Tag Archives: Google Desktop

Google Talk as a Contact Database

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(This is a shorter version of a longer post at my sister blog, ten minut.es, which take a 10 minute look at new and old products, services and websites.)

One of the most undersung corners of the Google empire, in my view, is Google Talk, the search giant’s chat application (non Windows users can launch its gadget browser version.)

For one thing, it’s so uncluttered it makes every other chat application look like the aftermath of Christmas dinner. It’s smooth, fast and the sound quality is good. But what I think it’s best for are the features that aren’t really features. (Most of these won’t be useful if you don’t use Gmail.)

For example, searching for a contact’s email address is faster in GTalk than other applications I can find. Outlook is so slow it’s horrible and Google Desktop won’t really help you since the email address you’re looking for, if it appears at all, will be via an email address or something, even if you’ve set Google Desktop to index your contacts:

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Google Talk does this much better. So long as you’ve selected the Add people I communicate with often to my Friends List (Settings/General)

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GoogleTalk will add these names to its list, so that when you start typing their name in the search line their names will appear below, even if they’re not a Google Talk user:

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Move your mouse over one of the entries and their contact details will appear:

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Clicking on the email address (in blue) will either create a new message in Gmail or a new message in your default email client, depending on whether you’ve selected Open Gmail when I click on email links or not in your Settings:

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Now you have a quick way of scouring your contact book and creating emails. It’s possibly only marginally quicker than clicking on Compose Mail in Gmail, but I find Google Talk so fast it works well for me.

I feel Google could go further with this. What I’d love is if it could include in its search not just names but towns and other fields stored in your Gmail contact database. If I could quickly trawl through all my Gmail contacts for specific interests (who should I chat to about satellites and medical emergencies, for example) Google Talk would become a sort of first stop for organising my otherwise untamable contact list. (At the moment the best solution for this is my old favorite, PersonalBrain, which I’ve written about before.)

It’s not perfect, by any means. The built-in Chat within Gmail seems to have features that aren’t replicated in Google Talk, which would make this a better tool. Allowing you to include your AIM contacts inside Chat is one (unless I’m much mistaken this won’t work in Google Talk). The other is that when you add extra detail to your address book in Gmail — adding a photo, say — this information appears nicely inside the Gmail Chat:

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but not in Google Talk:

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I’d like to see Google improve on this.

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More Widgets, This Time from Google

This whole widget thing seems to be taking off. Opera has released a preview version with widgets built in, and now Google have offered something. The new beta of the Google Desktop includes what aren’t being called widgets but should be, as described by Mihai Ionescu, one of the engineers behind the Desktop : 

As a Sidebar user, you can now customize and view personalized information anywhere on the the desktop by clicking and dragging your favorite panels wherever you like. Furthermore, you can now easily share information from your Sidebar panels with your contacts by sending it to them through email, chat or directly to their Sidebar. As an added bonus you and your contacts can also play online games through the Sidebar.

I haven’t checked this out yet, but I will.

How To Phish Google

I’ve long believed that phishing emails are just the beginning of a new kind of fraud which is likely to be sophisticated and fast moving. Here’s an example of what they might look like, courtesty of a British computer scientist called Jim Ley, written up at the security website Netcraft. Ley, Netcraft says, “has demonstrated that opportunities exist for fraudsters to launch phishing attacks using cross site scripting bugs on the very widely used Google sites.”

I’m not quite clear from either account whether this is one vulnerability or more, and whether it applies only since Google extended their desktop search to include files on your computer (rather than on the Internet).

As far as I can figure it out, it works like this. A bad guy, rather than try to lure a victim to his dodgy website using a socially engineered email or a virus, would ‘inject’ content into Google to do the same thing. So, say, a user would visit Google to find a credit card submission form which explains that Google is soon to become a subscription-only service at $5 per month, but that users could take advantage of an earlybird special offer to obtain lifetime free searches for just $10. (This is Ley’s example, cited by Netcraft.)

Another vulnerability included in the Google Desktop would, Netcraft says, have “allowed an attacker to search a user’s local machine for passwords and report the results directly back to the attacker’s own web site.” Both vulnerabilities have been fixed, but Netcraft and Ley say incompletely.

I don’t claim to understand the technical aspects of this, and it may be somewhat obscure. But what is worrying is that (a) Ley reports Google as being less than interested in addressing the issues he raised (two years ago, according to his website) and, (b) that if such tricks are occurring to diligent folk like Ley, they must be occurring to hackers and the Internet underground. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Phishing is not just misleading emails, it’s a multifaceted effort to part us ordinary folk from our online money. And it’s not going to go away. Indeed, like most things technological, it’s a fast escalating arms race, and I don’t think we’ve even started to get it figured out.

Software: Google’s New Deskbar

 If you’re not a big user of Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s browser — and therefore no fan of Google’s Toolbar — you may be interested in their new Deskbar.
 
 
It sits in the bar at the bottom of your (Windows) screen, wherein you can type ordinary searches, image searches, even definitions and movie reviews. The answers pop up in a mini window.