Sunday, December 14, 2008

Day 30: The Google Apps Experiment in Summary

Well, it's over. The thirty days have passed and I'm still alive. It wasn't even that difficult, really. Sure, I felt pangs of desire for desktop applications, but I really believe that had more to do with working on a full desktop than anything -- it was like going on a diet with a cheesecake staring you in the face every time you open the fridge. I'm sure that I would have been fine had I been on a system without local applications.

I started with a set of rules that prioritized Google's apps. Then I tried to massage iGoogle into being my main page (later, I even tried to copy the Gnome menu structure). It didn't work very well. I prefer having GMail open with various labs in the margins. I had to figure out how to get past problems with picture editing and taking basic screenshots.

Looking back on the last month, I can pretty easily identify the pros and cons of living on-line.


Added features every week: Google added so many features during the month that I'm not really sure I can get them all. The list of what I can remember and/or look up is:
  • Voice and Video in GMail Chat -- Not available yet on Linux. This is probably more due to Flash's failure to work with V4L v.2 than anything under Google's control.
  • Google Docs and Calendar in Gmail via Labs: I think this may have gone live just before I started my experiment, but I'm not sure, and it's such a boost to my workflow in GMail that I didn't want to leave it off of the list.
  • Task in Gmail via Labs: I spent half of two posts talking about how to get this functionality before it was added last week.
  • SMS in GMail Chat: I can't use this since I don't live in a covered area.
  • GMail Themes: I immediately disabled Better Gmail 2 and chose a tabbed-looking theme.
  • Redesigned and Streamlined Reader Interface: This is nice, but I didn't hate the old one that much.
  • Calendar Sync with Outlook: I don't use Outlook. I'm sure this is great for a large number of people, though, and will help Google's corporate adoption.
  • Snooze reminders on your desktop with Google Talk, Labs Edition: This is Windows only.
  • Holiday Docs Templates: I'm not into the holidays much, but there will be a lot of people who can now send invitations or cards through Docs.
  • Forms Templates: I haven't used Forms yet, but I plan to get into it later, and this will be a big help for me since this culture is so oriented toward "cute."
  • Improved Sharing in Picasa Web: I don't have any real private albums now, anyway.
  • Widescreen by default in YouTube: Someone cares, I guess.
  • SearchWiki: This and the Search Labs (by date, etc.) are great tools if you search for similar terms all the time.
  • PDF Viewer for GMail and Docs: Got to love opening the PDF in GMail.
Some of these don't affect me at all (Outlook sync, for instance), but some solve my problem of how to get rid of local apps (PDF viewer). Overall, the pace of change is amazing, and there are so many optional labs that the experience is quite customizable.

No sync'ing worries: I never had a problem with a mising or outdated file. Not once in the whole month. That's pretty amazing since I forget stuff all the time. Because I'd given up all my privacy, I could search my work web history from home and continue without a hitch. Google Toolbar kept my bookmarks for use in my various locations.

Integration was pretty good: As I mentioned in my comparison of Google Apps vs. Zoho, Google's integration could be better, but everything still works together quite well. I'm able to convert e-mails to tasks or events. Sites can insert documents into pages, and the pages are updated when the documents are edited. It all works well enough, though I'd like to see better integration in iGoogle and a more consistent interface.


Privacy: In order to get any real benefit from going on-line, I had to give up a lot of privacy, which was really hard for me with my background. I don't like to give people access to my information. I don't let guests use my desktop log-in, even if there's nothing to find. Really, though, I trust that Google is large enough that they're not poring through my information and aren't really interested in anything I have to say.

Limitations: There are a lot of things that you can't do or which are significantly harder when you are using on-line applications. Photo editing is hard. The free editors were really limited. I'm sure that a subscription editor would have had more functionality (, but I didn't want to subscribe for just a month. I'm not a big gamer, and I tend to use my PS when I do game, but I still found myself playing a lot of sudoku this month.

The desktop apps that I don't want to do without are:
  • Photo editor (The Gimp),
  • Desktop Search (Deskbar),
  • Music player (Rhythmbox),
  • Movie player (Totem), and
  • Virtual Machine (VirtualBox).
Honestly, that's not very many. I could do without the movie player by using a FF plugin, and I could replace desktop search with the Google Toolbar if I didn't have any local files. I don't see myself giving up the photo editor or VM ever, and the music player would need to be a sophisticated web app mimicing RB's interface. On the subject of music, though, I did find some new and great Jamendo bands this month.

Remote Files
None of my files are local. In some situations, this isn't such a big deal. The ones (like documents) that don't lose fidelity can be sync'ed using Conduit. Videos and photos in Youtube, Picasa, Flickr, and Facebook don't survive the trip well, though. I'm sure that this can be gotten around using premium services, though.

Internet Access
When the web is down, you don't work. Google Gears takes care of quite a bit of this problem, but it's not used in every part of Google Apps yet. For some people, this will be a huge issue. I live in an area with dependable, high-speed Internet.

While I won't quite say that the last nail is in the coffin of the desktop, it's not that far away. Gamers, designers, and developers will never move off of the local desktop, though, I'm sure. People who use a single computer get much from moving on-line.

There are a lot of benefits to being in "the cloud," and I'd encourage you to try it for a while to see how it can help you.

Note: I'l repeat this experiment in February with Zoho instead of Google in order to compare the two services. If anyone has a suggestion for me, please leave a comment and I'll try the web app/suite out.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Day 22: Recreating the Applications Menu in iGoogle Using Webapps and Gadgets

It's day 22 with no desktop applications but a browser and a file manager, and I'm doing OK. Not great. Fine. I'm going to run through how to set up your new "desktop" to run the common applications you'd have in your old desktop. I'm going to pretty much run down the Debian Gnome menu point by point, so this should work for Ubuntu or Fedora, as well.

Accessories: First, create the Accessories tab in iGoogle.

  • Archive manager: Use Wobzip to handle compressed files.
  • Calculator: Add the Google Dual-Mode Calculator to iGoogle
  • Dictionary: Add the Oxford English Dictionary to iGoogle.
  • Search (Beagle / Tracker): Install the Google Toolbar for Firefox 3. Seriously consider the version 5 Beta. This won't search your local files, but we will have as few of those as possible, anyway. Add some on your iGoogle page.
  • Screenshot: Install the Dashblog FF3 extension.
  • Text editor: Use EditPad or EtherPad. No, they don't support any highlighting or anything programming-related. You wanted to program on line? Are you insane?
  • Notes (Tomboy or GNotes): Add Sticky Notes or Google Notebook to iGoogle.
Games: Add a Games tab in iGoogle. Google will add Hangman, Sudoku, Pac Man, hte NYT crossword puzzle, and Flood It! for you automatically.

Graphics: Add a Graphics tab to iGoogle.

  • Photo manager: Use Picasa Web and install the AddtoPicasa FF3 extension. Add Picasa Widget to your iGoogle Graphics tab.
  • Bitmap editor (Gimp): For screenshots, Dashblog offers some simple editing. For photos, use Picnik -- you don't need an account to work with your Picasa Web photos.
  • Vector editor (Draw or Inkscape): Use ZCubes. Do not try to install the extension for it -- it requires IETab.
Internet: Add an Internet tab to iGoogle. Google will automatically include junk like your IP address. Delete these gadgets.

  • Instant messaging: Use Gtalk in the GMail interface, the GTalk sidebar for iGoogle, the GTalk gadget for iGoogle. Use an iGoogle multi-chat gadget or Meebo for other networks.
  • Feed reader: Use Google Reader and the iGoogle gadget.
  • IRC: Use the Mibbit IRC Chat gadget for iGoogle.
  • VOIP: No video love for you. Flash doesn't support webcams well on Linux. There are some Skype options available for iGoogle, but they appear to be Windows only. Tringme has a Flash SIP phone which you can use instead of Ekiga, but you'll need a Tringme account.
Office: Add an Office tab to iGoogle. Google will add Weather, ToDo, Calendar, Wikipedia, and Office Quote to your tab automatically. Delete Office Quote and Wikipedia.

  • Mail: Use GMail. Add the GMail gadget to iGoogle.
  • Calendar: This is already added by default.
  • Task manager: You can use the anemic ToDo list, use GMail to handle it with tags and stars, or you can add the Remember the Milk gadget.
  • Project management: There's no really good choice for this. You could use Zoho's project manager, but then you'd probably be using Zoho for the start page and apps instead of iGoogle, wouldn't you. I thought so. Sites is supposedly intended to be used for project management, but it is so unlike other project management software that this seems far-fetched. You can make the effort, though.
  • Word Processor: Use Google Docs (previously Writely) and add the Docs Gadget (or full-screen version)to iGoogle.
  • Spreadsheet: Use Google Spreadsheets. Thegadget is already added for you along with Docs.
  • Database: You have two choices here, neither of them good. One -- use Forms for Google Spreadsheets to create a simple, single sheet database. Two -- use Google Base. Someone claims you can use a mash-up.
Sound and Video: Add a Sound and Video tab to iGoogle.

  • Movie player: Oviously, you'll add the Official Google Video Gadget to iGoogle. Install an embedded video player plug-in into Firefox. In your file manager, set videos to open in FF.
  • Music Player: Obviously, having Totem or MPlayer embedded will allow you to play songs and playlists locally, but you can also add the Yahoo Music gadget, and the Ultimate LastFM gadget (edit settings to put in your username). I use the Jamendo website a lot, but there are no gadgets for Linux.
  • Sound recorder: I don't have a solution for this.
  • CD extractor: Hint, it involves P2P. If you have the CD, go for it.
The last thing to do is to delete the default Hoome tab in iGoogle. Now you have an application menu in iGoogle.

Well, that's the list. I've adjusted my iGoogle page to work this way, and I'll use it for the next week to see if it is acceptable.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Day 20: Google vs. Zoho, Part 2

In the first part of this comparison, I hit the major pieces of the groupware suite -- e-mail, calendar, word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software. I'll be covering some of the less-used applications next.


Google's Chat

Zoho's Chat

Both suites claim to offer IM in the e-mail windows. GTalk offers text, voice, and video (not available on Linux). I have zero on-line contacts, though, so I can't test Zoho. GTalk can chat with anyone with a GMail account, on a Jabber server, or on AOL. Zoho, on the other hand, only chats with Zoho, which is fine for business, but doesn't help me much. Zoho doesn't offer voice video in chat, but it has a separate meeting application for that.

Task management

 Zoho Gantt Chart

As I mentioned in a previous post, Google doesn't really have task management, which is a killer for some people, though a workaround can be made using GMail or hooking up to Remember the Milk. Zoho's tasks application allows defining priority, due date, status, and the other usual fields, but it also offers assigning tasks to others. This emphasizes the fact that Zoho is business oriented while Google Apps is mostly for personal use.


Zoho Notebook
Google Notebook
Both suites offer notebooks that can clip information from various websites and from within the suites. Zoho offers a publication option once the whole thing has been organized. I don't really see why I'd use that instead of the wiki application, though.


Google Sites Wiki

Zoho Wiki

Google is phasing out the cripple Pages and betting the farm on Sites. Sites is really nice and offers a lot of fuctionality with an easy-to-use interface. Pages can be of different types emulating a download page or even a blog. Both offer WYSIWYG editors, but Sites is more of a total website solution, while Zoho Wiki limits itself to traditional wiki-like functions.


Zoho Meeting

Zoho has a version of Meetings for the free version, but it is limited to one other participant (the website says one participant, but I'm going to assume it means two). More than that will cost a monthly fee. The meeting software offers all the normal collaboration solution options like chat, voice, video, and desktop sharing (Windows only), but it also offers the participants the opportunity to share their desktops and has a browser plug-in to make everything easy. The browser plug-in seems perfect for support desks.

Google, on the other hand, doesn't offer a dedicated meeting application. The chat module can do group chat, voice and video, but can't share the desktop.

Shared Links

Both Google Bookmarks and Zoho Links offer bookmarking functionality with the option of sharing, but Bookmarks can be integrated into the browser using Google Toolbar. This makes the application much more useful.

Start Page

Zoho Desktop


Zoho operates in a single interface, so it's alread somewhat of a start page itself, but it has a module called "Desktop," which gives a quick overview of meetings, tasks, documents, and the like. Google is promoting iGoogle, which is much more customizable but which also seems to lack the professionalism of Desktop.

Unique Features

Google offers a lot more options for the average user than Zoho does. Picasa organizes photos. Youtube and Google Video allow you to upload videos. Maps can be customized. It also has a very limited database-type fuction using forms for spreadsheets. Google's offering is still very much separate applications, though. Work groups appear to do their own thing without a standard style guideline. Each Google app has a different interface, even among the typical office applications, which you would think ....

Zoho is an integrated application, though.  Zoho's single interface makes everything really simple to get at and the emphasis on looking like desktop counterparts really helps adjustment. Zoho may be missing a couple of the things Google offers, but this is not actually that big of an issue because Zoho's interface allows you to embed outside applications like Picasa, Maps or Reader. Zoho professional also has an application maker to let you fill in the gaps with custom applications for your business and a database application similar to Access.

Browser Integration

Google wins hands down on the browser integration situation, which moderates its broken app intergration. Google Toolbar brings most of the applications together, and the Docs sidebar add-on allows easy access to most of your stuff.

Zoho doesn't have much in this area, really, but it doesn't really need it outside of bookmarking. I would be happy using Zoho in Prism (immitatiing a local application). You would never catch me doing that with Google. I'd need a full Firefox. The biggest downside of Zoho that I see for personal use is that my collaborators need to use an address. Google allows any address to register and use its apps.


Google is obviously aiming for personal use. It wants to use the network effect and its brand image to leverage its search and GMail business into this new market. If you have a GMail account, everything is already available for you. In my opinion, even though GMail is not the most popular web mail, it has a large proportion of the first movers, and these are the type of people who will start switching everything to on-line applications. It appears to be a smart move, but is it evil? Not for me. Search is a Google virtual-monopoly right now, but it doesn't give me access to these applications. Having a GMail acocunt does, but GMail is a small player in the web -mail market.

Google's applications are kind of like the Open Source 3 Bs -- beta, buggy, and butt ugly. OK, it's not really that bad in either camp, but Google definitely pushes features out quickly without worrying about some of the side effects (sharing personal information or breaking stuff) and doesn't emphasize flashiness. They lack integration and a consistent look and feel, something which I think the developers should look toward. They are also too minimalistic for most people, I would imagine.

Google is probably good for you, and OK for a school, but there's someone else I'd recommend for the average business.

Zoho is business software through and through. Consistent look -- desktop application model to minimize training, and all the little workflow pieces that Google lacks. I think I'd actually like using Zoho at work. That says a lot.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Day 18: Google vs. Zoho: Mail, Calendar, and Office Suite

These thirty days are dedicated to Google. I made that clear in the beginning, but I'm running out of stuff to talk about except being slightly bored and a little limited. I've pretty much fully adjusted my work-flow. Honestly, since I used Googel Apps so much before, I didn't have to adjust much at all. I probably wouldn't be a fidgety as I am if my computer only had a browser and file manager: right now, there are a ton of programs installed that I'm not allowed to use, and my self-control is the only thing holding me back.

Well, I started looking for another solution than Google Apps since some people might not want to give their entire lives over to Google. Zoho is the other  big name on the radar. It has a complete suite of applications (many of which I've never really used), and it appears to match up pretty well on a point-by-point basis with Google Apps. Let's look closer, shall we? For this first comparison, I'll be talking about the free version of each. I'll talk about business add-ons later.


Google has GMail, which has been traditionally minimalist, but which broke out of that mold with Labs and now themes. E-mails are organized into conversations and the content is scanned for things like tasks and appointments to be added to the calendar. Attached documents can be downloaded or opened in Google Docs. GMail has excellent spam protection and uses labels for tagging. The storage is notoriously huge, increasing all the time. Search is, of course, excellent. Weak points include contact management, the lack of folders (for some people), and ads in the free version.
Zoho Mail
Zoho, on the other hand, uses a more traditional three-pane setup with individual e-mails, though a conversation view can be chosen. One source reports unlimited e-mail space. Attached documents can be opened in Zoho Writer, but it appears that they are read-only and temporary, while the Google version imports the document. Either behavior can be annoying depending on what you want at the time.

Both applications use Google Gears for off-line operation and are accessible via either POP or IMAP.


 Google Calendar
The Google Calendar offers minimalism, again, with day, 3-day, week, and month views. Adding an event is relatively straightforward. Deleting or changing one isn't hard, but not nearly as intuitive. Google has many public calendars which can be added -- holidays, for example. You can access or share a read-only version of your calendar online using the ical (not iCal) format.
Zoho Calendar
The Zoho calendar's interface is not much different, and has virtually the same fuctionality, though it has a five-day work week format instead of 3 days.

Both calendars offer "Smart" or "Quick" add, allowing you to type in natural language, but Google's appears to be more sophisticated. Both applications added an appointment for me when I typed "meeting at 3 on Thursday," but Zoho's was at 3 a.m. ... not what was intended.

Office Suite

Google Docs
Google Spreadsheet
Google Presentations
Google offers very on-line applications for word processing, spreadsheeting, and presenting. They are often panned as having too few features. The font choice is limited, and I find that I have to go into HTML mode sometimes to clean up a bad cut-and-paste or bulleted list. It also encourages styles, though the only way to edit styles is through CSS. Meh. The presentation app doesn't support tables or any real slide transitions. Functions are limited on the spreadsheet, with many calling it "a toy." The presentation application is primitive in comparison to Zoho, but Zoho still appears to lack any transitions. The presentation themes are all very down-to-business. The suite does offer real-time collaboration, though, and mindless revisions.
Zoho Writer
Zoho Sheets using VBA and recording macros

Zoho Show
Zoho once again goes for the desktop application look and feel. This makes it much easier to adjust to. I immediately know where everything is because it looks and acts so much like or MS Office (pre-2007). It has many more fonts, including Comic Sans. Don't laugh. I really want some handwriting font for young kids so that they don't have to deal with print-style "a"s. Zoho has both a "style" and "heading" menu, but the headings don't seem to do much to the layout. It has a "Title" and "Subtitle" style, which I would like to see in Google. The spreadsheet does "pivot tables," something I hear a call for a lot in Google, though I've never used it in any spreadsheet. The presentation app can present in sync at various locations. Google doesn't have this ability. The presentations also are much more visually attractive than Google's and I wish I had them for my classes. Show has good image tools and can use "Shapes" to draw vector art right in the application.

That's all the time I can afford today. I'll try to finish up with task management, site maintenance, meeting methods, and the overview app, as well as my thoughts on both suites and apps that don't have equivalents in both suites.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Day 14: Gmail Set-up

This is my GMail setup. It's quite easy to use, comes in one page, and notifies me of all my calendar events. Chat is on the right. My Todos (there aren't any, really) are handled by a combination of tags and stars.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Day 13: To Do Lists

The subject of time management is a sticky one for me. To be honest, I'm not much of a todo list kind of guy. I've always had a really good memory, and I just remember what I need to get done. My job really isn't complicated enough that I have twenty-five requirements hitting me at once, so I haven't really used time management much other than working a lot. I try to change that every once in a while, though.

Before this experiment, I would try to use Evolution tasks, then later Tasque. I couldn't really get past the point where I had to get in the habit of spending my first few minutes deciding what I needed to do and pruning the list. I always just kind of thought about it on the way to work and prioritized in my down time. "Doing" time management exercises always seemed, frankly, like a waste of time for me. The times I let something slip through are so rare that I can't seem to make myself do it. You can tell by my tone in this paragraph that I'm still not convinced.

I'm trying to change, though. I've tried two new methods of keeping track of my tasks during this OS-less phase: GMail tags and stars, and Remember the Milk.

To use GMail, set up a new contact with the e-mail address of and the name Todo. This will still come directly to you. Then create a Todo tag and a filter for this address, putting the messages directly into the tag and optionally archiving them. Next, add the stars labs in settings, using green, yellow, and red to indicate priority. Enable keyboard shortcuts to make this all really quick. That's it. To make a new task, type Todo in the To: field and choose your contact, then type a subject and description. Send. Bingo.

Remember the Milk integrates with iGoogle and Google Calendar. sign up for an account. If you have Google Gears, RtM will ask for permission to use it. On your iGoogle page, search for the Remember the Milk gadget and add it. Log in and remember your username and password. Go to Remember the Milk, Go to the Google Calendar page. Click the Google Calendar button and add the RtM calendar. Your calendar will now have a little check on each date to check the tasks. Finished.
I'm still not really using them, though. :P

I cheated last night and played with a VM.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Day 11: Bored

Well, as you can see by my posting history (or lack thereof), I've settled into my new system. I can't say that I'm happy, though. I keep wanting to do something that I'm not allowed to do, but which would be possible: try out a new game for a few minutes (even though I'm not a gamer), use my music player instead of slogging through Jamendo, watching my porn stash, or trying out new server software in a VM. As a result, I'm bored. I spend too much time on Slashdot and, when I run out of that, on Digg.

I'm pretty productive, though, I've written about 50 pages in the last week. I've done a lot of research on Google Apps to see if I'm missing anything. I've changed around my GMail theme now that it's got that option.

I've tried and thrown away a bunch of gadgets for the iGoogle home page. Half of them don't work. I think they're all privately hosted and the servers are no longer up. I'm not sure whether to use iGoogle or GMail for my home page, honestly. GMail has labs for Calendar and Docs, so when I put chat on the right side, I basically get the same functionality as I do on my iGoogle main tab. I have Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail on another tab, though, along with tabs for tech news and games. Right now, I'm trying to get away with iGoogle since that's what they obvioously intend me to try to do.

I've decided that I don't like major parts of the Google Toolbar. The search mechanism just doesn't feel natural for me. I do like the easy sync of bookmarks and browsing history across my two computers.

I've got twenty days left. I'm sure I'll get all my work done, but I guarantee that I'll be really happy when that last day comes.

Oh, yeah, and

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Day 8: I Miss my VMs

I have some things I'd like to try out in some VMs -- building Etoile in one, for starters -- but I'm not able to. I don't see anyone putting a VM in Firefox anytime soon.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Day 5: Problems with MS Word format

I submitted the first fifteen-page proposal to the Ministry of Education last night and hit a major problem: Google Docs doesn't export to .doc particularly well.

My submission guidelines included a requirement for MS Word format, so I had my hands tied. The document looked great when exported to PDF, and of course HTML looks exactly the same as on the preview page, but the footnotes turn into endnotes in Word, and those aren't even really endnotes, but instead are a numbered list at the end of the document.

I didn't really have a solution to this problem other than exporting and editing the document in OO.o, which I couldn't do due to the experiment I'm running here.

Instead, I fudged the requirements and added the contact as a viewer, instructing him that the PDF was better for printed versions and that he should use HTML export if there was to be an inclusion in a web page. MS Word was still available, I told him, but that the document wasn't nearly as polished.

First major roadblock, I guess.

Also, I need to find some time-wasters. I have online sudoku, frogger, and a gems-style game if I need five minutes' break, but there's just not a lot to do WRT entertainment on my computer if I don't use local applications. I may have to dust off the PS2.

Oh, yeah, and I have a lot of ... "movies" ... on my computer that I can't watch now. The online versions are very slow to load and I generally don't think that far ahead when I'm in the mood. That's a major PITA.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Day 4: Dashblog = Screenshots!

This screenshot was taken with Dashblog. It's my solution to taking screenshots without saving them to the local disk first.
DashBlog lets you quickly collect videos, images, text/quotes, songs and screen-captures from any web page and publish them to your blog (word press, blogger/blogspot, tumblr) and/or twitter.
You can crop or add text, arrows, and scribbles before you post.
I'm finding myself pretty bored. I'm going to have to find some Flash games or something online.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Day 3: Picture Editing -- Picnik

The last time I wrote (Day 1), I said that photo editing was going to be a real problem for me. It still is. There's no really good solution to creating new pictures completely online. I still have to take the screenshot, save it to my desktop, upload the pic, and editi it online.

Picnik does, however, work with pictures I already have in Picasa, Flickr, and Facebook, so I can edit the screenshot online with no problem. If I had a web storage solution mounted locally, that would solve my problems, I guess, as long as the storage had a public API.

To use Picnik with your online photos, you'll need to go to the  Library tab and click "Edit photos." You don't need a Picnik account if you're just going to edit photos from your Flickr, MySpace, Picasa, or Facebook account. You will need to authorize Picnik to access that account.

After the Flash loads, choose and double-click on the photo you want to edit. The "Edit" tab has some nice one-touch fixes for photos, but most of what I need is in the "Create" tab. Go the the "Save and Share" tab to save, then choose to replace your old file or create a new one.

Not too bad, really.

I've removed some of my FF extensions because I didn't really need them and because I thought they may have been causing some instability. My current list of FF extensions for the test period is:
  • Adblock Plus
  • AddToPicasa
  • Google Toolbar
  • Greasemonkey with Google Docs Download.
I decided to listen to some music yesterday, and took care of that. I'll need to put together some playlists for myself. I hate streaming audio, though -- the quality is low and it stutters every once in a while. Interestingly, the dive bar I went to last night didn't have jukebox software -- they just used YouTube. That didn't seem to be an optimal solution.

I've tried using the AddToPicasa plugin to put photos directly into my Picasa album for this blog, but they don't show up in the "Uploaded photos" dialog when I try to access them. I'll see if there's a setting I don't have right.

Overall, some tings are still difficult, and I have to try to stop myself from running my music/mive player, but most of my problems seem to be related to adjusting my workflow and not about being able to get work done. The work week starts tomorrow, though, so I'll see how I do on a real, full, week.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Day 1: Getting the Work-Flow Down

I showed up at work today and opened the iGoogle page I had set up the night before. I tried to use iGoogle for my work-flow the way that Google obviously intends for me to. I have my claendar, e-mail, and documents there and use the maximize button on the gadget when I want to do something in detail with them. The mechanics are fine and seem to be a good way to work.

The problem is that the functionality is not the same. The maximized GMail gadget doesn't have many of the features of the real page: the gadget is missing the labels sidebar and contact, and the Inbox, Sent items, and Trach are in a pull-down menu. Chat history isn't in the pull-down menu at all. There is also no link to go to newer or older mails. I realize that the real estate is limited, but these are necessary features. Why spend the space on a "Launch full GMail" link when you could just put in a Labels drop down instead?

Other gadgets have similar limitations. I'm only able to view the five most recent documents at a time, though I can create and search. I think the iGoogle maximized experience should be as similar to the regular page as possible. Otherwise, why bother?

Everything worked fine, and I checked Slashdot and Digg using the RSS feeds on my iGoogle "Technology" tab. This saved me some time in the morning since I didn't have as many stories to look through. Score one point for productivity, eh?

Since I had a couple of minutes before I really needed to get to work, I banged out a quick sudoku puzzle on the easiest setting. I didn't want it to take very long. The interface was fine and let me check my progress as I went along. I'm kind of new to sudoku, so I'm not very efficient at it yet.

Once I started work, I hit another snag.

This is essay week for me. I'm writing a set of essays for the Korean Office of Education on ways to improve Guest English Teacher (GET) adjustment and performance and on problems with the current teaching method and materials. Of course I'm using Google Docs to do it.

The problem is that Koreans love cute. Everything is cute. Google Docs, however, are butt ugly, even to me. As one web developer put it, "HTML headings are big, black, and ugly." I wanted to change the style of the headings, but that required manually editing the CSS of the document. It wasn't a problem for me, but I don't think my buddies want to or are able to do that. I put in a feature request to Google for a heading editor. I think that's the easiest way to get a good-looking and consistent document. I don't like changing font size and color manually over seventy times a document. I'd rather just do it once then hit CTRL-#.

I've also run into the image editing problem already. There's no way to do it in Google. I thought PicasaWeb had some limited editing functions like redeye and cropping, but I must have been thinking about the desktop client (which I don't really use, either). Wow. I've put it off, but Monday will give me no choice but to tackle the problem. I'll look into work-arounds over the weekend. Picnik may be the best answer since it can load and save photos from and to Picasa so I won't have to use my local disk space.. Google definitely needs an app like this, though.

That's about it for today.

The Rules of Engagement

Before I start the game, I have to set the rules, eh? I think they should be simple:
  1. Use no local applications but the browser unless unavoidable and all other avenues have been exhausted; and
  2. Avoid using local storage as much as possible.
  3. Prefer Google over other on-line options.
Rule #1 should be fairly easy to follow, but will probably limit my ability and productivity significantly. Honestly, though, just about everything can be found on-line for free.

Rule #2 is one that I'd like to have worded more sternly, but I don't see it happening. I could use GMailFS to save and load everything from, but that violates Google's TOS so I can't expect others to do it and using GMailFS would make the game unduplicatable, rendering it useless.

Rule #3 is used because this is a Google challenge. I'll choose Picassa over Flickr, even if Flickr seems to have a nicer interface. I'll choose Google Docs of ThinkFree despite ThinkFree's better functionality. I may re-run this game without Rule #3 next year.

I've considered using Google Desktop and Gadgets, but I decided that I need to do everything on-line for the challenge.

So ... what are the applications that I'll be using and how will I set this up?

Obviously, I need a browser, and the best choice for this challenge on Linux is Firefox. I need to add some extensions to make my job easier. The Google Toolbar goes in. It's my first time with it, and I'll probably remove it when I'm done with the game, but I'm all in to Google for this one, so I set up the toolbar to take over FF's search, add as much functionality as I can on the bar, including Wikipedia (via Google) and YouTube searches and Google Notebook, set the bar up to share my settings between my work and home computer, and to record my web history on-line for later searching (boy, my privacy bells are making my hair stand on end with that one). The toolbar also has bookmarks available on it. For other extensions, I've got the AddtoPicasa extension so that I can right-click and save a photo. I've also got the Google Docs Sidebar, though I'm not sure if it'll be much use.

GMail is already my default e-mail so there's no transition here. I've set the Google Toolbar to open mailto: links in Gmail.

I mostly use GTalk in the GMail interface, but also I have Yahoo! and MSN accounts that I use infrequently. Clients are available as gadgets for iGoogle, so I'll start with those. If that doesn't work, there's always Meebo.

Office Productivity
This will not really be that difficult for me since I use Google Presentations a lot already at work. I've set the Google Toolbar to open common documents in Google Docs instead of my normal desktop apps.

Note Taking
I normally use Tomboy to organize my notes before I write anything, but I'll be using Google Notebook for this. The toolbar has a notebook link in it to bring up in the browser.

Photo Editing
I'm really going to try to get away without this so that I can use PicasaWeb, but it's going to hurt. If I can't get around the limited editing of PicasaWeb doesn't work out, there are a few other online photo editors using Flash or ECMAScript.

I normally listen to music from Jamendo, anyway, so I can stream that through FF or I can use LastFM.

I guess it's time to browse YouTube. Ack! My hair is standing on end just thinking of it.

I don't really play games, but there are a bunch available as gadgets for iGoogle.

I've set this as my home page and have put up my work page with my calendar, e-mail, Docs, GTalk, Notebook, and Bookmarks. I have another page with my tech reding (Slashdot, etc.), and another one with games.

There we have it. "The game is afoot! No, wait. It's a hand!"

The OS is Dead -- an Experiment

I'm quitting my OS. Well, not really, but I'm going to try to make it as irrelevant as possible. I'm a Linux user so the OS is pretty irrelevant already. Hehe.

Over the last couple of years, I've been using Google applications more and more. It started with GMail, then moved on to the Calendar and Reader, then some Docs. Eventually, I was doing a lot of work in Google Apps so I decided to take it all for a test run.

Not only am I going to go completely on line for a month, I'm going to do it only using Google, just to make it more difficult. I'll write about how I've set myself up, what my workflow looks like, and probably a few rants and curse words as I try to work around things that should be easy but aren't.

Wish me luck.

p.s. This post was created in Google Docs and posted to Blogger from there.