose whether you use the new or current experience.

If you think that the new feature isn’t great and want to revert back to the old experience, you can do it as follows:

  1. Click Compose
  2. At the bottom corner of the message pane, click the More menu icon next to the Discard button.
  3. Select “Switch back to old compose.

Google is releasing a preview version of the new compose feature to a limited set of users. It will be enabled to all users once all the features are included. The following features are yet to be added:

  • Insert emoticons and event invitations
  • Print drafts from the More menu
  • Add labels to outgoing messages from the More menu
  • Send read receipts (Google Apps users only)
  • Canned responses