Great article on Wired yesterday called “Livin’ La Vida Google: A Month-Long Dive Into Web-Based Apps,” by Michael Calore. I read this article with keen interest, since I have been using Google apps more and more to replace my desktop tools. Calore details the pros and cons of the Google suite of products, and trying to use them to replace desktop applications such as email, word processing, and calendaring. Could you go cold-turkey and use only online versions of your desktop software? I’m not sure I could, even though I’m using hefty amounts of Google goodness.
Here’s how my Google use is working so far:
Gmail – I love, love, love the Gmail; just yesterday I installed the Better Gmail Firefox extension that Lifehacker’s Gina Trapani compiled. I think if I could ditch Outlook completely (I still have to use it at the office) and switch to Gmail I would. For personal email and my independent consulting work, I am definitely using nothing but Gmail, however, I do have Thunderbird installed at home and use it roughly once a day to store a backup of my Gmail (via Gmail’s easy POP access feature). If Google is smart (and I think they’ve proven beyond a doubt at this point that they’re basically geniuses), they’ll eventually release a local-copy backup option for Gmail that allows you to store backups and work offline when necessary.
Google Docs & Spreadsheets – For spreadsheets, this is all I need, but I’m definitely not a power user. I still occasionally use Excel at work, but for my own purposes, such as defect tracking on small consulting projects and keeping track of my own invoices, Google works great. Word processing is a little trickier. I admit that I still must use Word for most of my document creation at work, but I don’t have a lot of choice there. For personal/consulting stuff I tend to use OpenOffice, even though I do have a licensed copy of MS Office for personal use and could use Word if I wanted to.
Google Calendar – My love for Google’s calendar app is almost equal to my love for Gmail. I think it’s really, really cool – especially the way you can embed mini calendars into web pages and portals such as Google’s personalized home page and Netvibes with ease. Since I’m running Outlook at work for email, I enter strictly work-related appointments into that calendar, but there are very few. For everything else, from doctor’s appointments to lunch meetings to all-day events, I use Google Calendar. It’s streamlined and elegant and gets more robust all the time.
Google Notebook – I never got into del.icio.us, and now I don’t have to. Google Notebook works really well as a place to quickly store links I want to visit later or references for a blog post or article. Using the Firefox extension makes it even simpler.
Google Reader – I must admit, this is the area where I’m way behind the curve. I use Netvibes as my home page and I have lots of feeds spread out across six tabs, which I read daily. I’ve heard good things about Reader, and I have friends who use it, but I just can’t get the hang of it so far. I just look at it, and I feel confused. Maybe some weekend I’ll really immerse myself in it, but for now, Netvibes is more familiar and comfortable.
Other – Google offers a few other tools that I’m not really looking at right now. Blogger, which they acquired, is probably the most widely known and used. I used to use Blogger to post to blogs that I hosted on my own server, but I’ve since found WordPress to be much more robust and usable (both for hosted blogs like this one, and the blogs I host on my own domain/server). Picasa is their photo management/sharing application, which I’ve toyed with but not really used. I actually have a Flickr pro account (a rare foray into Yahoo territory for me – though I signed up for Flickr long before they were purchased by Yahoo) which I use for sharing my photos; as far as organizing them I’m sort of using a haphazard system of my own locally. Finally, Google Talk is a web-based chat client that I haven’t even tried — I’m too hooked on Trillian on my Windows-based PCs and Adium for my Mac.
In general I think using Google’s “office suite” is a realistic solution if you’re in a situation where you can count on having Internet connectivity most of the time. It’s especially useful if you need to access your information and content from lots of different computers or locations; and it offers some really nice tools for collaboration and sharing. I’m certainly not 100% converted yet, but if I had to, I could be.