Working in the cloud: some sun… some rain


GmailmailtoMy life in a browser continues as I approach nearly a full month of using a browser and UMPC for 99% of the time. Life in the clouds isn’t always a rainbow though… it gets stormy too. Here’s two recent experiences: one good and one bad. Let’s get the good one out of the way first.

I’m using Gmail for my mail but it’s always bugged me that Gmail couldn’t easily be set to the default mail client when clicking a mailto: link. I’ve seen some hacks and tweaks to do this, but never got around to it. The Official Gmail Blog introduced a simple way to make this happen; I’ve just enabled it and it works great. You simply need to sign in to Gmail on Firefox 3 and then paste a URL in your address bar. That will trigger a prompt to install an application from Google, which is really just a setting to allow for Gmail to be a default client. After that, Firefox 3 will recogonize Gmail as a mail client if you configure it to, as I have in the picture. Now, when I click a mailto: link (like the one on my cartoon head), a tab opens in the browser to show the new message form.

Now, about that rainy bit. Most web-based applications initially focus on limited functionality and build up from there. It’s a solid strategy, but you can’t overlook the most basic of functions: consistent reliability. I don’t mean keeping the service up; I mean when it is up, making sure it works 100%. Here’s the most recent situation that exemplifies my point.

Yesterday James and I decided to collaborate on some thoughts, as we often do. I popped open Google Docs and created a new document. After adding some initial thoughts, I saved the document. No problems… everything was working as it should. I then invited James to collaborate on the doc through the Share function of Google Docs. I’ve used it in the past and it worked great for me. From my end, everything looked normal: it showed that James was a collaborator and that he had full edit rights.

A few minutes later, James shot a me a note saying that he couldn’t access the document. Essentially, whenever he clicked the link to it, his browser would loop and loop trying to access it. Thinking it was a minor glitch, I removed his access and then re-enabled it, only this time, I cc’d myself on the invite so I could get the share link. James had the same issue again and when I tested the link on another machine, I was able to replicate the problem.

Luckily, we’re in a time where there are more web-app options than ever before. In fact, Steve Rubel alludes to this in a great thought piece today, as these tools and choices are effectively changing the online workforce and that will likely accelerate enterprise adoption. So I had other choices and I quickly got back on the productivity train. I ended exporting the Google Doc into a simple text file and then uploaded it to a shared folder on Dropbox. Within one minute of having the issue, I was able to use an alternative solution… maybe "agility" is a function too? Perhaps not, but I still believe that "consistent reliability" is a function and one that simply can’t be overlooked in the future.


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