Where Applications Break Smooth Workflow

This blog is to talk about the tools you use and why you use them, it also stands to reason that we should talk about the things in our lives and workflow that are painful and we haven’t found any solution for. With the rage being in web apps vs. desktop apps now I think that this is a great area to tackle. Where to web apps fail and where to desktop apps fail to fit into a smooth workflow?

The Examples

Probably the biggest set of web apps used by web designers and businesses are the ones from 37Signals. They make a huge range of applications for your business, everything from project management in Basecamp to Campfire for chatting with your groups. I’ve used a number of their products and while they are well thought out and accessible anywhere they still fail on one part which means I’m not actually using them.

The Failure

Web apps fail for me in their desktop integration. While Basecamp is easily accessible anywhere it just doesn’t offer the smooth experience when I look at the project management/todo apps that are integrated directly inside my desktop like The Hit List. From anywhere on my Mac I can hit a quick key and have a new todo item into the application in a few seconds. If I’m using Basecamp I’ve got to at the least flip to the browser Window I have open, make sure I’m in the right project, then enter the item. Now if I don’t happen to have Basecamp open in a browser we add yet another step.

This workflow just doesn’t lead to productivity. It leads to stopping and starting items which in turn decreases productivity. It makes your workflow modal which is a productivity killer.

Desktop Apps Fail Too

So I’ve ragged on web apps but the reality is that desktop apps fail in the workflow area in the ways that web apps are a success.

The Hit List from Potion Factory
The Hit List from Potion Factory

Sure desktop apps bring the power of your chosen platform to your fingers tips but what about when you change computers? With desktop apps you have to find and export some file to make sure that it’s on the new machine. If you have a computer stolen then you might just be out of luck, unless you have a good backup solution.

I’ve yet to really see any desktop apps that are beautiful on the desktop and sync seamlessly to the web so that if you have a new machine you just install the application and enter your user name and password to sync all of the data down. That is really the type of apps we need now. Apps that don’t make us think but just save our data off where it can be used online and can also be used directly from the desktop with minimal setup.

There Are Some Successes

So what has success in this area? IMAP email is about the only thing I can think of that actually works as I want it to. I currently have 3 computers, 1 iPod Touch and 1 Windows Mobile phone collecting my email. All I had to do was enter a username and password and let the device sync. Now on each computer I can use a desktop native mail application which gives me system wide quick keys, while at the same time knowing that if I close down Thunderbird on my PC when I look at my email from my iPod the recent changes are reflected there as well.

That is what I’m willing to pay for in web apps. A system of applications that have web syncing along with desktop native clients that allow the benefits of both.

What about you? Do you use web apps and like them? What about the desktop apps? Why do you choose one over the other?

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