Sunday, September 12, 2010


Dear You—

More on my move from Microsoft to Google software.

CONTEXT: Working Method:
I normally have a working document and a reference document on the go at any one time – with various other programs available, if not necessarily visible. When I’m book writing, the working documents would typically be my working draft and some research material – with various useful services such as a dictionary and thesaurus on hand via the browser. If I’m e-mailing, the working documents might be my reply and the e-mail I’m answering. Typically, I use two screens to accomplish this because my main computer is a laptop with only a 13” screen. But, however one accomplishes it, having plenty of screen real estate is a marvelous aid to productivity and is highly recommended. It also gives one a chance to re-read one’s e-mail and thus reply more carefully. I know in this age of texting, spending time on comprehension may seem a wasteful practice, but that’s my approach. As a practical matter, I may end up with 20 or more documents open at once (I’ve reached more than 50 during moments of over-enthusiasm) but the core of all my work virtually always tends to be two documents, one on one screen and one on the other.

E-MAIL: The move from MS Outlook to Gmail:
Outlook was disastrous when it was launched, but has morphed into a pretty good e-mail program with significant weaknesses in how it stores both its settings and its database – particularly when one’s pst file gets large. Also, unless one is operating via a fileserver – which is the norm in a corporate environment – one’s data is machine dependent. If your laptop or whatever goes down, then you cannot get at your data until the problem is fixed. When you backup, Outlook always demands special consideration.
I thought about this for a while and decided that Gmail’s inadequacies (starting with the fact that I didn’t like the way it looked) would be compensated for by:

  • ·         Being able to access one’s e-mail from any browser.
  • ·         Not having to file e-mails any more.
  • ·         Being able to avail of Google Search.
  • ·         Having an offsite backup.
  • ·         Having more confidence in Google’s data integrity than in Outlook’s pst.

Initially, I wasn’t too happy with Gmail as such – I thought it looked weird and functioned in a decidedly strange manner – but as the months have passed Google has fixed its more egregious flaws and I have become better used to it. In particular I like the way Google responds to feedback and communicates because it means that weaknesses are attended to, problems don’t fester, and one knows – reasonably well – what is going on. Perhaps the best example of this is the contacts database which was on the crude side six months ago but has been improved immeasurably.

Bottom line: I’m vastly pleased with Gmail and my only concern now is to work out a back-up routine. True, Google doesn’t look like vanishing but storing valuable data in a single corporate cloud makes my vaguely nervous, especially since there are some places I like to go where internet access isn’t possible.

BROWSER: The move from MS Internet Explorer to Firefox to Google Chrome
MS Internet Explorer’s weaknesses are well known so I won’t re-visit them. In fact, I moved to Firefox some time ago and only switched to Google Chrome when I found Firefox was crashing on me. I’m told Firefox has fixed the problem but I have been so pleased with Google Chrome that I am not inclined to go back. Chrome is fast and powerful, does everything I want and I’ve come aware that there is synergy between Google’s various programs; and all seem to be being improved at amazing speed. That is just as well because Google seems to specialize in inconsistencies. For instance, although a Google bar is available for MS Internet Explorer and Firefox, one isn’t yet available for Google’s own browser, Google Chrome.

OFFICE SUITE: MS Office & Google Docs being used in parallel.
I like MS Office thought, in truth, I mostly use Word alone with the other programs in the suite being of benefit primarily for opening incoming presentations (PowerPoint and Excel). As for Google Docs, I am uncomfortable at the thought of dependent on an internet connection to write. Nonetheless, I’m beginning to use Google Docs for some administrative chores and all I can say to date is that it promises well. My eventual plan is to write non mission critical stuff in Google Docs but keep using Word for the vital stuff. In short, my Google Docs evaluation is a promising work in progress.

Perhaps because Google Docs is primarily downloaded, it is a little tricking to know exactly what it is and to assess its capabilities. The main elements, which are listed on the bar, consist of:
  • Gmail
  • Calendar
  • Documents
  • Web
  • Reader
To the above five programs one has to add:
  • Google Voice (which is broadly similar to Skype).
  • Google Notebook.
So far, the unsung hero in all this is Google Notebook. More when I have evaluated it more.

Farewell. I miss your wit and your company.


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