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Google Redesign Backs Social Effort

 by Clint Boulton

The Google search pages have been tidied up, and it’s designed to boost the use of the Google+ social tools, says Clint Boulton

A redesign of Google’s user interface would normally be big news, but this week a fairly major change has been swamped by the hype regarding Google’s move into social media.

This week, Google announced changes to the Google.com homepage, Google Search and Google Maps, but they have been largely overlooked with the arrival of Google+, a software suite aimed at raising Google’s credibility in social media – by providing a more private, controlled social experience than Facebook currently provides.

Ironically, Google+ has a huge impact on Google’s Web services, but so far it will be limited to the users who have been invited to participate in the field test.

Shifting the furniture around

The new Google homepage sports a smaller logo, with links for the Web, images, maps and other search options moved to the top, and links for advertising, business partners and company information pushed to the bottom edges of the browser.

Google hopes this redesign provides a cleaner look. What the vast majority of Google Web services users can’t see – and people on the Google+ trial can see – is that Google+ has ostensibly taken over the top toolbar in the browser.

Those who are currently involved in the trial see their Google+ profile name as the first link in the top left toolbar when they are signed into their Google accounts. Search Engine Land has screen shots.

Moreover, to the far right of this toolbar is the user’s Google+ profile picture, a drop-down navigation bar to access their profile, Google+ contacts and account settings, a notification button and a share button.

Much like Facebook’s vaunted status update capability, the share button lets users post Web links, photos, videos and their location.

Making Google+ convenient

This move, which is clean and simple enough to anyone fluent in social software, is clearly aimed at making the Google+ social tool convenient to access for participating users, though this isn’t yet addressed in the redesign blog posts.

Clean yet elegant design is also core to Google Search, which also sports some changes this week. For example, the results page will soon feature a gray bar and a blue search button to highlight the search box.

The left-hand panel of search tools, which Google made a major upgrade to in 2010, now has muted colors, with bolder colors used to highlight action buttons, tools and filters.

The URL has also been relocated directly beneath the headline for each search result, bumping the search snippets lower.

Google Maps is also getting some new design tweaks, though these may be less discernible to anyone other than Maps power users. Check out the streamlining in this search for “oysters Portland maine”  before and after the changes.

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Asus Dumps Linux From The Eee

If you want Linux on an Eee, you’ll have to go to Toys R Us, Asus tells eWEEK Europe

Computer maker Asus has stopped selling any versions of its popular Eee netbooks with Linux in the UK, explaining that the move has been made because people prefer Windows XP.

Asus virtually invented the netbook with the Eee, a low-cost machine first launched in late 2007 running Linux. Now, although Asus’ site lists several versions of the Eee supplied with Linux, the company has confirmed that it can supply no Linux Eee models at all – according to a phone call to the company, all the machines it sells come XP.

The Asus site lists nine models of Eee PC, including the new Seashell. All of them are listed with GNU Linux as an option and, for the Eee 1000, Gnu is the only option according to the site (see screen-grab below). A more detailed product sheet lists 26 versions, all but four of which can have Linux as an operating system.

However, on the phone to Asus, it is clear that none of these Linux versions is available from Asus. “It’s been a gradual migration over the last three months,” said a sales executive who answered Asus’ public number. “People have preferred Windows XP.”

Asking for a Linux Eee, eWEEK Europe was given two options: an Eee with a 7in screen, on sale from Misco, and one with a 9 in the screen, sold by Toys R Us. Could we have Linux if we bought an order of 500 machines? “That’s doubtful,” we were told. “We haven’t done that yet.”

At a product launch last week – of the SeaShell and other machines – Asus defended its decision to move to XP, blaming other vendors for changing expectations and moving the market.

“When we launched the Eee PC we launched it with Linux and people were quite pleased with it,” said John Swatton, marketing specialist at Asus. “Then HP and Dell came along and said ‘Why are you buying Asus, with a small hard drive? Buy ours with a big hard drive.'”

Other vendors offered netbooks with XP, and Asus began losing market share, said Swatton. As a smaller company whose brand is less well-known, Asus had no choice but to follow the market, producing more fully-featured and expensive netbooks (including reported plans for one with an 11.6 in screen).

However, now netbooks have become 20 per cent of the notebook market – by units sold – and Asus has benefitted, so the company might try and buck the trends in future when it is better known. “Brand awareness is important in the channel,” said Swatton. “We’ll keep raising the bar, and each time we’ll raise our awareness”.

Although Microsoft has won the battle to provide the netbook operating system, it might cost the company a great deal, said open source advocate Mark Taylor of Sirius IT: “Microsoft had to sell an obsolete operating system – nearly a decade old! – at a huge discount. This has already had a direct and extraordinary effect on both the revenue and profitability of Microsoft’s client division.”

Windows 7 may have a harder time ruling the netbook market, however, if rumours of an Android running Google’s Android version of Linux turn out to be true,

Some of the notebooks that Asus sells still have Linux after a fashion, in the form of a quick-launcher, which fires up a reduced operating system and a browser

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Red Hat Sues Switzerland Over Microsoft Monopoly

£8 million a year to Microsoft, with no public bidding. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, say, open-source activists

Linux vendor Red Hat, and 17 other vendors, have protested a Swiss government contract given to Microsoft without any public bidding. The move exposes a wider Microsoft monopoly that European governments accept, despite their lip service for open source, according to commentators.

The Red Hat group has asked a Swiss federal court to overturn a three-year contract issued to Microsoft by the Swiss Federal Bureau for Building and Logistics, to provide Windows desktops and applications, with support and maintenance, for 14 million Swiss Franc (£8 million) each year. The contract, for “standardised workstations”, was issued with no public bidding process, Red Hat’s legal team reports in a blog – because the Swiss agency asserted there was no sufficient alternative to Microsoft products.

Red Hat and others have made the obvious response that there are plenty of alternatives to Microsoft, and the current situation makes them more attractive than ever, according to a report issued this week by Freeform Dynamics.

“It’s not just Switzerland who have been getting away with this kind of nonsense,” said Mark Taylor of the UK-based Open Source Consortium, adding that much of the credit for this action should go to the Free Software Foundation Europe, led by Georg Greve.

“All over Europe this kind of thing is happening, and in the UK almost all public sector tenders that we see actually *specify* Microsoft products,” said Taylor. “Even those that don’t will normally insist that the tendered for technology ties in with specific Microsoft products. I cannot imagine any other area of Government procurement where this practice would be allowed.”

Governments are tacitly accepting Microsoft’s monopoly on their ICT systems, said Taylor, despite public statements such as the UK’s recent announcement that it could save £600 million a year with open-source said Taylor: “The cost is phenomenal,” he added, with Government spending billions a year on proprietary systems. “It is a scandal and a waste of public money that makes the MPs expenses scandal look like a drop in the ocean, and yet hardly anyone talks about it!”

The challenge to the Swiss government “raises important issues of openness in government and of a level playing field for open source and other competitors of Microsoft,” said Red Hat’s legal team. “Red Hat is seeking a public bidding process that allows for consideration of the technical and commercial advantages of open-source software products.”

Even within Switzerland, Red Hat countered the bureau’s argument, by pointing to several Swiss agencies, including the City of Zurich, the Federal Agency for Computer Sciences and Telecommunications (BIT), and the Federal Institute for Intellectual Property (IGE), who are Red Hat customers.

Microsoft’s European chair, Jan Muehlfeit recently boasted to eWEEK that Microsoft effectively owns 40 per cent of all Europe’s IT, on the occasion of a giant promotional event with the EU in Brussels.

European ignorance and hostility to open source and free software are such that a group has launched a pact for candidates in the forthcoming European elections to sign, pledging support for free software.