Surviving Web-based applications

Oliver Rist lives a week with no access to desktop applications to test out Web-based productivity apps

Why do I always say yes to these things? "Live a week in a browser," my editor says. "It'll be fun," he says. No access to my Microsoft Office apps, just the Web 2.0 equivalents that seem to be popping up like gaffes at a Bush press conference.

The point of this little exercise was to see whether anyone would seriously contemplate replacing desktop with Web-based productivity apps. And if not, how close are we? After all, whenever Google waves its hands in this direction, the pundits swoon. Not to mention that enterprises would save gazillions in licensing and desktop maintenance.

As you can tell, I let myself get suckered into this foretaste of the future. And I did learn something: A week can be an awfully long time.

Sunday: Prep work

The list of possible Web "desktop" applications is amazingly long. Originally, I figured on Google's Writely, Google Spreadsheets, and a few choices of e-mail. But I was wrong. In all, I ferreted out 22 Web applications, including no fewer than three full productivity suites and numerous stand-alone applications.

After some research, I decided my week should be spent covering the five productivity cornerstones of Oliver's life: e-mail and scheduling, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and collaboration. But by no means is that all that's available in Web-bound applications. I'll be looking at additional applications on the SMB IT blog in the future, including accounting, CRM, project management, and more.

And before the flame mails start, let me be clear that my selection of apps for my WINO (Week of INternet Office) project are -- personal. Subjective. Buttery soft. Which apps appealed to my particular style of working is partially based on features and partially on ease of use in the user interface -- I'm a creature of Office, and I don't feel like spending the week staring at a Help menu. Your preferences may vary.

I decided to set up an entirely new machine and work area for WINO, too, just to maintain boundaries. From my office I moved down to the dining room, stuck an office chair in there, and ran an Ethernet cable, too -- no complaints about unreliable Wi-Fi. Instead of the high-powered Dell M90 that I had configured with Vista RC1 and Office 2007 Beta 2, I moved to the Gateway M-255E machine that I had cleaned up in anticipation of sending it back to its spotted makers.

I made sure it had the Java Runtime Environment installed, as well as Internet Explorer 6 and Firefox 1.5. No trace of Redmond productivity software aside from what normally ships with Windows XP. Tack on a 19-inch Gateway display and a Microsoft Wireless mouse and keyboard set and we're almost done. Finally, I moved all the docs I thought I'd need for this week to my Xdrive online hard drive account, just to maintain the ambiance.

The finishing touches were preventative medicine: a bottle of Johnny Walker Black on the left and a bottle of Advil on the right.

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