27 February 2010

Unhide multiple sheets in Excel

Microsoft Excel has hundreds of functions and commands, but even so there are some things the Microsoft engineers failed to include. One of my recurrent annoyances is the lack of a command to unhide more than one sheet at a time. Hiding several sheets at once is very easy: you just select them by holding down the Ctrl key and then hide the group from the Format menu. The unhide option on the other hand presents you with a list of hidden sheets where you can only select one item to display it again.

When working with large files and lots of sheets, I prefer to hide the sheets where data is stored or where intermediary calculations are performed, and leave only the final results and charts visible to improve the readability of the file. But Excel makes it hard to bring back these sheets if you want to edit them again.

25 February 2010

Enable silent updates for Firefox

Along with other innovations like the multi-process architecture, introduced a new update model that minimizes user interaction and delivers the newest, most stable and secure version to the users quickly and silently, in the background. In this regard, Chrome is almost like a web application, where users run the newest version from the server without seeing version numbers or update prompts. A very interesting study conducted last year showed it’s the most efficient system currently available and their conclusions are pretty straightforward:

Our measurements prove that silent updates and little dependency on the underlying operating system are most effective to get users of Web browsers to surf the Web with the latest browser version. [...] We recommend any software vendor to seriously consider deploying silent updates as this benefits both the vendor and the user, especially for widely used attack-exposed applications like Web browsers and browser plug-ins.

20 February 2010

Remove buzz from your Gmail Sent folder

One of the annoyances introduced to our inbox are the dozens of unnecessary messages flooding the ‘Sent’ folder. Practically every Buzz we send out gets copied there, not only manual messages typed into the Buzz status box, but also from all the connected services. Going there to search for a recently sent email, you can find yourself looking at a long list of your tweets instead.

Of course, you can use search to filter out buzz with an expression like this: in:sent –is:buzz, but typing that over and over is time-consuming. Even if you use Quick Links to save the search, it’s annoying to change your habits, not to mention Gmail search won't let you change the number of results to something more useful than 20. And because ‘Sent’ is a system label, like ‘Buzz’, you cannot remove it from a message like you can with regular labels.

Or at least, you can’t in the web interface, but accessing Gmail through IMAP opens up that possibility. In an IMAP client, all Gmail labels are converted into folders and you can easily move messages around, even out of the Sent folder. The best part is the changes are synced back to the server, so the messages will be removed from web-based Gmail as well.

18 February 2010

Likes and comments count in Google Buzz

Among the things people miss in the shiny new social network / aggregator from Google is some information about the number of comments and likes. FriendFeed puts that right on your profile for all visitors to see, while on nothing like this exists and on top of that, I have never heard anybody complain about it.

treats that information more privately, because it can’t be found on your public Google profile, but in the mostly ignored Google Dashboard, accessible only to the user. Like the starred items count for , the “Buzz” section of the Dashboard offers some nice statistics about your Buzz activity that you won’t find anywhere else. Google Buzz Statistics in Dashboard

Unofficial browser speed tests

And by “unofficial” I mean tests made on my home computer. Now that launched the first beta version of 10.50, I was curious to see if the advertised speed gains were real. My first impressions after installing the new beta were that it was indeed faster, but nowhere near .

For my tests I used two online benchmarking tools, SunSpider and V8, which were also featured in the official Opera tests. I tested the current browsers installed on my computer (well, except Internet Explorer): Chrome 4.0, 3.6, Opera 10.50 and an older, portable version of Safari 4.0. I opened each of them separately for the purpose of the test and closed the program after getting the results. There were no other major software running in the background, except for the antivirus.

16 February 2010

Google Buzz: privacy, present and future

When I first heard the rumors about a new social service being integrated into Gmail, one of my first reactions was: “expect privacy problems”. Unfortunately for Google’s new service, I was right. Practically not a day got by without another article detailing some new way Buzz exposes your Gmail address, your other addresses shared with close friends or even your physical address through the mobile app. There were also some very heated reactions from the public; one of them has restricted access to the blog in the mean time and you can find pieces of it on other blogs covering the uproar.

Personally, I think this public reaction was completely blown out of proportions. Of course, the massive online coverage only served to amplify the “news”, but after all, what can you expect from journalists, if their main concern is traffic? I mean, nobody gets that worked up about security holes in Microsoft products these days and users aren't massively dumping Windows or Internet Explorer when a new flaw is discovered. I don’t deny Buzz had or still has privacy issues, every online service does, but Google was very quick to offer solutions to the “public” concern. I think the timely reaction proves the company takes the privacy of the users very seriously and that it intends to support the new service in every way that it can.

14 February 2010

Hide Buzz from your Gmail inbox

Almost immediately after launch, articles appeared on the Internet showing how to hide the email notifications or turn Buzz off completely. The number of updates can be overwhelming, especially if you follow lots of people or very active ones. For example, my unread buzz count usually exceeds 10 times the amount of spam!

If you would like to keep Buzz around, but don’t like to be constantly reminded of new updates, Gmail has a feature that can help. Go to Settings ► Labels and hide the Buzz system label. Google Buzz Hide label

13 February 2010

Shortcuts and saved searches for Google Buzz

One of the hot topics of conversation in Google newest online service are the tips and tricks to get the most out of the fresh app. The same thing happened after the launch of Wave; fortunately nobody needs invitations this time around. I have posted some of my own discoveries on my Twitter account as I noticed them, and now you can find them in this article.

Keyboard shortcuts

One of the advantages of having Buzz integrated with other Google services are the familiar keyboard shortcuts. To use them enable the feature in Gmail. If they still don’t work, try updating your browser; some users reported that fixed their missing shortcuts.

12 February 2010

The new Facebook: more efficient or more closed?

Right on time for it’s 6th birthday, Facebook changed the main interface once again. I haven’t been with the site for that long to witness all it’s transformations, but according to Wikipedia, this is at least the fifth redesign since launch. It’s not that radical compared to the previous, when they introduced the different feeds for recent and popular updates; Facebook 4.5 maybe?

The main changes happened on the ‘Home’ page; the profile page stayed basically the same. The more I look at the new layout, the more it reminds me of the interface of an email client: a sidebar on the left with Messages (Email), Events (Calendar), Friends (Address book) and in the center the actual updates (new emails). Compared to Gmail, the resemblance is even greater: both have a search box at the top and a list with online friends in the lower half of the sidebar. And if you start a chat, both pop-up a small window on the lower right side! Now that Gmail entered the social arena, the only difference between them is that Gmail places the private emails first and the public Buzz second, while Facebook defaults to the social activity. Nothing surprising, given their origins. With this email-like approach, Facebook could pave the way for it’s rumored email service or just trying to attract even more users with a familiar look.

10 February 2010

How I activated Google Buzz

It seems the rumors were true, there really is a reserved system label in Gmail called ‘Buzz’! Like chat before it, the label is designed for a new service integrated into Gmail, that was just launched yesterday. It was not immediately available in my account, but I found a easy way of turning it on. I don’t think it will take long for Buzz to roll out to all users, or at least those who have English set as their language. But if you’re anxious to try it out earlier, here’s what I did:

It all started with a tweet from Mihai Parparita, one of the Google engineers behind Google Reader. It linked to his Google Profile, where I noticed a new tab with his recent Buzz activity. I clicked ‘Like’ on one of the statuses and I was immediately greeted with a pop-up inviting me to set up a public profile. Google Buzz Profile preview

08 February 2010

Disable extensions and plug-ins in Google Chrome

The blog Google Operating System wrote earlier today about how to use Google Chrome’s incognito mode as a replacement for the safe mode that comes with Firefox. In an incognito window, all Chrome extensions, and naturally user scripts also, are disabled. I was surprised at first to see this, but it’s probably an extra privacy feature, since extensions are normally allowed to access the browsing history and could potentially breach the secrecy expected from a private mode.

Of course, switching to incognito is not a full replacement for the safe mode in Firefox, since it doesn’t provide options to reset customizations or to selectively uninstall extensions. The menu entry for them is actually disabled as well, so it’s in a sense like going back to a previous Chrome version, one that didn’t support extensions.

Bring Firefox into 2010 with TwentyTen

After making a small step to refresh Firefox’s looks by hiding the old-fashioned menu, I made a bigger step by changing the whole theme. I found something very similar to the recently presented proposals for the upcoming interface of Firefox 4.0. There are lots of tutorials on the web about making the current version of Firefox look as close to this concept as possible, but they all involve several steps, more than one extension and tweaks to configuration files. This theme on the other hand makes the switch easier.

The theme is called “TwentyTen” and can be found on deviantART. It’s inspired by the Office 2010 design, hence the name, and includes a different color theme for every Office application, plus a ‘Noir’ setting, for a total of 10. Since the recent UI concept for Firefox on Windows is also inspired by Office, the theme comes pretty close to both.

I personally love how it looks, although on Windows XP it doesn't benefit from any Aero effects. I usually go with the default browser look and lately Firefox was very behind compared with Chrome and Opera 10. And yes, the interface makes a difference, whether we like to admit it or not. The interface was the main reason I didn’t like to use the previous versions of Opera. Now, with this theme installed, Firefox has a chance to compete and I find myself using it more and more instead of Opera.

06 February 2010

Fix misbehaving Firefox toolbars

One of the smaller features introduced in Firefox 3.6 for Windows users is the ability to easily hide the menu bar, just like the address and bookmark toolbars. It’s one of the steps for the proposed interface refresh due to arrive with Firefox 4.0. I welcomed the feature, because I was already hiding the menu bar with an extension. It’s funny how my attitude toward this interface tweak changed since Chrome became my favorite browser. When the menu was first removed by default in Internet Explorer 7, I immediately wanted it back, and so did a lot of other users. But after I began using Chrome, I wanted the minimalistic interface everywhere and most major browsers are already making similar interface choices. Could this be caused by the general tendency to reject everything Microsoft does, even if it’s a good thing, and like Google initiatives? Or is it that Chrome doesn’t give users a choice to bring back classical menus? But I digress…

03 February 2010

For feeds, Facebook is even worse than Twitter

I recently read an article about Facebook possibly becoming the world’s biggest news reader. Clearly it has a significant user base: it’s at least 10 times bigger than Twitter. And, although I haven’t seen many estimates about the number of Google Reader users, it’s safe to say they are even less than Twitter’s. But other that sheer size, does it have any other advantages?

Well, as hard as I think, I can’t really find a good one. On the surface, this just looks like last year’s argument whether Google Reader or Twitter is better for following news. But as hard as it tries lately to copy Twitter, Facebook it’s far from it. The experience is much less customizable, it lacks the large ecosystem of Twitter applications and clients. It’s not even real-time, like Twitter!

The good thing about Facebook is that is has a dedicated ‘Pages’ view showing only these subscription-like updates. Unfortunately, ‘Pages’, like all lists, respects the general settings of the ‘News Feed’, so if you hide something there, it is also hidden here. This makes it impossible, under the current interface, to separate pages you have become a fan of from friends and to keep your stream relatively clean. One of the first hints that Facebook wasn’t designed for news reading.

01 February 2010

Are people in Germany really switching browsers?

Halfway through January, there was a lot of buzz around new security holes in Internet Explorer. Nothing new here, you would be inclined to say, but this time some governments issued warnings to their citizens about this and recommended using alternative browsers, at least until the vulnerabilities are fixed. Germany was first, followed closely by France and Australia. The Mozilla Metrics team, cited by several blogs and news sites, announced a huge increase in the number of Firefox downloads from IE users in Germany and later for the two other countries as well. I was curios whether this has actually translated into a noticeable change in browser market share for these countries and since now January is over, I checked the browser statistics provided by StatCounter.