Labs. What does the word conjure up in your mind? Boffins scooting about in their white coats and clipboards? That’s still true, but cutting edge research does not always need white coated lab wizards. A ‘lab’ can be a mere computer. The basic unit of modern web labs is somewhat like that.
The Google Web Labs are probably the one with a top of the mind recall. Google had called it “a playground where our more adventurous users can play around with prototypes of some of our wild and crazy ideas and offer feedback directly to the engineers who developed them.”
Google Labs shuttered down in 2011, but not before trucking away ideas and development projects to its other services. Experimental sections on the maze that’s Google survive with tools that still aren’t ready for the spotlight. But Google Labs wasn’t alone (or isn’t alone) on the knife edge of technology. Let’s look at some of them and bring them out from the shadows.
The undisputed inheritor. Gmail Labs is the playground where users can tinker around with experimental features meant for Gmail. You can enable or disable them anytime, but please remember that experimental features may stop working any time and be removed from the Labs section at the whim of Google. If a feature climbs up the popularity charts, engineers at Googleplex definitely consider it for promotion into the main interface. Features like Superstars and Nested Labels graduated from Labs into the main Gmail interface.
If you want to enable Labs, Click the gear icon on the upper right, and then select Settings. Select the ‘Labs’ tab and selectively enable the lab features you want to try out.
Tip: If you have to enable just one single Lab feature, I would recommend Undo. It is a face saver.
Google Maps Lab
Turn it on from maps.google.com. Log-into Google Maps and on the left, go right down to the bottom. Click on the teeny-weeny Maps Labs link. You will see the above screen with seven Lab features on view. The Distance Measurement Tool is worth an activation always.
Quite appropriately named, TestTube is a little corner on YouTube for experimental projects that hope to see the limelight one day. A few online tools (and a downloadable one) are showcased for you to try out. YouTube hopes you will send in your feedback so they can improve upon the experience. For now, you can try out tools like YouTube Leanback + YouTube Remote Android App like a remote for your YouTube browsing. Though, start with the demo of the HTML5 YouTube player that’s sure to graduate top of the class.
Chrome Web Labs
We are still on Google, but let’s now go over to a relatively fresh entrant to Google’s lab works. It is not a lab as such, but a demonstration medium for cutting edge browser technologies merging with the physical world. It a set of five physical installations housed in the Science Museum in London. You can interact with them at the museum physically, or from anywhere in the world via the Web Lab.
If Google is there, can Mozilla be far behind! Though not on the scale of the company on Mountain View, Mozilla is admirable because the foundation is all about the open web. You can say that the as part of the Open Source movement, the entire thing is pretty much a lab. But if you had to go to a particular place, head for Mozilla Labs.
Right not they seem to be working on how to share data while keeping privacy intact. Like the Site Suggest add-on which is a proof-of-concept and an experimental browsing tool. Mozilla Labs features all its open projects prominently on the homepage. For instance, Mozilla Popcorn lets you combine multimedia and turn it into a visual story. Join the virtual lab and find out how you can get involved in a particular project. Details are mentioned.
Microsoft Virtual Labs
The other biggie, but this virtual lab is definitely not for the faint hearted. If you are just out for simple click and fun on the web browser, forget it. Microsoft Virtual Labs or MSDN Virtual Labs is best described in their own simple words –
MSDN Virtual Labs enable you to quickly evaluate and test Microsoft’s newest products and technologies through a series of guided, hands-on labs that you can complete in 90 minutes or less. There is no complex setup or installation required, and you can use MSDN Virtual Labs online immediately, free.
If you satisfy the minimum system requirements, you can test out Microsoft products ranging from development languages to cloud services…the entire gamut of Microsoft’s kingdom. The Technet Virtual Labs on the other hand, is on the higher end of enterprise systems, consisting of tryouts on Microsoft’s servers, security, and IT management tools.
FUSE Labs is a Microsoft Initiative which focuses on ideating and creating real-time media rich experiences combining social networking and (sometimes) Microsoft products. Cool examples include Docs.com (beta) which allows you to create, and share Microsoft Office documents with your Facebook friends. The screenshot above shows more of the active ones.
Kinect Fun Labs
The Kinect Fun Lab is definitely not a serious place to be. Though the hidden intention is serious enough – cutting edge gaming innovations that help to propel Kinect technology. Kinect Fun Labs give you direct access via your Xbox to play around with the titles on show, each one using some Kinect innovation or the other. For instance, Kinect Gadgets such as “Kinect™ Me” and “Bobble Head” use Kinect’s people-scanning tech to turn you into an amazingly realistic avatar or talking bobble head. Share your experiences on KinectShare.com.
In its earlier avatar, Yahoo!Next was an incubator for developing Yahoo web technologies, similar to the ones we have mentioned above. Yahoo! Sandbox could be its successor. It’s another virtual playground where you can participate in cool web experiments that test out social trends, information metrics, and even behavioral sciences.
For instance: The Investment Game gives insight into the understanding of how people are influenced by their friends by allowing them to invest with each other in various types of social networks. Or, Amoeba is a demo application that charts the buzz around trends in online conversations. When you are done, you can use the sliding scale to give a quick feedback to the company.
Adobe Labs is the web lab to download and test out pre-release versions of their software. Some of them are emerging technologies in beta stage that get the feedback and turn into final products. For instance, Adobe Shadow was a web designing tool that allowed cross-compatibility tests of mobile web browser. After the free preview ended, it was released as Adobe Edge Inspect on the Google Play, Chrome Web Store, and Apple App Store.
Adobe Labs gives the developer access to forums, wiki-based content and other resources as part of its “collaborative software development process”.
Ten virtual labs. Ten ways to test out technologies that are just around the corner. But ten is just a number; there are probably a few more web labs I have missed in my research. Which ones are they? Tell us about your experiences in any one of them.
Image Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos