One client to rule them all

I'm the first one to declare the desktop dead. I move from computer to computer, happily launching a few key tabs from a Google Site that I've created with my regular bookmarks.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

I'm the first one to declare the desktop dead. I move from computer to computer, happily launching a few key tabs from a Google Site that I've created with my regular bookmarks. So whether I'm on a new netbook that some company sent me to test or I'm in a client's office, I can quickly access my mail, ZDNet blog platforms, social networks, or whatever. It works pretty well and given that I tend to be a computer hopper, it suits my needs 90% of the time.

There are a few programs that call me back to a desktop, though. Photoshop, of course. SPSS and SAS. TweetDeck or Seesmic Desktop. Office 2010. The latter is only occasional as Google Docs handles most of what I need and fits my computer hopping lifestyle. There are times, though, when I need to create a document from hell, crunch some serious numbers, or create a slide show that really wows and amazes (although SlideRocket may supplant PowerPoint as my favorite presentation software). Unlike most Office devotees, however, Outlook has never been a reason for me to use Microsoft's productivity suite. In fact, whenever I install Office, I exclude Outlook. Why use Outlook when you have Gmail, right? I'd rather access my calendar, mail, contacts, etc., through the cloud, anytime, anywhere.

This is me, though. There are an awful lot of people who hang their professional hats on Outlook and whose professional lives are as wrapped up in Outlook as mine is in Google Apps.

With Office 2010, Microsoft made several enhancements to Outlook, the most notable of which, in my mind, is their Social Connector technology. The Social Connector leverages APIs from MySpace, LinkedIn, and (as of yesterday) Facebook and Windows Live Messenger to pull everything from profile pictures to status updates into Outlook. Outlook 2010 also features a "people pane" where all of the appointments, social media information, messages, and attachments from a given contact are aggregated.

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It makes for a busy interface, but even a cloudy sort of guy like me has to admit that there is a lot of appeal to having so much data so readily accessible. No extra tabs in a browser, no extra sessions or feeds to track the various circles in which you move. This takes that work/life balance and throws it right out the door. Now you can track contacts, clients, friends, family, and whomever else you might want (or need) to keep in touch right through the single interface that is Outlook 2010.

I have to say that Outlook still isn't for me. Sure, right now I'm using it on my long-term ThinkPad X100e tester since that's my primary PC. It's slick and useful. I see the appeal. But there's just too much going on for my tastes. My ADD is bad enough without countless panes and feeds aggregating so much communication goodness. I need browser tabs and windows to organize my online, personal, and professional lives.

Again, that's me. For the other kajillion Outlook users, this could be a key barrier to adoption of cloud-based services like Google Apps. There simply isn't any web-based alternative tool that, with desktop richness and speed, can organize communication and calendaring so completely. It's a kitchen sink application, no doubt, but it's a powerful one. It isn't for me, but for those who rely on it, Google is going to need to develop one heck of a cloud-based aggregator to compete and win over Outlook-happy naysayers. Microsoft has one rich desktop client to rule them all (forgive the bad Lord of the Rings allusion; it had to happen). Can Google create one App to bring them all and in the cloud bind them? (Sorry, I was on a roll).

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