Joining the online revolution

I've been a bit of a skeptic when it came to embracing hosted services. I could setup and run my own email server, web server, etc. and didn't see the need or justification to pay someone else to do it. In fact, I actually wrote my own Java Email Server.

However, as I look back of the last couple of months, I've moved to a much greater dependence online services.

I moved my email and web servers from my own hosted box to a hosting provider. The services offered are so cost effective that it isn't worth the time or hassle of worrying about maintaining it. But hosting was just the beginning.

In addition to moving to hosted services, I've also moved to online applications. I was a big user of SharpReader, a RSS reader written in C# (hence the name). I looked at Bloglines a long time ago, as well as Google Reader when it first came out. Neither seemed that impressive, and being able to browse my feeds offline seemed appealing. However, when Google Reader recently came out with an upgraded version I switched. One key is the keyboard shortcuts (which bloglines has as well now). Another big reason I like it is the ability to view each post individually, something that I didn't see how to do on Bloglines (at least when I looked initially).

Additionally, I also moved my email from Thunderbird to Google Mail. I still maintain my email address (, but the emails all get forwarded to my gmail account, and emails sent appear to come from my account. The searching and labeling (tagging) have reduced my need (and time) to organize my emails into folders, which is liberating (although a bit of a leap of faith initially). And the spam filtering is great (although I have had one false positive, which is worrying).

Overall, I'm extremely happy with the new arrangements. I think when you boil it down, there are really two reasons it works for me.

1. Keyboard Shortcuts. I can navigate gmail and Google Reader entirely from the keyboard.
2. Ubiquitous network access. WiFi is nearly everywhere, and where there is no WiFi, I can use my cell phone as a modem. This works great on Metra, allowing me to read email and rss anywhere.

An honorable mention goes to the gmail interface on the Treo, which provides better access than the POP client I used for my old email. There is also an Google Reader site optimized for the Treo, although I don't find myself using that very often.

A second honorable mention goes to Google Desktop, and the integration of my gmail search with my desktop search (something I had with Thunderbird).

I've even played with Google's Docs & Spreadsheets application. For a lot of simple uses, it is good enough to use over Excel and Word. It is certainly slower, although having access to it anywhere is nice. The one use I really found useful was sharing the document with a colleague and both editing it simultaneously, something that is not easily reproducible in Excel. It isn't a Office killer yet, but the potential is there.

All in all, I'm very happy with this arrangement, and will be much more willing to look at hosted solutions for other applications.