By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, October 8, 2008 at 5:03 pm
The experiment known as Operation Foxbook–in which I dumped my fancy MacBook Pro and desktop apps like Microsoft Office and Photoshop for an HP Mini-Note netbook and Web apps running in Foxbook–is officially over. Actually, I wrapped it up about a week ago, but I thought it made sense to take the time to reflect a bit about what went right, what went wrong, and what I learned.
Here are previous installments of this series, in case you want some background:
And here (after the jump) are some overall lessons…
–I was already living more of my life on the Web than I realized. I spend as much time in WordPress.com as any other app–and it’s Web-based. I have mixed feelings about Gmail but I use it dozens of times a day. For quick editing jobs, I’m as likely to turn to Google Docs or Zoho as to Word. All told, more than half of the time I spend in applications is spent in Web applications already; I’ve been living Operation Foxbook without giving it much thought.
—Until connectivity gets better, there’s no way I could live Operation Foxbook for real for very long. And there’s no way I could live it at all without a cellular data connection, since Wi-Fi isn’t everywhere and isn’t always reliable (or sufficiently affordable) even when it’s there. I recently plunked down my money for a Verizon EVDO adapter; it made all the difference. But if I’d had any plane travel scheduled, I would have been out of luck: Either my work or the experiment would have given way.
—Netbooks make sense. Mostly. In many respects, the Mini-Note is a neat little machine–not more more than a third the price of my MacBook Pro and a lot more portable. and capable of running Firefox and Web apps just fine. As we all spend more and more of our time online, there’s a good chance that we’ll carry simpler, cheaper portable computers, since so much of the computational heavy lifting will happen in the cloud. (I hate calling the Internet “the cloud,” but oops–I just did.)
—The Internet does like big screens, though. The Mini-Note’s biggest limitation turned out not to be its small keyboard–which, for a netbook, is actually on the roomy side–but its 8.9-inch display. There’s nothing about Web apps that leaves you needing less screen; you really want more screen if anything, since browser toolbars and menus eat up some real estate. I’m not surprised that HP has shown off a Mini-Note with a larger screen–and the best thing about ending Operation Foxbook was getting back all fifteen inches of my MacBook Pro’s display.
—Web apps are great for light tasks–especially collaborative and/or Webby ones–but not so good for heavy-duty jobs. Google Docs’ spreadsheet worked wonderfully well when I wanted to publish some simple charts on the Web–much better than Excel would have. But neither it nor Zoho could open a not-especially-complex 2MB spreadsheet.
—Even the most mature Web apps are pretty immature. And the ones that aren’t mature are immature in ways that no successful desktop app is. The Web-based graphics suite known as Aviary is sensational in many ways, but it repeatedly gave me mysterious errors (with a number instead of an explanation) when I tried to save my work.
—In a lot of cases, the best app is the one you know how to use. I’m so familiar with Photoshop that I can do basic work on autopilot; more ambitious projects go fast too, since I generally know which features I need and where they are. Until the day that Adobe replicates Photoshop on the Web–and Photoshop Express sure ain’t it–doing photo work in a Web app is more complicated in part simply because there’s a more daunting learning curve. Even when the photo editor is something like the excellent Picnik, which is really simpler than Photoshop.
—The smartest thing of all to do is to use both desktop apps and Web apps, as your work requires. Why be a fanatic when you can be pragmatic? It makes sense to choose useful tools and not worry much about how they get the work done. Which is sort of what I’ve been doing for the last couple of years without quite realizing it.
—Operation Foxbook should live on. But not as a 24/7 experiment so much as a part-time project that goes on forever. So as I write about other aspects of living in the browser and on the Web, come back to the Operation Foxbook logo when it makes sense.
I had fun with Operation Foxbook; I’m also having fun not doing it, since I like my MacBook Pro and find plenty of value in desktop apps. The day may come when I suddenly realize that I’m living truly living Operation Foxbook forever, because I’ve slowly moved all my work online. But I’m guessing I’ll still use a few desktop apps even when I’m almost entirely Webby. (Hey, I used a DOS app or two years after I theoretically had dumped DOS for Windows.)
And as you spend more and more of your life using Web apps–and you will–I’d love to hear your thoughts…