Have you noticed any changes to your Google interface lately? The Internet giant has been slowly rolling out a new look that will continue over the course of the summer. The revamp aims to make the UI across Google more focused, elastic and effortless. These are all good things, but if change gives you anxiety you are free to preview it before it fully arrives. 

First, a breakdown of the shifts: 

  • Focus: Scheduled design changes will bring forward the stuff that matters. Google says: "Even simple changes, like using bolder colors for actionable buttons or hiding navigation buttons until they’re actually needed, can help you better focus on only what you need at the moment."
  • Elasticity: In response to the explosion of entry points, Google's new design will allow you to seamlessly transition from one device to another and have a consistent visual experience.
  • Effortlessness: By going straightedge with new technologies like HTML5, WebGL and modern browsers, Google aims to make sure you have all -- and only -- the latest power of the web behind you.

The first updates will occur in Gmail and Calendar (you may have noticed them already). These updates are available on an opt-in/opt-out basis, so you can continue to use the old interface and preview the changes before they become the default if you wish.

For example, click on the themes tab in your Gmail settings to select the "preview" or "preview (dense)" themes. And don't worry, these options will eventually expand dynamically to accommodate different screen sizes and user preferences:

gmail_new_condensed.jpg

"Over the years, adding countless features to Gmail have made it an increasingly powerful communication hub, but along the way the interface has also become more cluttered and complex," explained Google User Experience Designer Jason Cornwell. "That's one of the reasons we're embarking on a series of interface updates."

Changes to Google Calendar are also now available for users to preview. Note that the "My calendars" and "Other calendars" lists on the left are now collapsed by default and may be expanded using the gray arrow.

Turn and Face the Strain...

Meanwhile, Microsoft is heating up the battlefield with their competitor: Office365. If the goal really is to improve usability, Microsoft's offering differs from Google in one huge way: No browser. 

While Google allows users to edit documents and spreadsheets, retrieve e-mail and chat all in the browser, Office 365 requires a plug-in that will link your desktop with the cloud-based service. You'll also need Microsoft Office to be installed on your desktop already (for offline access and cloud-based features) and you'll need the .NET framework installed. And, if you want to use instant messaging and chat, you'll need to install Lync on your system.

If money's on your mind, Office 365 offers three different editions and numerous pricing plans, which boil down to about US$ 6 per user/month. Google Apps, on the other hand, works out at US$ 5 per user/month, or US$ 50 per user/year, which while providing a significant enough price difference with Office 365, is probably not so great that it will become the principal concern of those weighing up the benefits of one over the other.

Check out our full tit-for-tat review here

Meanwhile, you can keep up with all the changes in Google if that kind of thing strikes your fancy here