What is Personal Productivity

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I just love all these add-ons that are being done in the browser world by “Opera”:http;//opera.com, “Firefox”:http://firefox.com and “Maxthon”:http://maxthon.com. Also, there are an amazing number of add-ons that you can add to Outlook and can anyone have enough IE toolbars.
All this leave me wondering what the new “Office” is for the average business user now. I’ve noticed that I’ve really changed my work habits and that if I were to create a next generation suite, it would be very different from what is currently available. So here is Rich’s dream suite in order of importance. In the same way that Word and Excel were the core applications of the 20th century, what are the core applications of this century?
h4. Web Browsing.
I don’t think web browsing is done as a category. There are a tremendous number of innovations that are left to make it easier for people to now just find things, but to organize how they look at things. That is really what tab browsing in all the new products is all about. For instance, it is incredibly difficult to not just search for things and then read a page (this is the current default task that everyone seems to tune for. For me, it is more like, find information about going to Hawaii or find information about the Marketing or buying a new car. What you end up with is a bunch of sites you want to look at simultaneously. Also there is a multi-tasking component where you want to put some searches away and look at others.
Another trend given that displays are so cheap is also twin-headed monitors. I’m seeing more and more of those (and am using one right now, two $300 LCD screens give one heck of a big view like a 25″ diagonal). So a product improvement that makes this kind of activity based browsing is very important. Firefox extensions are the closest to this. For instance Lookahead opens up the top five hits from google. They have another extension called Google search that sticks a mini-view of every page that google finds. Finally, having tabs really means that you should easily be able to organize your multiple searches, so you can task flip from finding out about cars to finding out about financings as an example. Underneath this BTW is IMHO a switch to computers integrating your work and home lives. Folks don’t have time to divide the two anymore.
h4. Email, Contacts and Calendaring
This is the old PIM category, but it is amazing to me how hard it is without an enterprise level Exchange server. How can it be that a small and medium sized business or two working folks at home can’t interchange contacts and share calendars. Not to mention easily sync to PDAs. Here is one place where Thunderbird is nearly great. Its back to the roots of Outlook Express where it is extremely fast and it is also extensible. To be most controversial, I also have never been quite sure why one user interface integrates all these functions. In the day of the web, do we really need that. IMHO doing a really good mail application means that you don’t have to also include calendaring. They should work together, but do they have to work in the same UI. There is lots of complexity from doing things in one user interface. For instance look at the dialog box you get when you click on New in Outlook. You want a new message, contact, journal entry, task, note, blah, blah, blah.
The main thing that is lacking is some sort of peer level or web service that can really do calendaring across the internet well. And don’t get me started on how LDAP servers don’t work as a way to share contacts. It is one area where Exchange still has a huge advantage and ironically in an area where MAPI is the default. I’ve tried to use this with MacOffice and web services and can report it doesn’t work super well quite yet, but you’d think someone would build a MovableType for PIMs so that you would really have a nice underlying web services model for the smaller customers and departments vs. enterprises.
h4. Presentations
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think most business users are 65% in Outlook, 30% PowerPoint and less than 5% in Word and Excel. Most of what Word was used for is now in Outlook. That is the quick equivalent of a memo that is now email. It is amazing to me how little the world of presentations has really advanced since PowerPoint 4.0. The presentations are basically the same. There are products like Keynote on the Mac, but you can’t find anyone really doing a keystroke compatible presentations product that pushes the limits. Yet, when you think about Office the first time around, it was all about “Set your laser [printer] on stun” I think beautiful presentations are todays moral equivalent.
This by the way crosses in the coming era of Video and truly video oriented presentations.
h4. Music
Call me dumb but I think personalization and music are really core applications for today’s machine. Who doesn’t watch a DVD on the plane on their laptop now. And who wouldn’t want to listen to music while typing. Some applications are great at it, but it is very complicated. Music players have become full blown applications in their own right and I sometimes wonder if that is a good thing.

One Reply to “What is Personal Productivity”

  1. Personal Productivity
    I’ve wondered a little bit about what the browser should become — arguing for a more task/scenario-centric design. Rich has done some interesting thinking too — Tong Family Blog: What is Personal Productivity — a slightly more expansive view on…

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