I must be missing something in the clouds

For a long time now there have been web applications mirroring pretty much all the applications I use locally, email, calendar, spreadsheets, etc. I keep looking at these and feeling like I should jump on the bandwagon, after all lots of the people I work with use them and rave about them so they must be great right? The problem is I can’t figure out what I am actually missing, and most of the time I can spot immediately things I would miss by moving to them.

Obviously one clear benefit is that they are available anywhere in the world, you just need access to any computer with a modern web-browser. But you know what? Wherever I go in the world I take my laptop, or if I don’t it is because I really want to relax and be offline completely. About the only critical thing that I might need to get updates on is my mail, which I do have a webmail access to anyway.

The online services seem to fall down for me in a bunch of ways:

  • I like to be able to run applications separately from my browser. I’ll grant you that tools like Prism make this sort of thing possible so that failure is going away slowly.
  • No matter how good browsers become I don’t believe HTML will ever create as good a UI as a real application can. For the most part they are restricted to a single window interface, with pseudo windows hovering above looking nothing like platform native.
  • They need you to be online (let’s ignore gears and stuff for the moment, I haven’t found the technology to be quite there enough yet). As I said I take my laptop everywhere. I can look at all my mail and calendar without needing to pay for an internet connection in some random hotspot.
  • They simply don’t have the features that my local apps do. I expect this to change over the years but many of the online offerings are basic at best.
  • How do I back up my data? Seriously, if I want to back up my gmail or google calendar what do I do? If I want to back up my local mail and calendar I just plug in a hard disk and let OSX deal with it. Obviously the opposite to this is that if my machine goes down then the online service will still be there and I’ll only have a potentially stale backup, but my backup is never more than a week old, and I can tell you I’ve lost more data over the years due to online systems going down than local machines breaking.

So here I am, wondering (again) what to do about task management. I keep feeling drawn to things like Remember The Milk because they are all online and Web2.0ish, but I’m not sure quite why. I’m sure I must be missing something critical about using the online apps, but I just can’t figure out what it is.

Keeping Track

In the past year or so that I’ve been working for Mozilla I’ve found myself slowly working my way through a bunch of different ways to keep track of all of the work on my plate. I still don’t think I’ve found the best way so I wondered what other people do to manage such things?

For a rough idea of my work, most of my work is bug oriented. Either bugs that I want to work on when I get some time, bugs I am actively working on, bugs I am waiting for review on, bugs I am reviewing, bugs I am waiting to check in, bugs I want to backport to a branch… and so on. Then there is other work like planning future work and working with extension authors to help resolve their problems.

A few different approaches I’ve tried:

Bug ASSIGNED status

Simplest of all, gives me a long list of stuff I am looking at. Totally fails for prospective work though and the list gets somewhat daunting.

Status whiteboard flags

I tried for a while sticking special flags into the status whiteboard that could then be spotted in special bug queries so I could see what state each bug was in. This kind of worked, though I imagine irritated some with bugspam as I maintained the flags and a couple of times other people changed the flags.

Bugzilla tagging

Bugzilla has this tagging feature that basically lets you create named buglists. Basically like using the whiteboard stuff without having to use the whiteboard. Sadly Bugzilla’s tagging UI sucks really hard.

Bookmark tagging

With Firefox 3 I can bookmark my bugs and tag them, and use smart bookmark folders as my buglists right? Well sort of, the folder list isn’t really enough detail and there are issues with manually created smart folders that kept losing my bookmarks.

Task management software

Finally bit the bullet and stuck all of this stuff into some task managent software (Omnifocus as it happens). This is so far going ok but seems to require more dedication to keep the list up to date, I think because of having to switch to a different application so much.

So what are other people doing?