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Switching from Desktop to Online Tools

by Tom Johnson on Jul 3, 2007 •
categories: technical-writingweb-design

NetworkLately I've had the urge to abandon my main desktop tools and use online tools instead. It's not just that some online tools are more capable than desktop tools, but it just feels right to be online. When you're online, you're connected, integrated, at home. The world is at your fingertips. Because of the limitations of bandwidth, I can't fully break free from my desktop, but for many applications, the potential is there. Here's how I can change:

  • Instead of Microsoft Outlook, use Gmail.
  • Instead of FeedDemon, use Google Reader.
  • Instead of Microsoft Word, use Google Docs and Spreadsheets.
  • Instead of to-do lists and other notes stored on Word documents, use Mediawiki.
  • Instead of a journal that you keep on your desktop, use Wordpress.
  • Instead of adding favorites to IE, use
  • Instead of storing documents in folders, store them in a file directory on a Web host.
  • Instead of keeping photos in folders, use Flickr.

The applications I can't get away from include things like NotePad++ (for editing PHP files), Yahoo Music Engine, Audacity, a screen-demo tool called Blueberry Flashback Express Recorder, FeedStation (a podcatcher), and FTP programs like FileZilla. For the most part, these inescapable programs work with audio or visual files that are too big to manipulate online.

Why Convert to Online Tools?

I'm converting online in part because the functionality is better for some of these apps — specifically Google Reader and Gmail. I also like how spreadsheets can be shared — if you're coordinating a budget between two people, you've suddenly got a central location.

However, the real deal-maker for me was Mediawiki. I've always struggled to keep my Word files orderly, and I do a lot of writing -- whether the documents are notes, thoughts, quotes, stories, goals, plans, lists, or other things I'm writing down. The desktop method doesn't force me to organize the files very well. Files get lost easily -- they're misplaced, poorly named, deleted. Sorting and arranging options are limited.

The Greater Benefit

Can the same disorganization happen online? Probably, but perhaps it's less likely. Perhaps the wiki will help guide me into more organization and structure than my desktop. Of course if you travel, your files will always be within reach. There's comfort knowing that. But the greater benefit seems to be the mental state of simply being online — not having one foot in the desktop world, another foot online. But being wholly online, letting the network run through your body like fiber-optic nerves.

What other tools do you use online that I'm missing here?

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer / API doc specialist based in the Seattle area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.