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Google grab bag: Chrome skins and Gmail tweaks

Gmail Labs lets users customize their interface and find labeled messages faster; Chrome gets themes; Google contributes to MySQL; the future of search.

Time for our semi-irregular roundup of Google items:

• Gmail Labs has produced three new features that people can try, according to Google's Gmail blog. One is a keyboard shortcut, "G" then "L," that brings people to a list of labels so they can show a specific category of messages. Another is the ability to move the Gmail control elements around on the left-side navigation bar, so users can reorder instant-messaging contacts, labels, and other items to put their preferred controls at the top. Last is the ability to pick your own colors for labels, not just rely on Google's choices.

New Gmail labs customizations.
Gmail Labs now has three new options for users CNET News

• Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search and user experience, mused about the future of search on Google's main blog. Among various ideas about the potential expansion of Google search to become ever more pervasive and useful is the possibility that we'll be able to upload a photo of a bird to a search engine to identify it, and that search engines will be able to draw upon social connections and other personal information to help understand queries better. Google's working on cross-language information retrieval, so search results from all languages are provided in a user's native tongue. And of course, as Star Trek has trained us to expect (and that Yahoo OneSearch with Voice enables today), we should be able to search with our voices, not just by typing text.

• Themes to customize the appearance of Google's Chrome browser are now appearing, with instructions at LifeHacker. Also handy are some command-line startup options that let power users configure Chrome to block the execution of Java, Flash, or JavaScript programs, or to launch Chrome maximized to fill the whole screen.(Via Google Blogoscoped.)

• Anyone skeptical that Google is building Mac OS X and Linux versions of Chrome can put doubts to rest by looking at the Chrome build system, which shows how well the latest builds are faring for those two as-yet-unsupported operating systems as well as Windows.

• Picasa is mostly a photo-sharing site, but it can house videos, too (as long as you haven't run into any storage space limits at the site). Now Google has opened up an interface that lets programmers better use the feature. Specifically, Google has released an API (application programming interface) for video uploads, according to the Google Code blog, so a programmer could for example create an upload tool that can deal with videos as well as photos. Video API details are available online.

• Google plans to launch a YouTube feature this week called HotSpots that lets video creators see which parts of a video are most watched, according to Advertising Age. The tool graphs activity levels that reflects activity such as viewers rewinding to watch a particular spot more often or dropping off to do something else. (Via Google Blogoscoped.)

• Chrome's Incognito apparently really does work, according to the SurfChrome blog, with a forensics expert unable to find traces of Web sites the browser visited. "There was no trace of cached images, history nor cookies," the blog said.

• Google consumes a huge amount of open-source projects for its own use, and sometimes contributes back to those projects. It did so with MySQL, the Sun Microsystems open-source database, including changes that speed the core data engine, InnoDB, used in MySQL, and that make it work faster on servers with multicore processors, according to the Google open-source blog. "We expect several of these features to be merged into a future official MySQL release, and one of them, semi-synchronous replication, is already available as a MySQL feature preview," Google said.

• Google's Steve Souder, who focuses on high-performance Web sites, has released some statistics about speed-related features that various browsers support. His conclusion: Chrome is tied with Firefox and the latest Safari for the best speed features, with a score of 8 out of 10. His UA Profiler test is available on his Web site.

• SurfChrome and Valleywag both feature some amusing re-captioned parodies of the Chrome comic book from Google and illustrator Scott McCloud.