By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, September 30, 2008 at 7:17 pm
The experiment known–by me, anyhow–as Operation Foxbook is winding down. By tomorrow, I’ll have packed up the HP Mini-Note I’ve been using as a dedicated Firefox machine, and I’ll allow myself to use desktop applications instead of relying on Web apps whenever possible. Already, I’m weaning myself off of my Web-only regimen–I may allow myself access to Photoshop later tonight.
But I’m still learning things from this project, and need to catch up on sharing them with you. Some notes on the last few days:
—I should have mentioned I’ve been using Meebo. When I’m on my MacBook Pro, I generally use iChat for instant messaging. But I’ve sometimes opted for Meebo for just about as long as there’s been a Meebo. And in almost every respect that matters, I like it just as much as iChat. (Exception: iChat is smart enough to reconnect automatically whenever I connect to the Internet; with Meebo, I need to remember to log in…and sometimes I forget.) Meebo is among the very best Web apps on the planet–it’s one of the ones that first made me think it might be possible to live inside the browser.
—A cool use for Google Docs. When I started to put together The State of iPhone Satisfaction, I knew I wanted to turn survey results into infographics. I ended up doing so with Google Docs–and it was not only an adequate Excel substitute but a superior one in some respects, since it lets you “publish” a chart in a form that you can embed in any Web page, and which auto-updates if you change the data behind the chart. Excel would have let me create prettier. more customizable charts, but getting them onto the Web and into my article would have been a lot tougher. (Zoho, incidentally, has a similar publishing feature, but its charting features don’t provide a real-time preview, making them more of a chore to use.)
—Can’t any online spreadsheet open my file? My Google Docs charts were based on summary data from my iPhone survey. But I also downloaded all the responses from all 2158 participants from PollDaddy in the form of a 2MB .CSV file. I then tried to upload it into Google Docs–and was reminded that Google Docs can only import spreadsheets up to 1MB. So I tried Zoho–which told me that one of the file’s field names was too long, and gave up. Whereupon I moved onto ThinkFree, and discovered, after a week with the Mini-Note, that it didn’t have Java installed. (There was a time when you’d find that out really, really quickly.) I installed Java, and…ThinkFree successfully opened my file. It wasn’t a perfect experience–the ThinkFree spreadsheet mysteriously pauses in places where Excel reponds instantly–but ThinkFree gets major brownie points for working where Google Docs and Zoho didn’t. (Surely big companies like GE that are adopting Web suites need to import big files; I wonder what they do?)
—Graphics continue to be tricky. I still haven’t found a way to whip up little images for my posts that’s anywhere near as easy and powerful as Photoshop. Aviary continues to look terrific in principle, but I keep building graphics in it and then getting an ugly, uninformative error message when I try to save them. (I did manage to use it to put together the image with this post.) So I keep coming back to Picnik, which is a photo editor that’s really not designed to do the sort of things I’m trying to accomplish. But it’s extremely reliable, and I’m usually able to approximate the effects I want. I used Picnik to create my iPhone Survey logo (settling for a font other than Rockwell Bold, which I usually use–it wasn’t available) and this image. But mostly, I’ve been trying to steal graphics from the Web that only need cropping and/or resizing, and reusing old images I’d created in Photoshop, such as my “Operation Foxbook” logo.
(Full disclosure: In certain cases, I cheated a little on Operation Foxbook’s no-desktop app rule by doing a screen capture, then pasting it into Windows Paint and saving it so I could upload it into Picnik. As far as I know, there’s no way to bring a screen grab into any Web image editor without using a desktop app to save it disk first.)
I have a new appreciation for how good Picnik is, but I’ll also be very happy to get my mitts back on Photoshop; no Web-based rival comes close.
I’m going to record at least a few final thoughts on Operation Foxbook in one final post. But come to think of it, even when I turn my MacBook Pro back on and use desktop software without guilt, I wanna continue to do an awful lot of my work in the browser. Maybe I’ll continue to label relevant posts with the Operation Foxbook logo, and let the experiment continue on indefinitely…