Chrome – A Shiny New Browser from Google

Today, Google launched Chrome, their venture into the realm of web browsers. Still in BETA, Chrome promises to make the Web faster, safer, and easier. Will it, actually? Furthermore, is it worth using over IE, Opera, or the mighty Firefox? It’s far too early to tell for sure, but Chrome does have a lot of potential. Let’s take a quick look at some of its features.

Note: Chrome is currently only available for Windows XP/Vista. Mac and Linux versions are forthcoming.

User Interface

First things first, Google Chrome’s user interface takes a different approach than most browsers. Upon launch, the first thing you notice is an organization of thumbnails based on your most frequently-visited pages. Nice!

Despite the name, there’s not much to Chrome. In fact, it’s rather transparent and minimal. There are no menus, no home button (you can enable it in the Options), and only one bar (an integration of the address bar and search bar).

The bookmarks and other options are accessible (via drop-down) on the right side, next to and below the address bar.

Another surprise is that the tabs sit atop the address bar, rather than below it like most browsers. I like it, but it will take some getting used to.

Main Features

One of the highlights of Google Chrome is the ability to go Incognito. This is akin to Private Browsing in Safari – no cookies, history, or anything remains while in Incognito mode. You can easily enable it through the drop-down menu next to the address bar.

Unfortunately, it spawns an entirely new window, not just a new Incognito tab. Oh well, there’s always room for improvement. Incognito mode is intended for uses such as online banking and shopping for secret gifts, though in reality, most people will likely just use it for browsing pornography.

On to other issues – one major change is in the handling of tabs. In Chrome, each tab is an individual process, independent of the browser as a whole. What this means is that you can kill individual tabs without having a misbehaving tab crash the entire browser. Anyone who has ever visited a site that took down the full browser should jump for joy at this prospect. If it works correctly, it will be a major boon that other browsers should incorporate.

Try it now: launch Chrome, and right-click in the title bar area (very top of the browser). It should launch the Task Manager, allowing you to kill individual tabs if needed.

Importing

In case you are wondering, yes, Chrome will import your information from other browsers, such as IE and Firefox (no Opera yet). I chose the Firefox import and found all my bookmarks, history, and saved passwords readily available.

Other

Not all is well in the land of Chrome, however. Considering its BETA status, this is to be expected. For starters, I’ve had some trouble with sites that are heavily dependent on Java (such as ADrive). Some sites may have compatibility issues with Chrome as well. As an example, Amazon’s Askville doesn’t seem to care for Chrome yet.

Still, we must remember that Chrome is in its infancy. Issues like these will improve.

All-in-all, I like Google Chrome. It’s a welcome addition to the browsing world, and since it is open-source, I hope to see it positively affect its competitors. Giants such as Firefox, Opera, and IE, though they still dominate the field, could stand to learn a thing or two from the upstart Chrome.

For me, I will likely stay true to Firefox for now, but I look forward to watching Chrome mature.

Learn more about Google Chrome (including videos) at its official site.

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Get POP Access in Thunderbird to Yahoo, Hotmail, and AOL e-mail for Free with WebMail

Still have a Yahoo! or Hotmail e-mail account? Yeah, so do I. However, my primary e-mail account is through Gmail, and I also tend to use Thunderbird to manage my massive pile of e-mail. I love the ability to access Gmail through Thunderbird, and would like an easy way to do the same thing with my Yahoo! mail.

Of course, one could always pay for a Yahoo! Mail Plus account ($20 a year) to get POP access, but as self-proclaimed “ruler of the free world”, I’d prefer a free solution.

One answer is to use WebMail, an open-source extension that allows Mozilla Thunderbird to interface with Yahoo!, Hotmail, Lycos, Mail.com, Libero, and AOL mail. I should mention that it also includes Gmail, but since Gmail already provides free IMAP access, WebMail’s implementation is not necessary. Anyway, on to business!

This tutorial will cover installation and setup of Yahoo! Mail within Thunderbird.

Install WebMail Extensions

First things first, make sure you have Thunderbird running. Next, download the WebMail extension. Note: be sure to right-click and save the XPI file locally. Do NOT try to install it as an add-on for Firefox! From within Thunderbird, go to the Tools menu, then select Add-ons.

Click the Install button in the lower-left corner and navigate to the WebMail XPI file that you downloaded. As with the installation of all extensions, be sure to relaunch Thunderbird.

Next, go back to the WebMail site and choose a provider component to install. In my case, I selected the Yahoo! component. Whichever component you choose, install it the same way you did for the WebMail extension. Again, be sure to download the XPI to disk first.

When finished, you should have extensions installed for both WebMail and the component(s) of your choice.

Setup a New Account in Thunderbird

In Thunderbid, go to Tools → Account Settings, and then click the Add Account button on the left side. Choose Web Mail as the account type, and then enter your Name and E-mail address accordingly.

On the User Names page, be sure to include your full e-mail address. Don’t worry about the outgoing SMTP setup just yet.

Click Next/Finish until you are back to the Account Settings window.

Configure Outgoing Mail

If you already have an outgoing mail server that you prefer to use, you don’t need to bother with this section. In my case, I’m going to configure Yahoo’s server for my outgoing mail.

In the Account Settings window, select Outgoing Server (SMTP) in the lower-left corner. Choose the Webmail – localhost Outgoing Server, and click Edit.

In the window that spawns, be sure that the Server Name is set to localhost, and that the User Name includes your full e-mail address. Do not use any secure connections. You can change the Description to anything you want.

Back on the Account Settings page, select your account in the left pane, and be sure that the appropriate Outgoing Server is selected.

Test and Retest

Give it a shot. At this point you should try clicking Get Mail to see if it works. It should prompt you for your password.

If it works, congratulations! If it does not, don’t fret! There may be a few more options to try.

I cannot comment on every e-mail service, but for Yahoo!, you may need to specify the Mode. Take note of whether your Yahoo! Mail account is currently using the new AJAX-driven interface or the older Classic style. Within Thunderbird, go back to the Tools → Add-ons screen. Select the Yahoo add-on and click Options.

From here you can manipulate the Mode for your Yahoo! account. If your account has the newer interface, try choosing the BETA Website option. If your account still uses the older Classic style, select the mode for the Classic Website.

Now try clicking Get Mail again. With any luck, you should have Yahoo! e-mail in Thunderbird now!

Other Options

Depending on how much mail you have on the server, it may take a substantial amount of time for all the e-mail to arrive. If this is the case, I suggest increasing the amount of time that passes before the connection has a timeout.

To do this, go to Tools → Options → Click the Advanced tab → then click Network and Disk Space.

In the box next to Connection timeout, increase the number of seconds to an amount of your choosing.

One last thing: by default, the WebMail extension is set to leave messages on the server (unless you delete them). If you want WebMail to automatically delete messages on the server once you download them into Thunderbird, you can set this in the Account Settings window.

Simply click on Server Settings (beneath your account name), then look for the Leave messages on server option. Toggle it accordingly.

I prefer to leave my messages on the server. With supposedly unlimited space from Yahoo, it just makes sense.

There you have it – free POP access to Yahoo! Mail. With slight modifications, these instructions apply to the other e-mail providers as well. All you have to do is download and install the appropriate component.

In my humble opinion, Gmail is still the best free e-mail provider, but if you need POP access to other services, WebMail should have you covered.

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Smartphone Meltdown – Options for Data Backup

Disaster

I knew this would happen. Last night my Windows Mobile Smartphone suffered a serious meltdown. I tried repeatedly (and desperately!) to make it boot, but all to no avail. I tried everything from taking out the battery to yelling at it – I even thought about swinging a dead chicken over my head, but nothing helped. The device would mockingly make it to the booting logo, then freeze.

I’ve owned my MOTO Q for six months now, and this is the third meltdown that has occurred. As with the previous failures, I had to resort to a hard reset to make the dumb thing start working again. As you might suspect, a hard reset wipes out ALL the data on the device. All contacts, e-mail, and other data are gone. Poof!

Just in case you need to know, it’s easy to perform a hard reset on a MOTO Q. Heck, I’ve gotten quite good at it! While the device is off, simply hold down the middle button (between the arrows), then hold down the power button (end call). After several seconds, the hard reset prompt will appear, and your data will disappear into the mists.

Recovery

Has this ever happened to you? Times like this should serve as reminders that you need a backup system for your smartphone. Fortunately for me, I averted disaster. I was able to restore my critical data within minutes. Had I not planned ahead for a crisis like this, I may have had to spend hours re-entering all my Contacts and Calendar information.

Let my experience serve as a reminder for you to do whatever it takes to make sure your data is safe. Since my phone is Windows Mobile based, the backup solutions I mention below are written with that in mind, though they may work for other platforms. Don’t use Outlook and Activesync? Good for you! Neither do I. However, for people like us, it’s even more important to find a consistent way to back up our data.

Here are a few ways to do so:

Option 1 – Funambol (free)

  • works with Windows Mobile devices, iPhones, and BlackBerries

Funambol offers one of the simplest and most elegant backup solutions that I’ve seen. Best of all, it’s open-source and FREE. All you need to do is create an account on the myFUNAMBOL portal, register your phone with them, and then install a plug-in (on your phone). Within minutes, you can effortlessly and continuously sync your Contacts, Calendar, Tasks, and Briefcase to their server. If you’re so inclined, you can even access an e-mail account through Funambol. I currently route my Gmail through it.

It’s slick, it’s easy, and it’s free. A few months ago I wrote a full tutorial on setting up Funambol. Read it here.

Option 2 – NuevaSync (free)

  • works with iPhones/iPod Touch and Windows Mobile devices

Setting up NuevaSync is slightly more complicated than Funambol, but the sync potentials are tremendous. Best of all, it’s FREE. It allows for direct, over-the air synchronization of your Contacts and Calendar to web services such as Google and Plaxo. Essentially, NuevaSync acts like an Exchange Server, using the built-in ActiveSync (OTA) protocol on your Windows Mobile device. Think of it as a proxy to Google Calendar and/or the Plaxo social network. You don’t have to install anything on your phone. Nice!

As with Funambol, I wrote a full tutorial on setting up NuevaSync with Thunderbird, Google Calendar, and Plaxo. You can read it here.

Option 3 – PIM Backup (free)

  • works with Windows Mobile

The PIM Backup application takes a different approach than the aforementioned options. Instead of backing up data to an off-site location, PIM Backup runs locally and creates backups of your data right on your Windows Mobile device. With just a few clicks, you can create a backup of the data you choose, including Contacts, Calendar, and other data (such as Appointments, SMS messages, call log, and more). PIM Backup needs no installation – just run the EXE directly on your phone.

Because PIM Backup only saves data locally, you must regularly save the data elsewhere, such as copying the archive to your computer or e-mailing it to yourself. Of course, being the backup fanatic that I am, I have a different solution: a combination of options 1 and 3. Here’s a summary of how it works:

I have Funambol set to regularly sync my Briefcase to its server, and I have PIM Backup set to regularly save a backup straight to my Briefcase! So, the tiny backups of ALL the data on my phone are automatically and effortlessly stored on Funambol’s server. Neat, huh?

Option 4 – Sprite Backup ($29.95, $19.95)

  • supports all Windows Mobile devices

I almost never post about a paid solution to any problem, but given the popularity of this one, it’s worth a mention. Sprite Backup (by the same makers of the ubiquitous Symantec Ghost) offers and easy and effective backup utility.

So, what does Sprite actually backup? Everything, including Pictures, Ring-tones, SMS Messages, currently-installed applications, and more. It also offers scheduling, plus support for FTP transfers. Heck, it even supports backing up encrypted data on Windows Mobile 6.

No, it isn’t free, but if you just want worry-free backups, Sprite Backup may be right for you. Plus, they offer lifetime support and free upgrades, so you’ll never be left out in the cold.

No matter which option you choose, I urge you to find a solution you like and use it regularly. You never know when your phone may decide to have a meltdown of its own.

Is there a backup option that I missed (preferably non-Outlook/ActiveSync)? If so, please let me know in the comments.

Good luck, and as always, happy backups!

— Brian Bondari

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Live.com Cashback – Let Microsoft Pay You When Making Online Purchases

Whether you love them or hate them, Microsoft is willing to pay you cold, hard cash just for using their Live.com cashback service to buy things online. The idea is that you simply use their search engine to compare products and prices, then click-through to the selected online store. When you make your purchase, you earn cashback from Microsoft. Easy as that.

Keep saving money each time you use Live Search cashback. Every time you make a qualifying purchase, we’ll send you an email to confirm your Live Search cashback savings. Usually 60 days after your purchase (although this time period may vary for some stores), and when your cashback account reaches a balance of at least $5, you can claim your cold, hard cash.

Microsoft wants to increase exposure to their search engine, and they may have some success by paying people in this manner. They hope that by offering this juicy incentive, you will not only use their search engine for online shopping, but for all your other search-related needs. Hmm, maybe they will win a few converts.

Now let me tell you how it really works. Google will continue to dominate the search arena, and people like myself will simply click-through to a specific store when buying things online just to harvest the cash from Microsoft.

Speaking of which, here is a list of stores (sorted alphabetically). With regard to technology, I’m pleased to see Newegg.com on the list – currently earning 5.5% cashback.

If you’re a TigerDirect fan, you can earn 10% cashback from Microsoft! Some other examples currently include:

  • Lenovo – 10% cashback
  • Overstock.com – 4 to 14% cashback
  • Creative Products – 10% cashback
  • Shop4tech.com – 12% cashback

If you’re planning a new computer build from Newegg anytime soon, or are eyeing a new Lenovo laptop, you should use the Live cashback system and let Microsoft reimburse part of the cost to you. It certainly won’t cost you anything extra to do so.

Check it out: a few days ago I decided to buy a new USB flash drive from Newegg, so I clicked-through, spent a whopping $9 on a drive from Crucial, and then checked my Live cashback account. Lo and behold, $0.50 had already been deposited into my account. I’m rich!

Once I hit $5, Microsoft will pay me (through PayPal, direct deposit, or a mailed check). Hmm, I wonder if I have any friends who will let me buy parts for them online (then pay me back in cash)? Earning cashback could turn into a side job!

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Dropbox: Mini-Review and Invitations (Online Storage Series)

Dropbox logo

At long last, I have found the online storage solution of my dreams. Dropbox is a service (currently in public beta) that not only seamlessly backs up your data, but can also sync it across multiple computers. Best of all, it all happens without you having to lift a finger.

Why am I so excited about Dropbox? First of all, I classify online storage into a few different categories:

All three types of services have their uses, and Dropbox tickles my fancy (am I allowed to say that?) because it handles all three types with aplomb. To make it even better, Dropbox works on both Windows and Mac systems, and a Linux client is currently in alpha.

Usage

Get this – actually using Dropbox takes almost no effort on your part. Once you install the Dropbox client, it creates a My Dropbox folder inside your Documents. Any files or folders that you put inside the My Dropbox folder will first upload to the Dropbox service and then sync across to any other computers that you have linked. The green check mark next to a folder or file means that it has been successfully uploaded and synced.

Delete a file on one computer, and it will be deleted first on Dropbox and then on the other linked computers. This is an incredible way to not only make sure your files are continuously backed up, but to also make sure you always have the latest version of your files across multiple computers. Imagine taking your laptop to a coffee shop to get some work done, and when you return home, ALL the data you modified is available on your desktop computer. Nice! No more e-mailing files or dumping everything onto a flash drive.

Even if you only have a single-computer setup, Dropbox is still an effortless way to keep your data backed up.

For those worried about security, Dropbox currently uses the Amazon S3 service to store files. All files are encrypted with AES-256 and all communication occurs over SSL.

Other Features

In addition to being an all-encompassing storage and sync solution, Dropbox has other tricks up its sleeve. For starters, there’s a versioning system for keeping track of changes to a file (or grabbing an earlier version in case of an emergency). There’s also a nifty web interface, a photo gallery, file sharing capabilities, and more! Don’t just take my word for it – check out the screen cast below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OcS9w9dpKNQ

If you can’t tell, Dropbox is undoubtedly my favorite online storage service, not only for its features, but for its sheer simplicity. It’s a service that I have no trouble recommending to others.

Dropbox Invitations!

As I mentioned, Dropbox is currently in beta and requires an invitation. Their beta service provides 2 GB of free storage, and beta users will have slightly more storage capacity than the regular free amount once they drop beta status. So, act now!

TipsFor.us currently has 0 invitations available. Simply post a comment below and we will e-mail you an invitation. First come, first serve! All invitations are gone, folks. Sorry. You can always join the waiting list for the beta. If we receive more invitations, this post will be updated.

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Free 100 MB Remote Drive – Who.hasfiles (Online Storage Series)

who.hasfiles logoI recently started using who.hasfiles.com – a free, 100 MB remote file storage service. Before you start scoffing and lambasting me with insults for what seems like a pitiful amount of space, allow me to explain why I think who.hasfiles is worthwhile. While it is true that 100 MB does not go very far these days, especially when compared to some other free online storage services (such as Box.net, XDrive, and DropBoks), it is the manner in which you access files on who.hasfiles that sets it apart from the rest.

Remote Drive Mapping

Most online storage services are web based, meaning that you must access them through a browser. By contrast, who.hasfiles allows you to map your storage space as a remote drive from within your operating system. You don’t have to install anything. Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X are all supported.

who.hasfiles instant mapperThere are specific instructions for each operating system on the who.hasfiles website. Since I run all three major operating systems in my household, I’ve been able to test accessing my storage space from all three platforms. It works.

Windows users can use a nifty instant mapper application to quickly set up access to your 100 MB. The application requires no install and can be deleted afterward.

Usage

Because who.hasfiles integrates directly into your desktop, it also offers the ability to edit and save files directly on the remote server. Need to do some quick editing to an OpenOffice document or spreadsheet? Open the file directly from your mapped storage space! There’s no need to copy the file(s) directly to your hard drive, edit, and then re-upload them. Nice!

Because only 100 MB is available for free, don’t expect to upload much of your MP3 and movie collection, though there are paid upgrades available ($1 per gigabyte per month)*. Here are a few uses that I’ve found for who.hasfiles:

  • keep an updated copy of your bookmarks handy
  • store a KeePass database that you can easily access from any computer
  • backing up important documents
  • quick-and-dirty file sharing between computers

While who.hasfiles focuses on simply storing files, not embedding them into blogs and sharing them with the world, they DO offer a basic sharing service between members.

who.hasfiles sharing

Of course, I’d love to see who.hasfiles offer more than 100 MB for free, but considering the easy integration into the desktop from any major operating system, I can’t complain about the stingy amount of space. For now, I just treat it like a glorified floppy drive (remember those?), or maybe like a networked USB flash drive from 2001.

*Note: in addition to increased space, encrypted access to the storage space is part of the paid plan.

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