Make Mine To Go, Please!

I love Gmail. I mean, who doesn’t like the cool, subject-threaded, AJAX, searchable interface? Okay, maybe not everyone is a fan of Gmail’s whizzbang approach to Web email. But what’s important is the fact that it’s all done over-the-Web. Everything’s going the way of the Web these days.

One of my most commonly-used word processors is Writely (now owned by Google). My primary PIM is Google Calendar. I just recently started to use the newly-launched Google Notebook. And then my preferred IM client/network is Google Talk. Sometimes I use meebo.com (not owned Google, at least for now) for when Yahoo! Messenger–another IM network I commonly use–does not work, such as with some office firewalls.

Now before you bash me for being too much of a Google junkie, let me emphasize that the issue here is the Web aspect of the services I mentioned, and that integration can sometimes be key to how quick people adapt. For instance, I dig Google Talk because it automatically archives conversations in GMail. I find that an excellent reference when looking back at past conversations.

However, regardless of brand, look, interface, or popularity, I’d say Web-based applications are really a boon to my kind.

Why?

I work on multiple computers, that’s why.

I use my laptop when working away from my central office (a.k.a., “home”) and visit one of my satellite offices (a.k.a., “the WiFi-enabled cafe”). Even at home, I usually prefer working on my laptop for writing projects, due to the ergonomic benefits (did I mention that the ThinkPad’s trackpoint is only one inch away from where my index finger lies on the keyboard?). The desktop, meanwhile, is reserved for work that requires higher-end processing, such as gaming (work!) and multimedia content.

Then there are times when I have to use other equipment, say, loaner laptops for review or repair, or Internet cafe fare, when there’s really no other choice.

Now in many instances, I’d like to have access to my data and files regardless of where I’m at. And somehow, having a USB stick to transfer files around doesn’t cut it. My point: how many times have you left home or the office forgetting your USB stick?

In this regard, having my information online is surely helpful, as don’t have to worry about my information being unavailable and, in turn, my being unproductive. I just fire up a browser, and open up my Web-based productivity tools and I’m good to go!

I’m not alone in the world when it comes to using multiple computers. I’d say a good majority of computer users have experienced having to work–and play–across at least two machines. Sometimes, you need to check on some office work from home. Perhaps you’re at the office and you’d want to refer to some notes and reminders you’d saved while at home. Or maybe you’re stuck in a hotel with no decent Internet connection but at the business center.

In many cases, having your information available online, on-demand, is essential in getting things done. And this is where today’s increasingly Web-basedness comes in handy.

The battle for your attention (and money!) is now no longer fought on the desktop. It’s now fought over the Web. This is why Microsoft hates (and fears) Google, and probably every other small startup looking to compete in the office/productivity arena by bringing the game online instead of keeping it local.

So instead of spending hundreds of bucks on the latest version of Microsoft Office (every other year or so), you can sign up for accounts with an online word processing app (in lieu of Word), an online calendar/scheduling app (in lieu of Outlook), Web email (ditto!), and even online Web-authoring tools (in lieu of Frontpage–okay, seriously, who still uses Frontpage?). Yes, OpenOffice is free, but why go the OpenOffice way when it’s still an offline solution?

Of course there’s still no neat online solution to spreadsheets, and it would probably take a ton of processing power and bandwidth to service spreadsheet needs of the people when you get to thousands of rows and columns of data each. As with other applications, those that run off the Web are usually far from lightning-fast, due to lag times when your data gets zipped and zoomed across the globe (or next door, if you live beside the Googleplex). But the Web people–they’re getting increasingly efficient at what they do.

And then some.

What’s even better with all this slew of Web-based productivity applications is that you can usually share documents and use the online facilities to collaborate with your colleagues, be they right beside you, or at the other side of the world, as long as they’re likewise connected. Some online apps, though, still have to learn to talk to one another, and let people in selectively.

So what’s your foremost computer software? For many, it probably would no longer be Windows, nor Mac OS, nor even Linux. In many cases, it would be the Web browser. Pretty soon, everything can be done from the web browser.

One issue I see here, though, is that even if your information were theoretically accessible from anywhere, you’d have to have the right access credentials when you retrieve them. This gets to be an issue when you’ve ten services all with different usernames and passwords. This is where a browser’s password manager comes in useful. However, this turns into useless when you’re at a public Internet terminal, and your own copy of Mozilla Firefox is sitting on your desk at home, inside your desktop computer, oblivious of your urgent need for access credentials.

I’d think one solution to this is to develop an online version of a browser’s password manager. This way, I’d only have to login to a central site, which will then help the current browser I’m using in logging in to my needed sites. I understand, there may be some security concerns. Any ideas here?

For now, I must end this. Google Calendar tells me I have something urgent to do. And I have a ton of Gmails to reply to. A colleague is reminding me over Gtalk to keep my articles short, witty and readable. And so I must now copy this from my online word processor onto the blog entry form for publishing.

In case you’ll be throwing some productivity apps my way, make it to go, please!

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