What is Google Titan?

Screenshot 2019-04-02 at 12.11.40Google Titan is a set of physical security keys that can be used to keep your Google account secure.  Do you save your passwords, payment details or other personal information in your Google account?  Think about what you are keeping in Google Drive, does that make you a bit nervous?  If so, you are likely a candidate to use a lesser known type of authentication that uses physical keys in addition to your standard password.

Using Google Titan

After purchasing and registering the keys available from Yubico or Google, they can be used along with other 2-factor authentication schemes to log into your Google account.  So, like sending an SMS message with a code to your phone, or using Google Authenticator to provide a code, you can use the physical keys as a third alternative to providing access to your Google account from a new device or browser.

Using Google Titan with Advanced Protection

A more advanced and preferred way to use security keys is with a companion service Google calls Advanced Protection. Enabling Advanced Protection requires physical security keys and does two things.

  1. It logs you out of access to all devices and Chrome browsers.
  2. It revokes all other forms of 2-factor authentication. 

In other words, the physical keys are the only way to log into your Google account using a new device or Chrome browser with Advanced Protection enabled.

How does it all work

This can be a bit confusing to the uninitiated.  But to sum up, using Titan keys without Advanced Protection is not any different from other 2-factor authentication and can be enabled along with other 2-factor schemas.  The real security from Titan keys is using them with Advanced Protection.

So like me, you likely have some questions.  Let me try to answer those that I had as simply as possible.

Can I use the Titan keys with my Chromebook and Android phone?
Yes, the Titan keys, with or without Advanced Protection, will work with any Chrome OS device, the Chrome browser used with devices running other operating systems and your Android smartphone.

With Advanced Protection turned on, will I need the physical keys for every login?
No, the keys are only required for the initial login to Google on a device or browser, and in the event of a system reset, e.g. power washing your Chromebook.  When you enable Advanced Protection you will be advised that every device and browser will be automatically logged out of your Google account so each will need to be logged back in using the physical key.

Is there any charge for the Advanced Protection service?
No, you will have to purchase security keys to use the system, but there is no initial or recurring charge for AP.

Can I disable Advanced Protection and unregister the keys if I decide not to use these security mechanisms?
Yes, so long as you are still logged into a device or browser you can go to https://account.google.com and disable Advanced Protection, and you can unregister keys in Chrome settings.

Can I still access my Google account from my smart TV to access Google services like Youtube or Youtube TV?
Yes, however, you will need to log into your Google account from those devices again, using your smartphone.  You will need to login to your smartphone first using the physical key as your smartphone will be used to login to your Google account from your TV.

Will my Google assistant devices like Google Home and mini still work?
Yes, they will, however, you may need to scan for and re-enable some smart home devices from the Google Home app on your smartphone in order to get everything working again.

You can learn more and obtain Google Titan keys at Titan Security Key Bundle from the Google Store.

Please let me know if you have other questions that I might be able to answer by leaving a comment below, and thanks for reading.  J

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Gmail hits the big time with the new right-click menu

If you use Gmail as well as another email client, perhaps at work, you undoubtedly like me have long wished that a right click on a message would bring you the host of actions that are available from other email clients.

Gmail’s New Context Menu

Well, finally Gmail has hit the big time and caught up with those other clients and in some ways surpassed them.  And the star of the show is the new context menu available by right-clicking any message.

This new menu is super good news as the fourteen options available for any message are available with a single click.

Snooze Email Until You’re Ready

imageI especially like one of those actions in particular coming from Google’s Inbox experiment where it was one of my favorite features.

You can can easily delay action on an email message and get it out of your way by Snoozing it.  Just right-click the desired message, click Snooze and then select one of the preconfigured options, or pick your own date and time.

When that time comes around, your message will magically reappear in your inbox ready for your scheduled action.

Right-Click for Multiple Messages

And don’t miss this final trick.  If you want to perform an action on multiple messages all at once, use the select box to select the messages, including all of them in the current view, and then right-click any of the selected messages to display the context menu or just click the appropriate action button to the right of the select box.  Most of the options for a single message are available here.


So there you have it, more goodness from the decades old Gmail which seems to be adding new tricks everyday.

Have fun, and thanks for reading.  J

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Google Services, the 4th “S” in Chrome OS

Google Services

In a previous post, Why Google, Why Now? I wrote about my intro to the Chrome OS world and why I moved from years with Apple and Windows.

And I used the three S’s that are staples of Google’s marketing for Chrome OS, Speed, Safety and Simplicity to explain why I switched. But I ended that post positing that there was actually a fourth “S” to the equation.

The fourth “S” for me is Services, Google Services to be exact, and how they are so nicely integrated with the Chrome OS operating system, while also available across all platforms.

When I first got started with Chrome OS I was familiar with GMail and Google Search of course. But as I started to use my first Chromebook I was introduced to an incredible array of Google services. Fast forward two plus years and it would take a small book for me to discuss all of the gems I found both in Google services and hardware, but the point is, none of this became real for me until Chrome OS.

If you’re new to Chrome OS or just curious about all things Google, let me just provide a short list of my favorites and very brief mention of why each became important for me. Perhaps in future posts I can go into more detail, but here I’ll just keep it simple.

  • GMail – long time user of this email web client since 2004, and it just keeps getting better. Recent additions of extensive right-click context menu, snooze, quick action buttons in line with messages, Keep, Tasks and Calendar panes, so much goodness has been added to GMail, and I’m so glad to finally get away from all that red, new themes are a great way to spice up your email.

  • Google Search – everyone knows how to Google so I’ll only add that the new extra information pane at the right of the search results are full of great things like maps, reviews, similar searches and even local results from your other Google services like contacts and other apps.

  • Google One (Drive) – 100gb, 200gb up to 2tb to share with up to five family members, call or chat with Google support about any Google service is included. Google usually has a coupon for free 100gb drive for one year with a Chromebook purchase. Otherwise the free drive offering is 15gb. No more worrying about periodic backups of my data as it is all stored in the cloud. And sharing files with others couldn’t be easier.

  • Google Photos – this is absolutely the best cloud storage for your photos. Another decades old task gone as there is no longer any concern about backing up photos due to Google’s unlimited no cost storage for storing photos at high quality resolution. Searching for photos is magical, with lots of assistant integration for auto collages and archive suggestions. Our current photo collection in Google Photos is over 100,000 photos, and many of our friends that use Apple devices switch to Google’s offering after seeing the functionality. And finally, automatic sharing of photos with the whole family is incredible. My wife takes a picture on her phone, I get a notification and can see the photo added to our shared gallery.

  • Google Docs – most people have heard of Google’s word processing application and possibly Google Sheets for spreadsheets, but did you know there are many more applications in the Google office suite? Slides (think PowerPoint), Drawings and Forms round out this full featured free office package. And while I’ll admit that these offerings are not as full featured as Microsoft Office, it’s collaboration features are first rate. My wife and I use these Google office applications exclusively to run our non-profit and easily share files and folders over Google Drive. We can also open Microsoft documents, and even keep them in that format, though we seldom have that need. And any file can easily be saved as pdf, if a non-editable format is desired. Versioning is first rate as we can go back to any past edit and resurrect that version. And searching for a document is so much faster than doing the same task in Windows.

  • Google Play Music (soon to be replaced by Youtube Premium) – while the jury is still out on Youtube Premium, GPM is a great service with a 90-day free subscription normally provided with a Chromebook purchase. GPM also includes ad-free Youtube Red. My wife and I share playlists and I seldom run across any tune that is not available.

  • Speaking of entertainment, we’ve subscribed to Youtube TV for close to two years since it entered our market, and for $35 we get all the programming, including local news channels that we need. With the unlimited cloud DVR, we record all our favorite shows and can speed through most of them commercial free. This has saved us about $90 per month after cutting the cord to our cable provider.

  • Google Play Movies is another money saver as most movies are $1 cheaper than renting on Amazon or other streaming services.

  • Google News – I was bowled over when I saw the new Google News app. The curated “for you” section picks out the stories that really interest me and the other related stories from other sources and views really provides a reliable way to see opposing viewpoints, so important for our era of fake news. This has become my single source of news and goto for daily updates on my phone and Chromebook.

  • Google Fi – this one’s not for everybody, but oh what a difference for me. Just $20 for unlimited calls and texts and $10 per GB for data with a cap at 6gb (after that data is at no charge up to 15gb at which point data is throttled). If you have a compatible phone, Pixel and several Google supported phones with others being added frequently, you can take advantage of Google as your MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) aka cell phone provider. Fi uses T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular cell services along with any available WiFi access point, whichever is stronger at the moment. And unlike other providers, Google agreements with these providers provide full speed access to their towers. This has provided service everywhere I go and often better than Verizon in some areas, especially deep inside buildings. There is data in many countries around the world at the same $10 per GB charge as in the U.S. And you can enable Google’s included VPN at no charge to ensure the data your transmitting from your phone is secure. Tethering is included at no charge and extra sim cards for use in sharing your data plan with other devices is also included free of any charge.

  • Google Voice – this is a way to get free VoIP telephone service for your phone with an initial $50 purchase of an OBi200 VoIP adapter to make this work. Another $25 monthly savings over our previous landline provider. And GV sends us an email with the transcription and audio file when someone leaves a voicemail. This is something other services charge extra for, but with Google it is included with the free service. We’ve used this service for our landline for two plus years and it works fantastic.

So many will be thinking, yes John but there is a trade off for all of these great free services from Google. And of course you’re right, there is really no free lunch so to speak. Google’s currency is data collection, and the more services you use, the more Google will know about you.

So exchanging your personal data instead of cash comes down to a personal decision. In my mind, so many others were and are collecting my data, Internet and cell phone provider, cable provider, Facebook, LinkedIn and hundreds of other apps that need your location and access to different types of information to operate, that Google doesn’t worry me. I do check security settings often and have two factor authentication via a hardware key configured for access to my Google account, and I’m comfortable with that setup. The decision comes down to your comfort level after careful consideration.

Well I’ve gone on more than I intended in this post, but wanted to share all the goodness I’ve experience with the fourth “S” in Why Google, Why Now?

Thanks for reading, J

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Google Maps updates may spell the eventual end of Waze

I loved and used Waze for many years since it’s inception, but about a year ago, I switched back to Google Maps, preferring its more professional look, better lane direction, and fewer detours through neighborhoods to save a minute or two on my commute.

And the best feature at the time, and what tipped the point for me, were the notices on the map of differences in time if I chose another route. While Waze can do this, it requires you to switch away from the map. With Google Maps, just a quick glance as you approach an alternate street is needed to see the time difference.

It was a painful switch, as I missed seeing the speed limit on the map, and warnings of speed cameras and police, crashes, debris on the road, etc. All of these crowdsourced warnings were missing from Maps but I stuck with it.

If you haven’t used Google Maps in a while, you might want to take another look. Recently, they’ve added the speed limit and speed cameras to the map, and I was really appreciative of those additions. But today, I noticed a new button on the map and when I clicked on it, it showed two buttons, one that can be used to report a crash and another to report a speed trap. Passing a roadside radar trap on my way home this afternoon, I clicked on the Report button, clicked Speed Trap, and it was immediately displayed on the map. Wow! Maps is looking more like Waze every day.

While I’m happy that my favored Google Maps is getting these features, I’m a little sad as it seems like Google is taking the functionality of Waze and adding it to Maps. And that doesn’t bode well for Waze. I’m wondering if there was a timestamp on the agreement Google made with Waze when they purchased this Israeli company.

I, of course, have no insight or insider information, just speculation, but I wish Waze the best as I thoroughly enjoy the improvements Google has made to Maps.

Thanks for reading, J

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Why Google, Why Now?

About two and a half years ago, something happened in my technical life which has happened only a few times before. Like my first experience using a PC in 1985, and then when switching from Windows to OS X in 2005, and once more when I purchased the first iPhone in 2007, I experienced a complete change in what technology could offer to simplify my life with computers.

What happened you ask? ChromeOS happened. Of course, I was late to the party having only heard about Chromebooks, Chromeboxes and the world of ChromeOS in August of 2016.

This “new to me” operating system actually debuted in 2011 with several Chromebooks offered the same year and the first “made by Google” Pixel Chromebook going on sale in 2013 with a hardware refresh in 2015.

In September of 2016, I started my journey toward ChromeOS with a simple test. I would see if I could live in the Chrome browser without running any applications from my Windows Desktop or MacBook Pro for 30 days. I learned a lot from that experience. I learned all the things that Chrome could do that I didn’t know about, even though I’d been using Chrome as my primary browser for several years.

While I had used a few Chrome extensions, I didn’t realize that much of the work I was doing in Windows or Mac applications could be done with a web-based app or browser extension. I learned that I could run a web application in a window without the browser’s tabs or toolbars so that it felt more like a real application. And though I had used Gmail years ago and had a Google account dating back to November 2004, I was ignorant about the myriad of services, most of which were free, that Google had to offer.

So with some conviction that I might be able to switch to a simpler to manage OS, I started looking to purchase a Chromebook. My timing couldn’t have been worse. Just the month before, Google discontinued sales of the 2015 Google Pixel, and the prices for remaining stock and used units just seemed too high for my experiment.

After reading about other Chromebooks, I decided that the Acer Chromebook R11 with a 365 hinge and touchscreen fit my budget, $350, and would be a good starting point. It was love at first sight, or use, as I had never had a laptop that started so fast, was extremely lightweight and that could be folded back to use in tablet mode while reading and relaxing in my recliner. I started to read about three things Google included in their mantra about Chromebooks, the three S’s, speed, simplicity and safety, and as I started using the R11 as my daily driver, that mantra became real for me.

Speed – I’ve already mentioned how fast it was compared to my past experience. Starting from power on was unbelievable, as was a restart and reengagement upon opening the lid. In fact, I rarely shut the thing down, just closing and opening the lid to start computing.

Simplicity – It was, in fact, the simplest OS I’ve ever used. Now there was a bit of a learning curve in the beginning as I tried to find things I was used to with other OS’s, but I quickly found that there really wasn’t a lot that needed to be learned to perform daily tasks. To ensure I had all of the basics I spent some time reading the posts at Chromebook Central, Google’s primary community-based forum for Chrome OS. You can find the recently revamped site at https://support.google.com/chromebook/community/

Security – While it took some time to trust that this was a more secure computing environment than Windows or OS X, I did come to understand that this platform did not need the usual virus protection software that more times than not slowed my computers down, but was built with security in mind. Google outlines these security components better than I can in their Chromebook Security Help page.

While Google only includes the three S’s I’ve listed here, I believe there is a fourth S that should be included, and I’ll be detailing that in a future post.

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading,  J

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