At the beginning of the year I made the decision that I would try and move as much of my life online as I could using web-based apps. Most of these apps are either beta or really new, but they offer one particularly attractive advantage over their desktop competitors – the ability to access my info wherever I am (assuming I have a computer and connectivity). There were some desktop applications that I couldn’t move away from and ultimately (as of this morning) I’m moving back to a desktop-based life for everything except email.
I’m a Mac user, and a die-hard one at that. At the center of my digital life is email, calendar, my contacts and my GTD system. I’ve enjoyed the advantages of Entourage, but always hated the speed of the application. In short, it’s so slow I can’t figure out why anyone uses it unless they need access to their email on an Exchange server. Since Panther I’ve been using iCal and Address Book as much as possible. I didn’t really start using Apple’s Mail.app until just before Tiger came out. Because I had to use Entourage for work (or so I thought), I was syncing my calendar and contacts back and forth between Entourage, iCal and Address Book using Paul Berkowitz’s awesome software. Great software, but what a pain in the ass. Add to the equation that I started using a PowerMac at work, but still wanted to keep everything centralized on my PowerBook. .Mac was a decent solution, but the problem was (and still is) that I lose ALL of my contacts at least once every couple months. I don’t know why or what causes it, but it’s maddening when it happens. I do keep good backups, so it’s more of a pain in the ass than anything else. I needed a solution that was web-based, but that could sync with everything. I came up empty. I tried Yahoo! calendar and lately a bunch of great Web 2.0 apps like 30 Boxes and CalendarHub, but those apps separated my life even more.
As for email, I have personal and work email. Mail.app is great, but it doesn’t handle IMAP very gracefully. One thing I did discover when I started using it was that I could add the company Exchange server as an IMAP account and have everything come in to Mail.app. It didn’t look pretty, but at least I could search for email. If you’ve ever tried to find an email in Entourage, then you know my frustration. The frustration got compounded when Tiger came out with Spotlight. Why can’t Spotlight index Entourage emails?! (I know the answer, I’m just frustrated). I started using gmail full-time as a test and now I can’t go back. The biggest thing for me is the single inbox with labels and awesome search capabilities. It’s unmatched in a desktop application, even with the help of a couple third-party apps. The biggest con for using gmail full-time is that when someone receives your email, despite using your own email address to send, it comes from gmail. Work especially hates this, and understandably so, but I still convinced our IT guy to have all of my work email redirect to my gmail account. I still get my email on my Blackberry, but can access it via gmail as well. Of course they don’t sync up, which also sucks, but I just have to go into my Exchange account and clear out emails with large attachments every once in a while. I can live with that for now.
Ever since I started using GTD to keep my life in order, I’ve been more productive in pretty much every corner of life. I had been skipping from one application to another, trying to find something that worked well for me. When Kinkless GTD (kGTD) was released, I was all set. It’s gorgeous to look at and it works very well for me. The only problem was that I used it on two computers, which had to share the same file. I needed an online app that I could use and be equally productive. I had been looking for an excuse to try out Backpack and this was the opportunity. It worked fairly well, but ultimately it was too simple and didn’t have some whistles and bells I needed, so this morning I cancelled my account.
Apple’s applications are great and I’m now back to using iCal and Address Book full-time. Gmail is still my main email application and kGTD is the best GTD implementation I have come across. The bottom line is this… As much as I love living life on the bleeding edge, there’s only so many sacrifices I will make. If it comes at a hefty cost to my productivity, it’s not worth it.