Category Archives: Google

Let’s *not* let them (NZ government workers) use Chromebooks

Technology journalist Bill Bennett muses in a post from a year ago titled “Let them (NZ government workers) use Chromebooks” about the potential cost savings and productivity gains to theoretically be had from deploying the Google office productivity stack for NZ government workers. Some excerpts:

“Put aside for a moment the security risks and the NZ$2 million paid to Microsoft for extra [Windows XP] support… One solution would be to write off all the existing computers and replace them with Chromebooks… There would be immediate savings. Chromebooks can’t run Microsoft Office. Government departments can shift to Google Apps… Getting all government employees and applications into the cloud means there will never again be a situation like 40,000 computers using out of date software.”

The security risks and $2 million dollar figure can be viewed as part of the exit cost of adopting the Microsoft platform to begin with. 13 years ago there may have been a reasonable case for Windows XP being an adequate desktop solution, which is clearly no longer the case in 2015. However, suggesting that NZ government trades one proprietary ecosystem (Microsoft) for one even more closed is not an advance at all. From a technology perspective, Google Apps for instance is completely welded shut – with a non-standard and entirely Google-secret document format at its core.

Yes, there’s a strong case to be made for the combined benefits of moving computing services off the Microsoft desktop platform and onto a Linux-based OS (Chrome OS is but one example, Ubuntu is another), replacing full desktop computers with thin clients, and adopting cloud-hosted applications. However, I would seriously question the wisdom of government migrating to a platform so tightly controlled by a single vendor – not to mention one that derives ~90 percent of its total global revenue from advertising, or that has a long track record of startlingly short product lifespans. It would drastically curtail competitive supplier choice, and in the case of Google Apps (and to an extent Chrome OS), eliminate the freedom to self-host the technology in-house or via a third party as and when the situation or requirement arises.

The $2 million dollar figure for Microsoft’s extended Windows XP support might well pale in comparison to migrating off a proprietary, cloud-only solution 13 years from now. The point being, any serious discussion must take into account exit costs, and not simply the superficial low cost of entry, be it Office 365, Chrome OS, Chromebooks, and so forth. This is an aspect Bill Bennett’s article omits, much like most other opinion pieces on the matter.

Apropos of this, in the time since the source article was written, the reasons for the UK government mandating ODF for document interchange (to the detriment of both Microsoft and Google) makes for worthwhile reading.

Advertisements

Thunderbird, Gmail, and the “less secure apps” thing

For those folks wanting to use Thunderbird as a Gmail client and who are encountering an incorrect password error when attempting to configure the account in Thunderbird (irrespective of two-factor authentication), this is most likely due to Google enforcing OAuth. Google are spinning this as a “secure vs. less secure application” problem, suffice it to say opinions appear to vary on this.

For now, the conditions under which you may or may not see the incorrect password error prompt when hooking Thunderbird up to a Gmail account can be found here.

And on the Thunderbird developer community side, discussion about this can be found here.

EDIT: we’ll also highlight this most excellent point, from Twitter:

Can’t disagree with this.

 

 

Setting up Gmail Calendar and Tasks sync in Thunderbird

Updated 29th June 2016: For folks landing here via search engines and the like, I recommend ditching Gmail as a mail service altogether – as I now have. The hoops one has to jump through to simply get Gmail to behave normally with an external mail client are no longer worth the effort in light of the better business email hosting services now available. FastMail in particular is a cinch to set up, is stable and affordable, has full calendaring, and just simply works with minimal setup on the Thunderbird side. Google clearly has zero interest or business reason to permit Gmail to work seamlessly with external clients, especially as it removes the vector for targeted advertising.


With the latest versions of Thunderbird, and the Lightning and Provider for Google Calendar add-ons, Thunderbird now supports full Gmail Calendar and Tasks synchronisation. As the setup has changed somewhat from previous versions of these add-ons we’re going to cover the current procedure in this blog post.

We are using Thunderbird 31.2.0 on Ubuntu 14.04.

If you’ve already installed these two add-ons and you’re synchronising your Gmail calendar, please delete the calendar from Thunderbird (this unsubscribes from the calendar only, and leaves all server-side data intact), and uninstall the add-ons. Restart Thunderbird to get back to a clean-slate state.

Now, using the Thunderbird Add-ons Manager, search for and install both the Lightning and Provider for Google Calendar add-ons:

Install the Lightining add-on

Install the Provider for Google Calendar add-on

Restart Thunderbird to complete the installation process.

Next, switch to the Calendar tab in Thunderbird. Right-click in the area where the default Thunderbird calendar is visible and create a new calendar:

Create a new calendar

We now work through the “Create New Calendar” wizard. In the first two screens that appear, we want to add a calendar on the network, and this should be a Google Calendar:

Add a calendar on the network

Add a Google Calendar

You’ll now be prompted to enter your email address: this should be the Gmail address of the associated calendar you wish to synchronise:

Enter your Gmail address

Thunderbird will then list the calendars and task lists available to be synced. Tick these as you need:

Adding Calendars and Tasks lists

If all goes well you’ll see a dialogue indicating the wizard has finished, and, after a brief delay (during which the interface might not be responsive) your Gmail Calendar and Tasks will be synchronised:

Dialogue indicating the wizard is finished

Google Calendar and Tasks synced

At the far right-hand-side of the above screengrab you can see our tasks lists (only containing a single task in this example). These are synced with your Gmail account.

On Mozilla’s search deal with Yahoo

Google gets to get on with the business of locking users into their own ecosystem, Yahoo gets to expand the presence of their competing search engine, and Mozilla likely gets paid handsomely for the deal. Win/win.

cf. https://blog.mozilla.org/blog/2014/11/19/yahoo-and-mozilla-form-strategic-partnership/

Android’s better browser?

Folks using Android aren’t in much doubt about which is the better browser:

Firefox for Android vs Google Chrome Play Store ratings

Configure Apple Mail 4.6 with Gmail

Updated 12th March 2016: For folks landing here via search engines and the like, I recommend ditching Gmail as a mail service altogether – as I now have. The hoops one has to jump through to simply get Gmail to behave normally with an external mail client are no longer worth the effort in light of the better business email hosting services now available. FastMail in particular is a cinch to set up, is stable and affordable, and just simply works with minimal setup on the Thunderbird side. Google clearly has zero interest or business reason to permit Gmail to work seamlessly with external clients, especially as it removes the vector for targeted advertising.


This is a brief guide describing how to quickly configure Apple Mail with Gmail over IMAP. This is pertaining to an old release of Mac OS, specifically OS 10.6.8, which is running Apple Mail 4.6. I am documenting this for the benefit of readers stuck on Mac OS 10.6 and who have been saddled with Apple Mail in lieu of a vastly superior, free, openly-developed mail client such as Thunderbird. Note that the procedure documented here may differ in later releases of Mac OS.

Note that IMAP must be first enabled in the Gmail account in question. Be sure to disable the labels you do not wish to access as folders in Apple Mail (especially the “All Mail” folder) as documented here.

The Gmail account can be created in Apple Mail using the add account wizard (or first-run setup procedure), which will attempt to obtain the correct server settings (incoming and outgoing servers, username) automatically. Note that if using an “@gmail.com” address the correct server settings will be retrieved correctly. However, if using a Google Apps Gmail account with a custom domain name (e.g. “@mycompany.co.nz”), the server and username settings will need to be configured manually (according to the Google documentation for IMAP client connections).

Once the account is added we need to perform some additional steps.

By default, Apple will use separate local folders (called “mailboxes” in Apple Mail-speak for some bizarre reason) for the account Sent and Trash folders. We need to map the Gmail “Sent Mail” and “Bin” IMAP folders to these local folders, so that when email is sent or deleted in Apple Mail it will be updated in the server-side Gmail “Sent Mail” and “Bin” folders, respectively.

To do this, first select the relevant Gmail folder, and then go to “Mailbox -> Use This Mailbox For”. In this example we are mapping the Gmail “Sent Mail” folder to be used for Apple Mail sent items. The “Sent” folder visible at the top-left of the folder listing in Apple Mail will then contain and be sycnchronised with our Gmail “Sent Mail” folder:

Apple Mail IMAP folder mapping

Perform the same for mapping the Apple Mail “Trash” folder to the Gmail “Bin” folder. Once done, test that sent mail and deleted items are synchronised both ways between Apple Mail and Gmail (use the Gmail web interface to verify this). If these steps are missed or misconfigured, you will end up with local mail stores in Apple Mail for sent and deleted items (this is totally undesirable for reasons of backup, amongst other things).

Note that counter to the official Google documentation (and what we would configure in Thunderbird for example), with the above folder mapping configuration in place we have to configure Apple Mail to store sent items on the server. Mail sent out through Google’s SMTP servers is normally copied into the “Sent Items” folder anyway regardless of the client settings, but in Apple Mail this has to be enabled explicitly (as disabling it also disables the folder mapping performed above):

Settings in Apple Mail for sent items.

Finally, in Apple Mail we disable the built-in Junk email filter (as spam filtering is performed automatically in Gmail):

Settings in Apple Mail for junk email.

Apple Mail should now be configured successfully for basic interoperability with Gmail.

Hello DuckDuckGo (and goodbye google.com)

DuckDuckGo logo

Yeah, I can now really do with less targeted advertising, a search homepage which isn’t like a giant ad itself, and Google mining my search queries to “enhance” their floundering me-too social network. Plus that other nasty business. So I’ve switched to DuckDuckGo. It’s like google.com of old, searches are anonymized, and it’s got a cooler name to boot.

The standard DuckDuckGo search provider for add-on for Firefox (the best darn browser around) can be found here.

Google Calendar support in Thunderbird (and importing iCal files)

Capping off a nightmare week for standards support and the open web thanks to Google, they have also announced they are dropping support for the CalDAV standard later this year. I’ll have more to write on this topic in the near future (and the general gullability of social networks fanboys who are clueless about why open standards support actually matters), but for now the takeaway for Thunderbird users is that the CalDAV method of connecting to Google Calendar using Thunderbird and Lightning will soon no longer work.

Fortunately and thanks to the outstanding efforts of Philipp Kewisch, Lightning will continue to work with Google Calendar using Google’s non-standard Google Calendar API.

To get this to work, your Thunderbird client will first need the Lightning add-on to be installed and enabled. Next, download and install the Provider for Google Calendar add-on, and restart Thunderbird. Now, when adding a new network calendar you should see an option for Google Calendar:

Create a new network calendar

The address to put in the “Location” field in the above screengrab can be found by using the Google Calendar web interface, at “Settings -> Calendar -> [your calendar name] -> Calendar Address”. Clicking on the “XML” button will display the calendar address to use:

Google Calendar network address

Upon applying the remaining settings your Google Calendar should be up and running in Thunderbird. Due to Google’s assholish disregard for open standards of late, I’d strongly recommend donating to the continued development of the add-on (I have).

 

A problem I encountered when doing this, and not related to Thunderbird or Lightning, was in trying to import an ICS-format backup of one Google Calendar into another. In short, the following thread describes the problem and the resolution which worked for me:

https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!topic/calendar/cBuwVCddO3U/discussion

Google Play store reviews now require a Google+ account…

… or in other words: “We can’t get people to sign up to our crappy social network, so we’re going to put you over a barrel to use it any which way we can!”

Google Play requires a Google+ account

Disable conversation view in the Gmail Android app

Actually, the title is total linkbait because you can’t. Google would rather inflict the wretched conversation view on you whether you like it or not. This might sound peculiar, but perhaps less so if you read “GMail: designer arrogance and the cult of minimalism“, and also this legendary rant from one of Google’s own prominent software engineers (Steve Yegge), of which a relevant excerpt follows:

“But when we [Google] take the stance that we know how to design the perfect product for everyone, and believe you me, I hear that a lot, then we’re being fools. You can attribute it to arrogance, or naivete, or whatever — it doesn’t matter in the end, because it’s foolishness. There IS no perfect product for everyone.

“And so we wind up with a browser that doesn’t let you set the default font size. Talk about an affront to Accessibility. I mean, as I get older I’m actually going blind. For real. I’ve been nearsighted all my life, and once you hit 40 years old you stop being able to see things up close. So font selection becomes this life-or-death thing: it can lock you out of the product completely. But the Chrome team is flat-out arrogant here: they want to build a zero-configuration product, and they’re quite brazen about it, and Fuck You if you’re blind or deaf or whatever. Hit Ctrl-+ on every single page visit for the rest of your life.”

 

So – if you’re like me and want to check out a great email app for Android which doesn’t use conversation view and includes all the bonus goodies the Gmail app is missing (think Thunderbird for Android), you should check out K-9 Mail:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.fsck.k9&hl=en

The really nice thing is that if you want to support the developers of this fine application, you can pay a tiny sum for the deee-luxe version, which goes by the name of Kaiten:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.kaitenmail

Kaiten Mail running on Android