Blog Post

Day one of the web challenge: finding options for success

WakooparesultsYesterday was day one of my "web-only" challenge, the effort to examine if it’s possible for me to boycott desktop applications. The heavily-skewed pie chart shown to the right is the direct result of using Wakoopa, a small application that tracks and records what programs you run, how long they ran, etc… This also means I’ve taken another "exception" in my effort since Wakoopa is a client application. ;)

As you can see, I spent 99% of my day in a single application. Let me offer the breakdown so you can see what Wakoopa saw. Note: it only shows 5.5 hours of tracked data, yet I used my UMPC much longer than that. I suspect there’s a lag in the collected and reported data.

Now that you know I was pretty honest for my first full day of effort… here’s some thoughts on the experience so far.

In order to fully embrace the idea, I reconfigured my home office. Typically I use my MacBook Pro and an external monitor there. When I’m anywhere else in the house or not at home, I use my Samsung Q1 Ultra Premium. I removed the MacBook Pro from the equation and connected my UMPC to the 19-inch external monitor. I also paired my Apple Wireless Keyboard and Bluetooth Mighty Mouse to the UMPC. This setup is now my full time computing platform; I’ll only use the MBP for heavy lifting with podcasts, videos, etc… The nice part of this setup is that I only need to have one single device configured to my liking. When I leave the office, I can simply disconnect the external monitor and walk away with my UMPC. That’s what I’m doing this very second as I’m writing this post from my outside deck while the kids are in the pool nearby.

I’ve switched my browser on the UMPC from Internet Explorer to Firefox during this challenge. The support for extensions is a must if you’re going to live solely in a browser. Now some folks will rightfully argue that installing browser extensions is conceptually no different than installing full, client applications. Therefore, I’m voiding the very core of my test. I think there are two fundamental differences here that need mention. First, a full client application typically offers functionality but also offers a "place" or "environment" for that function to be used. Take the simple case of Microsoft Word, for example. You don’t simply start creating a document on your desktop space. The Word environment is where you create the actual content. A browser extension doesn’t need to include that environment, framework or "place" to work. It works in the browser, which makes it much lighter.

That leads me to my second, related point because part of this challenge is to show people that they may not need 100-, 250- or 500GB of storage capacity on their device. Installed extensions are likely have a much smaller footprint than desktop clients. Even those that offer nearly-identical functionality. Case in point: I had to upload our podcast yesterday, but my standard solution is Filezilla, an FTP client application. I found that the FireFTP extension for Firefox has nearly the exact same look, feel and function, so I used that to upload the show instead. So we have a full client and a browser extension on par with each other. The footprint for Filezilla, the full client? 12.1 MB of space on the hard drive. The same functionality and end-user experience in the browser with FireFTP? Well, the download is 135 KB. I looked for the actual installed footprint, but can’t seem to find it. [That was done in the Firefox browser too: just type C: in your address bar.] Regardless, I’m sure it doesn’t inflate to over 12 MB. ;)

So it’s clear that during my challenge, I’ll be adding plenty of extensions along with finding various web services. As I do that, I’ll continue to share the experience: highlighting extensions and services that help me in my workflow. Perhaps they’ll help you in yours. In my next entry on this topic I’ll be highlighting my current web-only solution to another challenge I had right out of the gate. It works for me, but caused a change in my workflow. That too, is part of the experience: determining if workflow changes are actually worth it in the end. I have no doubt that certain full-client solutions are better than lighter options with a browser and a web connection, but the journey is more important than the destination in this case.

Before I sign off and jump in the pool (it’s 94-degrees here!) I wanted to throw out a topic for thought. If you were crazy enough to take this challenge with me, what would you do about applications that come standard with your OS? Regardless if you use a version of Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, or a flavor of Linux, there are applications bundled with your operating system. On a lightweight computing challenge such as this, would you allow for those to be used or should the test be to strictly use functions in a browser. As I continue down this path, I suspect I’ll be stuck using some of them, but I’ll be looking for options nonetheless. Thoughts?

Programming note: I’ve added a "Web" category to the site that will encompass this challenge and all future posts that are related enough to warrant a "Web" designation.

13 Responses to “Day one of the web challenge: finding options for success”

  1. Cody B

    I think it would be nice to see Kevin use a different computer from one day to the next. And while using those computers, use a limited account. Sometimes you might forget the little things, that you don’t notice, until you get asked for elevated credentials. I don’t mind of you use your elevated account to do a few things, but i think it would help you become more aware. For example try using server 03 to navigate the web with default settings. You get flagged a lot right away asking if you really want to do something.

  2. Michael

    I certainly don’t mean “cheat” in a harsh way. It’s more like teasing than accusing of a crime. To clarify, I think using extensions which are not connected to the website is “cheating” because it is modifying the function of the browser. I understand you need to upload, etc. But I feel like that should be something the site has built in. Many sites have their own “upload manager” built in. In this case the work is done by the website and the host, not the browser. If you add these functions to the browser, then it just seems a bit “unfair.” But of course it’s all fair since he can do whatever he wants! I also agree that it’d be interesting to see how this would work if he did this independent of his own local computer. That is, setting everything up so that he could walk into the apple store, for example, and hijack one of their computers for an hour and be just as productive as if it were his own. To me, that’d be the ultimate in cloud computing…

  3. @Mel – I don’t know why you feel it’s necessary to attack Michael and I for simply using the word “cheating”. I wasn’t trying to personally attack Kevin and I don’t think anybody else here is. We’re just giving our opinions and it’s quite possible to use the word cheating in a benign manner without meaning to cause offence.

    @kahm – I agree with your point but it’s not always possible to install extensions or use USB keys with preloaded applications. For instance, one of my clients disables all USB ports on all PCs and completely locks down user permissions which leaves me stuck with IE6.

    Anyway, as Kevin has pointed out, he’s not trying to prove that he could just sit down at any PC and work. It’s just occurred to me Kevin, if you are only using your Q1 for this test why bother cloud computing at all? I could understand if you were switching between your Q1 and your Mac and wanted data and applications to be available on both but if you’re only using one PC then couldn’t you do without the cloud altogether? From your description, it sounds as if you’d be better off running the test on your Eee PC to test its capabilities.

  4. i could never pull off a browser only day and keep my job. i could however take the command line or terminal only chhallange :) unless you can write and run powershell scripts from firefox.

  5. Brian

    Interesting test of a lean computing model.
    Though in addition to simply studying leaner computing model, perhaps another associated aspect should be reviewed:
    What does the target group that would use this model look like?
    I know it does not apply to me so what does the ideal candidate for this test look like and how many people fit the criteria?
    Wrangling over extensions seems like arguing price with a professional woman engaged in a rather old profession.
    True cloud computing is more akin to using a Celio Redfly, an older network computer or terminal from back in the day.
    A honk’n personal machine loaded to the gunnel’s with data and apps that is always locally available represents the opposite end of that spectrum.
    The notion of keeping your personal data local and/or secure while relying on ubiquitous access to applications from outside the store seems to be the most awkward approach – much akin to carrying around all your canned food but relying on the kindness of strangers to provide a can-opener.
    Or in this case, network connectivity.
    The ability to maintain a local level of fundamental data and the baseline functionality required to access it while being able to extend abilities through connectivity to the cloud seems like the best model grown to date or am I missing something?
    As someone who is frequently network deprived and with no ability to maintain a mythical honk’n machine in the field, I’ve had to work towards optimizing my access by performing as much work locally in anticipation of when connectivity will be restored.
    That seems to be the all to common situation I and others face with mobile computing.
    Regardless, looking forward to seeing how your challenge shakes out.
    All the best,

  6. Kevin, I am following your challenge thoroughly since I am about to step towards that direction. There’s one thing that refrains me though: don’t you think that louding Firefox with a lot of extension will slow down performance?? I mean, Firefox 3 is much faster but still I feel like moving a mammouth

  7. Jelster

    I mean if you’re going to be pedantic enough to worry about extensions then why not flash or java? Neither are native although both add to the functionality of the browser and especially cloud computing.

    For me I’d be interested in seeing Kevin pick up a random computer each morning and hearing how he was impacted in his daily work by doing so. Sure the ideal of having a suite of applications on the web is neat but frankly we’re just not trustworthy/secure nor data generous/bandwidth enough to quite get there yet.

    Talking of which, with bandwidth caps on cells and now even home broadband how will this effect someone who looks to work from home or cloud compute?

  8. How can using browser extensions be regarded as cheating?

    You need the extensions to move the data into the cloud where it can be processed. As a simple example if I wanted to use flickr to manipulate a photograph, how would I get it onto my account with out the use of an uploader? I guess you would call me a cheat if I used a Firefox extension but what if I used Flock that has flickr support built-in.

    We all understand the essence of what Kevin is trying to do,get off his back and don’t call him a cheat.

  9. Michael

    All those extensions=cheating! It is not testing “cloud computing” this way as much as “single program with lots of addins” testing… sort of getting off the target. the only thing that seems “legal” to me are things where the entire process is hosted online… you should use a web browser straight as it is downloaded with only small “convenience” addins–to show the weather, for example. not addins that basically change the function of the browser. but this could still be fun to do… fun for you to do. i’m taking a pass, as I don’t really see the point in my life. :-)

  10. Jake, thanks for your thoughts. Since the inspiration for my challenge came from low-powered computing devices that were just announced, it may not be a true “cloud computing” experiment. I hear what you’re saying, but I’m not looking to walk up to any PC and just start working. Still, you’ve give me some good food for thought. Thanks!

    Kahm, I’ll cover your question in the next day or two. Since I work with music in the background all day, I tackled that pretty quickly. ;)

    Rick, I *wish* I was productive in ANY app for 7 seconds. The reason it showed up is because of the OneNote icon in my system tray. I immediately saw that and killed it… clearly not fast enough, but a 7-second time on my part is pretty darn good IMO. Unless I was a bullrider… then I would have been bucked off one second early.

  11. Rick Huizinga

    Kevin’s Wakoopa profile shows that he has used MS OneNote for a full 7 seconds. It just goes to show that one can accomplish more, quicker using desktop apps! :)

  12. If you don’t think browser extensions would always be available then you aren’t trying hard enough. I can load my firefox portable – complete with configuration and extensions – into my sugarsync account, and I don’t have to use a desktop client to do it. Going to a strange computer? You have a ~15mb download off the sugarsync website and voila – fully configured browser.

    Of course, you could just load it up on a keychain USB key like I do, but we’re trying to stick to the cloud as much as possible, right? Now, I thought that up in about 15 sec – I know it isn’t going to work for all scenarios, either, but it’s a start. :)

    Also, a question for Kevin – what do you do about listening to music/podcasts/etc. I use iTunes because I have an iPod touch, but I can’t imagine being able to move that to the web easily, unless you listened to nothing but streaming audio through Pandora all day…

  13. Sorry Kevin but I think you’re cheating a little. Forgive me if I’m wrong but I thought this was going to be a test of cloud computing as opposed to minimum requirements computing. The way I see it, for true cloud computing you should be able to sit sown at any PC, load up the default browser and start working. If you rely upon browser extensions I think that test has failed because you can’t guarantee that they’ll always be available.

    Default OS apps would maybe be OK as you’ll always be able to find something comparable on any PC. However, it’s not really cloud computing if you use a built-in client app to do heavy lifting that would be more difficult on the web. For instance, you shouldn’t be allowed to use Movie Maker.