Living Online

So my experiment with living online continues.

The one thing that has to be said is that this could start to get expensive. With four or five sites required to get everything I need – if they all start charging me $US10-20 a month then I’m forking out serious money each month. If one place gave me a few features combined for the money then I’d be happier. The closest I can get is Backpack – it combines lists, notes, document storage and a word processor all in one. The only ones I’m feeling the restrictions of a free account are Backpack – which is cheap, and DabbleDB – which could get expensive since I’m sure to want more than the personal plan with 3 applications and the next step up will cost me $25 a month. I’m seriously thinking that if I go to that then I’ll use Dabble to replace as much as I can – it would certainly cut down my Backpack requirements.

The power of online applications is improving in leaps and bounds. Here’s my favourites at the moment.

First off, so called ‘start pages’ or home pages – these are a place to put a bunch of important information snippets. The three main contenders would be Google, Netvibes and Pageflakes. Of the three I personally prefer netvibes – they have all the power I need and have recently added multiple tab support. Pageflakes has a broken weather widget and Google only supports a single page. A single page might be fine for a desktop computer but I have a little laptop, chosen for its small size and weight, so like multiple pages or tabs.

With mail there is only one choice – Gmail . Not only do they offer more space than you can ever want but the label system and searching make it so easy to find an email you want. It’s so good that I use it to store random pieces of information such as bank account numbers, my ITIN (the equivalent of a social security number for non-US citizens) and such. With Firefox and Greasemonkey you can do some nice little hacks to the interface.
Pragmatic Ajax : A Web 2.0 Primer
For my bookmarks I use delicious . The number of little add-ons available for Firefox make this so useful. Delicious director also provides a great second interface. Others swear by furl.

The real nitty gritty is in information handling. At the moment I have a 30 day free trial at Dabble DB for their online database. This is a great little tool and much easier to use and more powerful than anything else I’ve found. I built a great cash book in almost no time at all. I’ve also built a tiny list manager to replace a bunch of lists I kept at Backpack. These guys are quickly developing a killer app, I can imagine a time when a number of the tools I use could be replaced by little Dabble applications. check out one of the reports from my cash book.

For spreadsheets I’m still evaluating a bunch but Num Sum and EditGrid are the two that appear to be ahead of the pack. This is one area that needs to shake out a little.

Online outlining is still in its infancy. The most commonly mentioned are sproutliner and iOutliner (which uses sproutliners code and fixes a couple of things) and both of these are buggy and lacking in features. iJot , on the other hand, limits itself to just outlines and does a marvelous job. It also has the ability to become a web site for you that has some great little features. the downside is that it is not private in any way – once someone knows you have an iJot site they can browse (but not edit) your entire collection of outlines.

For diagrams Gliffy is excellent. It’s in beta at the moment which means it may be a week or two before you get an account but it is worth the wait. They havea bunch of pre-built objects to make it easier for non-artists like me. This is as easy to use as any desktop application and has a bunch of great benefits. Here’s my home network – it took me about 5 minutes to produce this.

For file storage I use box.net – I use it since it has a reasonable amount of space for free and integrates with netvibes.

Presentations are something I don’t really need but Thumbstacks is great. They have some nice themese and easily modified page layouts, copy6ing and pasting of slides – seems to be fully featured.

It would seem that the places that are doing really well are the ones that are concentrating on just one aspect and working hard at it. The people who try and be all things are failing to keep up. It also has to be said that Flash is not a win – all the best guys in this marketplace are relying on AJAX instead. Providing some sort of API is a definite win. To that list you can add providing an RSS feed or some other way of sharing the data.

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