In 2011, Google released a new operating system on the world: Chrome OS. It was a new idea – essentially a computer operating system based in a web browser that ran web apps. Major hardware manufacturers got on board with the release of Chromebooks – a Chrome OS laptop.
There was much puzzlement among the user community. You couldn’t run your favorite software on the Chromebook machines, so how were they possibly useful?
Fast forward five years and things have changed – suddenly Google looks very prophetic. They foresaw a world where software runs in the cloud and all you need is a browser. With a browser in the cloud environment you can do anything. Access your data and applications, work from anywhere anyplace and collaborate in real time.
Recently while travelling I had a few spare hours in which I could get some work done. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my laptop with me. Fortunately, a nearby business lounge had a computer available – a Chromebook. I decided to use my spare hours to take stock of the amazing things that cloud computing, and a paperless existence, has allowed me to do using a simple browser.
Office 365 gives me full access to my email online. The web version of Outlook is surprisingly powerful and easy to use. Right-click and drag-and-drop functionality is all enabled within the web browser.
OneDrive and SharePoint have enabled my company to store valuable documents in the cloud. Immediate access to these documents using a web browser is not only useful, it has saved me in a number of “emergency” situations where I needed access to important information fast.
This year, Microsoft released web applications as part of the Office 365 suite of tools. I can use web versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to create and edit documents directly in my web browser. While not as powerful as the desktop versions of the tools, the web version is easy to use and very convenient.
The Sharing feature of Office 365 means that I no longer email documents to staff and clients. I simply “share” the file with them, and they can then view, edit and print the document from their web browser.
The Office 365 calendar app is average but workable. It integrates well with the email app so that I can create appointments with one click.
I don’t understand why Microsoft cannot get contacts right? The whole address book / contacts / email shortcuts thing is a disaster. There is no ease of use nor does it function in a way that seems useful. However, I can still look up and email my contacts directly from my web browser. I appreciate the access from the web browser in that respect.
Yammer was purchased by Microsoft in 2012 and has been integrated into Office 365 as the intra-office communications tool. We are still in early testing with the system, but the web version works pretty well. I was able to run Yammer and chat with staff while travelling, it was truly one click access back to the office when I needed to touch base.
I sit on a number of governance boards and I have put all of them on SharePoint. The Board Portal becomes an integral part of my day and my workflow. I can access all Board information using a web browser. Very convenient.
Office 365 has been working very hard to integrate project management into the platform. The Projects web tools are quite powerful for planning and tracking simple projects. It also integrates with SharePoint Task Lists to keep people organized. All from a web browser.
We are in the middle of an implementation of Microsoft Dynamics CRM. It has many interfaces – phone, tablet, desktop and web. The web version is highly usable, and I appreciate the ability to update our customer database on the fly.
Office 365 BI has powerful tools to query databases and provide a dashboard to the user – presenting the latest corporate data in an easy-to-digest display. It is still very early days for this product (or our use of the product) but you can really see where it is going and how it is going to eventually add a ton of value.
The new Delve product allows us to see what people are working on – keeping the team coordinated. We fired it up this week. It is unusually cool. According to Microsoft, “Office Delve is a new way to discover relevant information and connections from across your work life. Delve displays information that is most relevant for each person based on the work they are doing and the people with whom they are engaging. With Delve, information finds you versus you having to find information.”
All through the web.
Office 365 does have a new Video app. It allows us to post and view corporate videos through the web. However, we still tend to use the market leader in the space: YouTube. Either way, video through a web browser is pretty awesome.
The new PowerPoint web app allows us to create a simple PowerPoint presentation using a web browser (using more advanced features still requires the desktop version of PowerPoint). Microsoft has also released a new web application called Office Sway. It is a flow-based presentation tool that enables users to tell stories using photos, video and text. Microsoft has released Sway as part of the Office 365 package, but it is available as a free tool for non-Office users but they will still need to put in some credentials.
The most powerful aspect of both web tools is the ability to share the presentation with others. Using a web browser, people can view your presentations online, in real time – convenient and powerful, all using the web.
As you can tell from my previous posts, I am a OneNote fanatic. It is the center of my note-taking universe. I have personal notebooks, corporate notebooks, notebooks for my volunteer work and even shared notebooks for our larger customers.
The ability to access this information anywhere, anytime is critical. Therefore, having web access to my notes means that I can reference them from any computer, securely, at any time. Very powerful.
OK, web access to bank accounts is nothing new. But wow, it is so convenient. So I just wanted to take a moment to appreciate, and marvel, at the technology. How did we manage before web banking?
We run a series of Microsoft Terminal Servers which allow us to access a full computer desktop remotely. The advent of HTML 5 has really improved the usability of web-based software. One big beneficiary of this technology has been terminal-server client software. Using a web browser, I can login to my Microsoft desktop back at the office and work with the data and tools located there. I can login to my accounting system from a web browser – securely. Nice.
The Chrome OS store is full of applications that run in the browser – a full fleet of your favorite apps (Facebook?) and a plethora of surprisingly useful, but little-known, web tools. Want to edit your photos using the web? They have a web app for that (pixlr.com). Want to create an org chart for your organization? They have a web app for that (lucidchart.com). Want to do online timesheets? They have a web app for that (trackingtime.co).
So I spent a few hours of being really productive using my web browser. I checked my email, made some appointments, reviewed a report for a client, updated a tracking spreadsheet for one of my volunteer activities and chatted with a staff member regarding a new project. All using the Chromebook.
However, I was experiencing burnout and needed some downtime.
The web browser is home to an untold number of time-killing opportunities. I could do a full post on the topic of web-based time killers. But for now I will just say that in the following hour of junk time, I was able to:
So as much as I was a skeptic of Chrome OS (who needs a computer that can’t run my software), I now understand and benefit from the cloud-based, web-app-enabled world.