Google Sync

This entry is part 25 of 35 in the series Green Belt

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Google Sync can help keep your iPhone/iPod Touch, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, and Symbian smartphone stay synchronized with calendar, contacts, and email on your Google account wirelessly.

This is more commonly known as “push technology” because you don’t have to manually request your calendar, contacts, or email be updated. Most people find push technology more convenient. The advantage is that you get your updates sent automatically to the native apps on your mobile device and those are synced with your Google account information. The downside is that you cannot take advantage of many of the features of the web application such as labels, stars, and archiving in Gmail, for example.

Setting up Google Sync was pretty basic. I was able to follow the instructions online and get my iPod Touch setup to sync my email and calendar items in a matter of minutes. The key is to setup the account as a Microsoft Exchange account. Google Sync uses the Microsoft ActiveSync technology to do the heavy lifting. Generally, I still use the web interface or the Gmail applet on my iPod Touch so I can use the cool extras to manage my email. The place where Google Sync has made a big difference for me is the calendar. It sure is handy to have my Google calendar items, which are generally personal, right next to my work items all in the palm of my hand. Now when someone asks me “Are you available next Tuesday?” I have everything I need in one place.

It should be noted that the iPhone and iPod Touch require OS v3.0 or higher.

You can find step-by-step instructions for your mobile device at m.google.com/sync.

Here’s today’s quick tip. You might want to check out the labs feature “Hide Read Labels” if you want to have a little less clutter on the left side of you screen in the labels tab. If you turn on this labs feature, it will only show you the labels that have unread messages in them, in essence, hiding all the labels where the messages are all read. This is particularly useful if you are one of those people who use labels as a to-do list. For example, saving unread messages in a label called “Weekend” will have this folder displayed until you’ve read all the messages, in effect, checking them off your to-do list, then the list goes to hidden. Just another handy way to keep the relevant information at your fingertips while keeping the interface clean.

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Gmail Backup

This entry is part 24 of 35 in the series Green Belt

Welcome the Gmail Podcast, a collection short hints, tips, and tricks to help you get more from your Gmail account. I’m your host, Chuck Tomasi.

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This past week I came across a really neat application called “Gmail Backup”. The name says it all. All you do is download and install the tool, provide your Gmail credentials, point it at a folder on your system, and click the Backup button. It takes care of the rest. And best of all, it’s free.

There’s a Windows command line and GUI vesion, a command line and GUI Linux version, and a Mac command line version only. I have heard rumors that a GUI version for the Mac is in the works so stay tuned to the Gmail Podcast for more information. Running from the command line actually makes sense if you want to schedule regular backups from a script. See the documentation on their website at www.gmail-backup.com.

Regardless of your platform, you will need Gmail IMAP enabled. You’ll find this in the settings under the “Forwarding and POP/IMAP” tab. For Linux users, you will need the wxPython (http://wxpython.org) packages installed. It also requires the ctypes module; which should be included in the Python 2.5 distribution. For earlier versions of Python you can find the package in the repositories of your distribution.

I downloaded and installed the Windows XP version and was up and running fairly quickly. I created a new folder under “My Documents” called “My Gmail Backup”. Feel free to put the folder where you like or create multiple fodlers if you plan on backing up multiple accounts. You can even do this after you start the application. Currently my mailbox is using approximately 1.6GB of storage on Gmail and it took a little over an hour to backup the first 600MB before I stopped. I had to relocate which would have interrupted my Internet connection. When I started it back up again, Gmail Backup recognized how much work it had done, took a few minutes to scan past the 9700 messages already backed up and resumed where it left off.

Other parameters availble in the application allow you to set a “Before date” to backup all messages before a given date, and all message since a given date. On first invokation, both dates are the same so it backs up all messages. As it retrieves the messages, they are stored in individual “eml” files in your backup directory. The ELM files can be opened by Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, Internet Explorer, IncrediMail, Thunderbird, and for Mac users, Entourage, and of course Apple’s Mail program. EML files are nice because not only do they preserve the times, sender, and other standard information, they also contain any file attachments that were on the files on Gmail. And yes, Gmail Backup also remembers your labels that you applied to the messages. They are saved in a mapping file called “labels.txt”, although you may run in to problems if your labels contain non-alphanumeric characters (a-z and 0-9).

And what would a backup program be without a restore feature? Gmail Backup allows you to re-upload all or part of your backup. If you’ve got multiple Gmail accounts or host your own domain from Gmail, you can backup messages from one account, and restore them to another account simply by providing the right credentials.

Again, I recommend visiting the website for full documentation, FAQs, and active forums at www.gmail-backup.com

For what it’s worth, there are other ways to backup your Gmail account, including Thunderbird (which has a limitation of 64,000 messages), Fetchmail (a little more technically involved and requires Cygwin to be installed), or Getmail (for you Linux users). I just found Gmail Backup to be quick and easy to use.

Here’s today’s quick tip… If you receive an email with a subject something like “Warning code: VX2G99AAJ”, just report it as spam, a phishing attempt, or delete it. The message body says it’s from “The Gmail Team”, however the message header says something quite differently. This is just an attempt to get your user information. Don’t even bother opening the message.
That’s all for this time… Comments, suggestions, or questions can be sent to gpodcast@gmail.com or check the website for full information and archives of all previous Gmail tips at chuckchat.com/gmail. I have no affiliation with Google other than as a satisfied Gmail user. Thanks to you for listening, and don’t forget to write.

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Enhanced Gmail Plugin for Blackberry

This entry is part 23 of 35 in the series Green Belt

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A few days ago my mobile phone at work was replaced with a Blackberry Curve. I’ve used many smartphones in the past, but this was my first Blackberry. I am still learning my way around the interface, applications, and their options, and I have to admit – I can see the attraction to this platform. It was only a couple days later that my Technorama co-host, Kreg Steppe, let me know that there is a new plugin available for the Blackberry that lets your standard Blackberry mail app work better with Gmail. Until recently you could send and receive email using the standard IMAP protocol, but that fell far short of the functionality that many Gmail users want including labels, stars, and more – causing them to download a separate app to manage their Gmail. Well, those days are over.

With the Enhanced Gmail plugin for Blackberry, you can: Add and remove labels and stars from your messages, report spam, perform local and remote searches, archive mail messages, view related messages as a single conversation (also known as threads in other mail programs), and much more. The plugin requires Blackberry Device Software version 4.5 or greater and Google Mail Integration with the Blackberry service. Most of you probably already have this if you have a recent Blackberry.

Begin by pointing your Blackberry web browser to blackberry.com/gmail. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully. If you have an existing Blackberry mail setup to Gmail, you will need to remove it and recreate it.

It should also be noted that mail synchronization is one way, from the Blackberry device to Gmail. Many changes that happen on the Gmail web interface are not reflected on the Blackberry. To find out more, visit the link to the Blackberry forums, found in the show notes on the Gmail Podcast website.

http://supportforums.blackberry.com/rim/board/message?board.id=Hello&message.id=198#M198

Finally, if you use the Blackberry Storm, this functionality is built in to version 2.0.0.13 so you won’t need to download this plugin. I don’t yet know if the enhanced Gmail functionality will be a standard feature of other Blackberry phones in the future. Stay tuned to the Gmail Podcast or visit the website for updates.

Here’s today’s quick tip. Gmail now has a feature to email your task list. From the Tasks window, choose the Actions menu, and select “Email Task List”. A new message is composed with all the items in that list shown as bullet items and completed items are crossed off. This is a good way to show project status, or let someone know how busy you are and why you haven’t gotten to something they asked you for. Of course, you’ll want to make sure at least a few things are crossed off so you can backup your claims of being so busy.

Finally, Gmail is rolling out the ability to easily import email and contacts from other email systems like AOL, Yahoo, and Hotmail. This feature was announced to new users in June of 2009 and existing users would be able to do this later. Well, now it’s later. if you want a refresher on the feature and how to access it, you can fid it on the Gmail Podcast recorded June 14, 2009. The short answer is that it is in the settings under accounts.

That’s all for this time… Comments, suggestions, or questions can be sent to gpodcast@gmail.com or check the website for full information and archives of all previous Gmail tips at chuckchat.com/gmail. I have no affiliation with Google other than as a satisfied Gmail user. Special thanks to long time listener and Technorama co-host Kreg Steppe for pointing me to the Blackberry plugin. Thanks to you for listening, and don’t forget to write.

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iPhone and Android Enhancements

This entry is part 22 of 35 in the series Green Belt

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If you’re an iPhone or Android user, you’ll definitely want to look at the recent changes to the mobile web Gmail interface for those devices. Google has made some major improvements to the UI.

First, Gmail mobile now supports labels for your email conversations very much like the desktop version. Now you can add color coded tags to respective emails for managing your inbox while you’re on the go. You can find the Label feature in the new “floating menu bar”, as I call it, that also has buttons labeled “Archive”, “Delete”, and “More”. Click on “More” and select “Label As” just below “Mute”.

Another new addition is address auto completion of recipients’ names. Now you can simply start typing a name and Gmail will start filling in the name for you.

Finally, my favorite – keyboard shortcuts. Yes, now you can use keyboard shortcuts if you own an Android phone. Most of the same keyboard shortcuts map the same way they do on the desktop. From the official Gmail blog at Google, “if you’re reading an e-mail you can press ‘u’ to return to the inbox or ‘n’ to move to the next conversation.”

Interestingly, these changes to the iPhone and Adroid platform came at the same time in April 2009 when they completely redesigned their mobile application. This is a change from previous enhancements which came out on the larger target audience of the iPhone first.
This new Gmail interface is available for iPhone/iPod Touch with OS 2.2.1 versions and Android-powered devices in U.S. English language only.

Look for more nice tweaks to the mobile version of Gmail in the future and keep listening to the Gmail Podcast to stay up to date on them.

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Undo Send

This entry is part 21 of 35 in the series Green Belt

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You’ve just worked a 40 hour day and your brain isn’t functioning at 100%. You’re tired and stressed that the project is behind schedule because of someone not ordering the right part. You write up a quick email and think you’ve got the attachment for the correct order, only to find you forgot the attachment right after you hit the send key.

How about this one; you’ve spent hours setting up a surprise party for your co-worker. You’ve got everyone in the recipient list and click the Send key only to discover in your haste that you included the birthday boy in the list. Yes, a similar situation has happened to me. Don’t you wish you could undo that send?

It is for situations like this that I highly recommend you try the Gmail Labs feature Undo Send. This feature can save you from embarassment, incomplete thoughts, or even a career ending email.

Just turn on Undo Send like you do any other Labs feature under the Settings link and click the “Gmail Labs” feature. Locate “Undo Send”, click enable to the right, scroll to the bottom, and click “Save Changes”.

Now when you send an email, you’ll have an Undo link appear allowing you to grab that message before it gets sent and take you back to the compose screen.

Sadly, the feature cannot pull back an email once it has already been sent, it just holds your message for five seconds so you have a chance to hit the proverbial panic button. For some reason, if you close Gmail or your browser crashes, the message will still get sent.

I have it turned on and used it several times. If I ever put together a top 10 list of Labs features to enable, this one is definitely on that list.

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Sender’s Time Zone

This entry is part 20 of 35 in the series Green Belt

This episode of the Gmail Podcast is brought to you by GotoMyPC.com. Try it free for 30 days.

OK, here’s a situation. You sit down to read your email from a friend who lives in England. The email has a few questions that really need to be responded to over a phone call. Unfortunately, you cannot remember what time it is in England and you don’t want to wake them up at an unreasonable hour.

That’s where the Gmail Labs feature called “Sender Time Zone” comes in handy. To use the feature, click on the Gmail Settings link in the upper right corner of the screen, then locate and click on the Labs tab. Locate “Sender Time Zone” and click “Enable” next to it then scroll to the bottom and click “Save Changes”.

Now Gmail takes a peek at the sender’s timezone in the message header and conveniently places a green phone icon next to the people if their local time is between 9:00 AM and 6:00 PM and a red icon if the person is outside that time range. If there is no timezone in the message header, no icon is displayed.

If you click on the “Show Details” link, Gmail will display the time zone information that it uses as well as the current time of the sender.

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Tags:

Suggest More Recipients

This entry is part 19 of 35 in the series Green Belt

One of the handiest labs features I have found is called “Suggest more recipients”. Like other labs features, you can enable this by going to the Settings link in the upper right, clicking on the labs tab, then locate the feature called “Suggest more recipients”, scroll to the bottom and click “Save Changes”.

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Once you have enabled the feature, begin by entering at least two names in the “to”, “cc”, or “bcc” boxes, Gmail will add a link labeled “Also include”. Gmail scans previous messages you have sent and received in groups and provides those email addresses as suggestions. Now when you find yourself communicating with the same three or four people over and over, Gmail will find those names for you and you can simply click on them to ensure you haven’t forgotten anyone.

Tip: Gmail Podcast – Title Tweaks

Begin by enabling the lab feature. This labs feature changes order of elements in the browser title bar from “Gmail – Inbox (20) – chuck.tomasi@gmail.com” to “Inbox (20) – chuck.tomasi@gmail.com – Gmail”. This way you are able (most of the time) to see if a new mail has arrived even if Gmail window is minimized.

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Tasks

This entry is part 18 of 35 in the series Green Belt

It seems like Gmail is more and more becoming the online version of Microsoft Outlook. In mid-December they added Tasks to the list of features available in the Gmail labs. Tasks are a way to keep track of what you need to do and what you’ve already done.

To begin working with Gmail tasks, click on the little green bottle in the upper right. This is really just a shortcut to Settings> Labs. Next, click on the button labeled “Enable” and scroll to the bottom of the screen and click “Save Changes”.

Once back at the main Gmail screen, take a look on the left. Just under Contacts, you will see a link labeled “Tasks”. When you click it, an embedded window will pop up with your tasks. You can also get this window by using the keyboard shortcut “G” then “K” (short for Goto tasK). Be sure you have keyboard shortcuts turned on by going in to Settings> General and enable keyboard shortcuts.

The first time you bring up the tasks window, the list will be empty. If you have some tasks on your mind, you can simply type them in and hit enter after each task to enter the next one. On the right side of each task you will see a little chevron symbol. Clicking that will bring up additional details about the task, allowing you to put in a due date, or add additional notes. For example, I’ve got a trip coming up and I need to get a few things done. One of the tasks I’ll enter is to sign up for an ID card. I enter the task “Sign up for ID card”, then click the chevron to set a date. In the notes section, I’ll enter the web address where I need to go to enter the ID information.

Once I have completed a task I simply click on the checkbox to mark it complete.

There are lots of other options on the task list window. Like a chat window, you can minimize and maximize the window, and make the task list an independent browser window by clicking on the arrow icon in the upper right of the list. If you wanted it embedded again, click the link on the bottom of the new window labeled “Pop-in”.

On the bottom is a link called Actions. From here you can manage your tasks by moving them up down, or changing the indent level. Of course, I recommend using the keyboard shortcuts which are clearly labeled next to the action for fastest manipulation of your tasks. Indenting allows you to see your tasks in more of an outline format, but does not create any dependencies to the heirarchy that I’m aware of.

Also on the bottom of the window are icons to add and delete tasks and one of my favorites, the list menu. From here you can refresh a list, add, rename, select, or delete a list – giving you the power to keep your tasks for different projects or topics in separate lists. Just keep in mind that you can only view one list of tasks at a time.

I did find one bug in the embedded task window when used with “Labels on Right” labs feature enabled. When I click to the right of the Actions label, I can click “through” the tasks window and get whatever label is underneath. In my case it was all the email I had labeled for the upcoming trip.

Now for some real power. Let’s say you are reading an email and recognize you need to take some action on it. Previously, what I would do is label it with something like “@Actions”. It took a couple keystrokes and was fairly effective. Now, while reading the email, I can either use the “More actions” and select “Add to tasks” or type Shift-T to have it added to the task list. The subject is used as the task name. Shift-Enter will show me any details of the task, including a link back to the related email. Even if I archive the email, I can still find it quickly using the task list.

There is one thing I found lacking with the multiple lists. Shift-T will add the email to which ever task list was last selected. If I had a work project list selected when I added the task to get an ID card, I have no way to move it to the right list. This seems like a simple thing for Google to fix with a drop down list, much like using multiple calendars. If you are only using one task list, however, you have nothing to worry about.

Also lacking is a widget to see the tasks in a sidebar, much like Google Docs, or Calendar. That would seem to be a logical place for a quick glance. For a 1.0 product, it’s not bad for a simple list. Hopefully Google will adopt some of the early suggestions in ot their next release.

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Video Chat

This entry is part 17 of 35 in the series Green Belt

It was only a matter of time before Google integrated video in to their GoogleTalk protocol and made it available directly from Gmail. Well, now you can talk face to face with your friends with voice and video without leaving Gmail.

The first step is to ensure you have a camera and the proper drivers installed. If your camera is built in to your machine, you likely don’t have anything to worry about at this point. If, like me, you use a USB camera and move it from machine to machine, you’ll want to go to the manufacturer’s site and download the latest drivers.

Next, you will need to install a tiny bit of software from Google on your machine. Start by going to http://mail.google.com/videochat and clicking on the button labeled “Install voice and video chat”. From the looks of it, this is for Windows XP and later users. Keep an eye on the site and keep listening to the Gmail Podcast for updates.

The installer takes only a few seconds, however it does require that you restart your browser. Once restarted, you will be brought to your Gmail settings with the Chat configuration settings listed. In the listing, you will find a new section labeled “Voice and video chat”. Make sure things are working right by clicking on the link “Verify your settings”. If everything is working, you should see your camera image in the window. If not, try troubleshooting your settings with the link of the same name. As a friendly tip, mine was not working right at first. I simply checked to make sure the camera was selected, changed the microphone to the camera, and hit save settings. When I went back to the chat settings and verified, everything was working fine.

Now when you sign in to Gmail chat, you will see a camera icon next to your name and be able to do a video chat with others. If you start a text chat, you can use the link “Video and more” to start a video session. It’s simple and fun.

Here’s today’s quick tip: If you find yourself answering the same questions or fending off the same vendors many times, then the Canned Auto Repsonses feature in the Gmail Labs may be for you. You can enable this by going in to the Gmail Labs under Settings or clicking on the little green bottle next to the Settings link in the upper right corner. Once enabled, a new link labeled “Canned autoresponses” will appear just below the To field. Initially there aren’t any responses so when you click on the link the only option will be “New canned response”. Type in your message, for example “Sorry, I’m extremely busy right now. In fact, I only have time for this canned autoresponse. I will respond with a more meaningful message when the stack of things to work gets back to a reasonable chaos. Stay tuned…” then click “New autoresponse”. Answer the prompt to give your canned response a name – like “Extremely busy” and click “OK”. The next time you need to tell someone you are busy click “Canned autoresponse” and select “extremely busy” to have the text automatically typed in.

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Labs 2

This entry is part 16 of 35 in the series Green Belt

There have been several additions to the Gmail Labs since I originally told you about it in June of 2008. If you haven’t listened to that podcast, I recommend you go back and listen to it to better understand what Gmail Labs is and how to use these terrific extensions to the software.

One of the new features is called “Mail Goggles”. The idea behind it is that it gives you time to gather your senses before sending and email you might regret. By default, Mail Goggles is enabled late at night when you are most likely to send an angry email to your boss, or a message to your ex-girlfriend wishing you had gotten back together. To enable Mail Googles, click on the “Settings” link in the upper right, then the “Labs” tab. Scroll down until you see “Mail Goggles” and enable it. Mail Googles works by making you do a few simple math problems before you can send your mail. The idea is that if you aren’t in the right mind to do some simple brain work, you aren’t in the right mind to be sending that email to your ex-girlfriend.

Another new feature in the labs is Advanced IMAP Controls. This is handy to use if you find your mail client getting bogged down by a large Gmail “All Mail” folder for example. Once enabled, just go to the “Labels” tab under “Settings” and you’ll find a new checkbox next to your labels that reads “Show in IMAP”. Uncheck the box and the corresponding folder will disappear from IMAP.

There are also some more obscure options for those of you who want to make Gmail’s IMAP work more like traditional IMAP providers: you can turn off auto-expunge or trash messages when they’re no longer visible through IMAP.

The IMAP protocol allows messages to be marked for deletion, a sort of limbo state where a message is still present in the folder but slated to be deleted the next time the folder is expunged. In Gmail’s standard IMAP implementation, when you mark a message as deleted, Gmail doesn’t let it linger in that state — it deletes (or auto-expunges) it from the folder right away. If you want the two-stage delete process, after you’ve enabled the Advanced IMAP Controls, just select ‘Do not automatically expunge messages’ under the ‘Forwarding and POP/IMAP’ tab in Settings.

Here’s today’s Quick Tip. If you like sending short messages where the subject IS the message – like “Call me right away”, and don’t want to be annoyed by that pop up message that says “Send this message without text in the body?” – use EOM (short for End Of Message) or enclose it in parenthesis and Gmail will no longer bother you.

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