Life 2.0

Friday, January 26, 2007

Bye-bye bookmarks!

Of all the interesting things I did last week - including a long-awaited install of Windows Vista Beta 2 - the one that proved most satisfying was the move away from static, offline bookmarks. has been my choice for online bookmark management for a long time now. It was the first application of it's kind that I tried, and a couple of years and a few dozen trials later, nothing else has stuck with me the way has. The only problem I've had with the application really is that I've never had a good enough reason why I preferred it. I've always used it as a website to keep my bookmarks collection safe and to go back once-in-a-while to really hunt for something I thought I had seen earlier. For everyday collection and retrieval of bookmarks though, I've continued to used the built-in Firefox bookmark manager.

That's changed forever now. Yesterday, I let the ' bookmarks' extension completely take over the bookmark system on all three installations of Firefox I use everyday (work, home and Vista beta). The only question I'm asking myself now is why I didn't stick with this extension when I tried it last month. Probably I was too attached to the bookmarks toolbar and couldn't imagine letting it be taken over. Fortunately, the extension doesn't just do a good job replacing the toolbar, it makes it much more powerful.

I'm absolutely convinced that I'm done with offline bookmarks forever. Just one enhancement - the ability to visually tell whether the current web page is bookmarked or not ala Flock - and this is going to be one feature-set too difficult to improve!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Google Docs vs. Zoho- Head to Head (Part 1)

A reference in my post about Google winning the web apps war, followed by an exchange of comments with Arvind from Zoho, were reasons enough for me to take another poke at Zoho's Writer and Sheet applications. Although I had declared my love for Google Docs over the Zoho alternatives for reasons unknown, the feeling that Zoho had a headstart over google was rooted pretty strongly somewhere in the back of my mind. One of the reasons probably being my love for anything Indian (especially given the virtual non-existence of the country on the web 2.0 map).

I started with Zoho Sheet, since spreadsheets are my preferred format for documentation over plain (or formatted) text. The first thing that struck me was just how much more responsive it felt as compared to Google Spreadsheets. I had learned to ignore the lag I felt in Spreadsheets as a compromize for using a web app over a desktop one and expected the same, if not more from Sheet. Not done, the Chennai guys seem to believe. Zoho Sheet genuinely feels and responds as smoothly as a Microsoft Excel on my desktop!

A good measure to feel this difference is try and re-size columns and rows. The difference is absolutely huge! That Zoho also allows an input field to define row widths and column heights is just an icing on the cake for someone a compulsive format-freak like me then. Zoho Sheet also feels much faster in nearly every other area like applying cell formatting, copy-pasting or even in the undo and redo actions. It's auto-update also seems smoother than Google's, but that's probably because it is much more un-obtrusive than the ugly red update box in the top-left corner in Spreadsheets.

The same cannot be said about the word processors though. Here, Google's offering seems to be just marginally faster than Zoho's. One of the reasons could be the much simpler interface of Docs as against Writer which - on the surface - makes Zoho Writer seem more feature-full than Google Docs (more on the feature-set later). The difference in performance is negligible though, and not nearly as obtrusive as the lag in Google Spreadsheets (especially noticeable once you have tried Zoho Sheet).

On the performance front - therefore - Zoho is a clear winner for me. The ability to work on an online version of a spreadsheet with the responsiveness of a desktop application is just too much of a killer feature.

A disclaimer here, before I end this post, is that the difference in performance is what I have personally experienced on two computers with Windows 2000 and XP installed, using Firefox 2.0 as the browser. There may be variations in results on other platforms, but I think I'm fair in my observations as long as I'm using the same browser and internet connection for both sets of applications.

In the next post, I will try to compare the features of both sets of applications...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Setting up an enterprise wiki

For over a month now, I've tried out (or tried to try out) over a dozen wiki solutions to see what fits my requirements for a knowledge management system for my team at office. The idea is to start small and then grow it one step at a time to include the entire geographically-distributed organization.

I'm absolutely sold on the fact that wiki is the way to go. The flexibility it offers for everyone involved to participate and contribute to the content - which is the key to a successful knowledge management initiative - is unparalleled. The problem though, is that I can't seem to find one single solution that scores well on all fronts without costing a bomb. It's a small team that I'm launching the initiative with and do not want to invest in thousands of dollars on Confluence and the likes.

Wikimedia, probably the first option that comes to mind thanks to the phenomenon that wikipedia is, is easy to set up on a server (I'm no techie and would ideally want something as easy as, say wordpress, to set up and start using), but way too difficult to use. Twiki & Dekiwiki, which seem to provide the ease of use I'm looking for, are too difficult to set up. I'm not a linux guy and getting these wikis set up on windows seems like a herculean task. The rest of them, if easy to use AND set up, are either hosted (not a good solution for critical, confidential, internal information) or far less attractive! I should note here that the I'm setting it up for a team of graphic designers and therefore good looks is high on priority.

So here I am, wondering what to do. Wondering whether I am actually looking in the right places at all. Hoping to see Google do something nice with Jotspot - and providing it's pro services for free - and end my search for an easy-to-use & easy-to-set-up enterprise knowledge management wiki solution.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Is Google winning the wep-app war already?

They started off well, with Gmail probably setting the trend for lightning fast, responsive (more like responsive-enough-to-put-desktop-apps-to-sham) applications on the web. Somewhere down the line though, it seemed to me like they had given up the fight.

Their personalized desktop was - and remains - a joke when compared to it's competition. The RSS reader was an absolute disaster to start with (I'd never ever dumped a web app so quickly!). And for long it was not clear what they were going to do with the Writely acquisition.

They've come back with a bang though. Google Calendar made me dump Kiko as my favorite online calendar, the new version of the reader meant NewsHutch had to be rested from my browser and Google Docs has replaced the Zoho apps for now - for reasons unknown though, since I still believe Zoho has a better feature set than Docs. I'm still waiting for them to do something with Jotspot before I can give it a serious thought as my wiki of choice.

If there's something Google hasn't captured yet, it's the personalized homepage and bookmarking segments. Netvibes still rules the roost and nothing has been able to separate me from good old yet. Picasa albums is also nowhere close to the Flickrs of the world yet, but I'll let that pass since I don't use them much. I've also stuck with Remember the milk as my task manager, a space where google doesn't offer anything as yet.

In summary then, Google seems to be absolutely on the right track to capture major market share in the insanely crowded web app market. What's coming next then, Google?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Microsoft Office 2007

This post, for example, was written and published to my blog entirely from inside Microsoft Word 2007 (Beta 2). The setup is pretty straightforward, blogger and a couple of other blogging platforms are supported , and publishing a post is pretty seamless. Matter of seconds, really!

But that’s not the only reason I’m upbeat about Office 2007. The Beta 2 version that I’ve been checking out for the last week or so has provided me enough reasons to upgrade to the new version the moment it is released sometime late this year or early next year. Top of that list is the new ‘ribbon bar’. As you may have already heard, Office 2007 gets rid of the drop-down menu system in favor of a more visual ribbon bar for anything and everything you would want to do in all the three major applications – Word, PowerPoint & Excel (I haven’t tried the other apps yet, so just these three on my list). The new interface takes some getting used to and I did find myself searching for basic options for the first few days, but the productivity gain once you have understood the logic behind the placement of options is so high, the initial learning curve hardly matters.

Apart from the interface overhaul, lots of new features have been added too. I haven’t checked out everything yet, the few things that really caught my fancy include SmartArt (a way to transform simple mundane lists into flowcharts and diagrams) and conditional formatting enhancements in Excel (adding bar graphs or icons straight into cells depending upon values in those cells, etc.).

The Beta 2 is a public release and you can download and give it a test ride yourself. While you do that, I’m going to go back and play some more with SmartArt.

Friday, May 26, 2006

PearBudget: Personal Budgeting & Expense Tracking

I like to control of my finances by keeping track of expenses on a regular basis. A good old excel sheet is what I've been using to do this. Not because I love excel; it's just that I've not come across a single personal finance application (and there are MANY out there) that works for me the way I do.

The problems I have with most of these applications are their wasted attempts to connect everything from my bank accounts to the checks I give out to my credit card statements. I wouldn't generally bother too much about importing my online bank statement into my finance application even if my bank did have an online system that supported it. All I usually need is a simple way to compare my expenses against my income and keep track of the savings every month.

And that's one of the reasons why PearBudget's upcoming budgeting and expenses tracking application interests me so much. If it is anywhere even close to as good as their existing spreadsheet-based tool, I'll be the first one to start using it. Over the last few days of trying the excel sheet of PearBudget's personal finance tracking application, I've come to believe that it is precisely what I've been looking for all this while. It's much much better than the excel sheet I've been using and provides a very good one-place budgeting and tracking interface (I have never done a budgeting exercise before for lack of a decent tool).

If you've ever wondered where all that money you bring in every month goes, or even if you're just looking for a simple way to bring a little order to your financial chaos, give PearBudget a try.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Most useful web services

The last couple of months have seen a new web service launch virtually every day. Anyone and everyone seems to be jumping the web 2.0 bandwagon and offering a better, faster, more powerful alternative to the other application that release last week. But how useful are all these services?

Here's my list of applications that I have found useful in my day-to-day life and that I use regularly. I've tried alternatives to most of these, but have eventually returned because these offer me the best toolset for my requirements.

Homepage - Netvibes
Calendar - Google Calendar
Task management - Remember the milk

e-Mail - Gmail
IM - Meebo

Information Management
Bookmarks -, Diigo
Photos - Flickr

Document management

Storage -
Documents - Zoho Writer
Spreadsheets - iRows
Presentations - Thumbstacks
Office suite - Thinkfree

Video - YouTube
Games - Miniclip

Feel free to add your list in the comments. I may have (rather I HAVE) missed out some better, faster, more powerful ones, and would be more than happy to append them to my list and my life!

Update (26 May 2006): Added Diigo to bookmarks