Toolbar Toolset

Slowly but inexorably, a good number my online activities have moved to web-based tools in recent months, as the partial screengrab of my links bar below shows. Although there was no one conscious decision to do this, I suspect the desire to have access to all my main resources from any location had a lot to do with it – in short, if there’s an internet-connected box with a screen, keyboard and mouse, I can function.

This being the case, the key to successfully doing this has to be a solid weapons-grade browser and on my PC, Firefox is my browser of choice and have done so for a good while now. Even when a site is totally IE-oriented (thankfully rare these days), I can use a handy Firefox extension to give me right click access to IE. With Firefox, I can open just one browser session and still have each service run in it’s own tabbed window, leaving my taskbar far less cluttered (those who like this approach may also like to take a look at Exodus, which offers tabbed Jabber IM windows in a single session also). So what do I have tabbed in Firefox when I’m online? Here’s a brief rundown:

  • Gmail for email: the email beta that’s better known than many fully fledged applications. I miss Thunderbird but there’s no denying Gmail makes managing list and group mail a doddle.
  • Blogger for blogging: with Blogger, if there’s a problem other than spelling and composition, then it’s their job to fix it, unless it is a problem with my server, then I call my friend and host and ask nicely. After that, it’s as simple or as complex as my template tinkering makes it.
  • Google Groups for Usenet: or more specifically the Google Groups2 beta, which is better laid out and more user friendly than it’s predecessor and updates appreciably faster than before.
  • Bloglines for RRS news and blog feeds: for a quick overview of my favourite 41 feeds, Bloglines is great and now includes facilities for webclipping, sharing favoured feeds, blogrolling and feed directory searches.
  • Furl and for bookmarking and archiving: both offer slightly different ways in which users can create private or social bookmarks and/or retain links to, and copies of, web content for future use.
  • MyPip for web-based bookmarks: the precusor to the above but still useful as a backup that carries the core links that I like to have access to.
  • Wikka for my personal wiki: for some time, I have been using a wikki to post and share articles and links with friends, colleagues and folks on user groups I post to.

So, what’s the upshot? Ditch all those expensive apps and rely on web-based services entirely? Hmm – not quite; let’s consider these:

  • Access and availability: Web-based stuff can be a pain too – there’s little more frustratin than when a server’s down for maintenance or your ISP is playing up and you can’t get at your stuff . On the whole, the services in the package above work well and downtime/inaccessibility is rare.
  • Free but…for how long?: The list of killer free services that hook users, get them reliant and then move to a subscription-based model is a long one and drenched in tears fro some. However, the growing inclusion of unobtrusive text ads like those of AdSense seem to be changing this and an increasing number of services are pledging ‘free for ever’ on the back of such advertising. This brings me to…
  • Security & privacy: much has been written regarding the Gmail’s scanning-to-target-advertising and such like and, it seems, no amount of common sense or debate will placate the nay-sayers. For my part, and leaving aside SSL and ecommerce issues for now, if your stuff is so super-secret, I’d advise against having it anywhere close to the internet. Who was it that said if you wouldn’t want to read it on the front page of the New York/London Times, then you shouldn’t email/post it?

Quite simply, it’s a matter of horses for courses and personal preference. If your online activities are confined to the odd hour or so in front of a home PC, then the applications that came with it will be more than enough. However, if like me your screen time is significant and spent at any one of several boxes running different OS and using different browsers and you want access to the same resources, it’ll certainly make life easier most of the time.

my lo-fi ears are listening to Spunky/Eels

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