Tag Archives: web 2.0

Dear Tech Thursday–Email Clients

Dear Tech Thursday,

Compare and contrast: email app (Thunderbird, Outlook, etc.) vs gmail (using a web browser)…which is better? Why?

–Messaging in Munsell

Oh, Messaging! I wish I had a simple answer for you, but alas, technology is never as simple as we want it to be. The basic answer is that there is no difference– desktop clients and web apps work the same way. But, as always, the devil is in the details. So when it comes to email, there are two questions that will guide your decision. First, where do you want to check your email? Second, are you happy with your current set up?

Let’s investigate the first question. The main limitation of desktop clients like Outlook and Thunderbird is that you can only check email from the computer on which the program is installed. If you will never have a need to check email while you’re away from the office, a desktop client is probably a good choice. Web-based email apps like Gmail allow you to check your email from any device as long as you have an internet connection. Even if you never plan on checking your email after work hours or from anywhere else than your desk, it’s good to be familiar with Gmail. If your computer crashes or you need to access an email while at a meeting in a different office, you won’t be stuck without important info.

This isn’t a hard and fast guideline though, because desktop clients like Outlook now have mobile apps AND web apps which mean you can maintain the functionality of the program without being tied to your desktop.

So, really, the most important question is—do you like the way you’re working now? Because the differences between desktop clients and web-based apps are so minimal, you shouldn’t feel pressured to switch to something you don’t like. There are some differences in the way that Gmail handles multiple email accounts that might be better managed with a desktop client, but if you really like Gmail and manage multiple accounts, there are settings that can help with that workflow.

No matter which kind of email client you use, there’s one thing you can count on—change. You’ll have to keep on top of installing updates for desktop clients. Sometimes, email clients stop being updated (Eudora is a good example of this) which means that your program may not be able to handle newer email features. For web-based email clients, you will not have to install updates while using a browser, but you will have to install updates to apps if you use them. Also, changes to the interface may happen without warning, leaving you wondering where that button you used to use went…

Best of luck, Messaging, and if you need more advice, use your favorite client and email us at helpdesk@iwu.edu

Google Apps for education

It is hard to say no to a free lunch. It is even harder when the menu contains a half-dozen tasty morsels. Google Apps for education is similarly tantalizing. They provide a ton of e-mail space, document collaboration, chat, shared calendars, and more. As more and more institutions migrate to Google- and Microsoft-hosted services we thought it would be a good idea to learn a bit more about how the Apps for Edu offerings actually measure up.

To that end, a group of IT and Library staff got together in a room for 4 hours this week to sample and test the major features of the Google Apps suite. I’ll be writing up our findings and questions still in need of an answer in a series of blog posts starting with this one.

First, I’ll set a context. Google has tons of web applications that are available to the public. However, to use them as collaboration tools in a large organization there has to be a way to systematically create accounts and group people by default. I can’t imagine taking 4,000 people through the steps required to sign up for a Gmail account, set up Google Docs, then add everyone else on campus to their contact list in Google Talk.  So we assume that everyone is going to need a new account related to iwu.edu and that everyone will be grouped together to make collaboration easier.

Google doesn’t even really care if the institution has signed up for the service. Anyone with an iwu.edu e-mail address can go out today and create a free Google Apps @ iwu.edu account:


Just choose the “sign in” link and then create a new account.  Once you’ve signed up for your iwu.edu Google Apps account, you can view a document I’ve shared with everyone in our iwu.edu workgroup:

Google Apps review document


This document summarizes the key items we discussed during our session. A few issues applied to the full suite:

  • It doesn’t feel like a cohesive suite of apps yet. The user interface in each app is slightly different. Saving your work in Google Docs is different than Google Sites.
  • The Personalized Start Page is nice, but there are add-ins available (for example, Google Reader) that are not accessible to Google Apps @ edu user accounts. It would be really nice if your start page would allow Gadgets to be logged in to different Google accounts at the same time, or if they’d open up their other apps to Google Apps @ edu accounts.
  • There is no Gmail available via the Google Apps @ edu service until the institution signs up and starts pointing our iwu.edu e-mail to Google servers.
  • Clicking links from the Start Page or within Apps too frequently opens in a new tab or window. This means it is way too easy to have a ton of confusing windows with older versions of your work hovering about.
  • It is unclear how deeply Google services can be integrated with our own MyIWU web portal. Can the nice little Google Gadgets from the Start Page become channels within MyIWU?  We cannot get rid of MyIWU since it is our portal to registration and course management.

More posts are on the way elaborating on our work with each individual app. In the meantime, I hope everyone with an iwu.edu e-mail signs up and gives it a try. Here is the link one more time:


a new way to edit photos online

I’ve used Picasa and Flickr, a pair of excellent web-based photo organizers. They give users a way to sort and share large numbers of digital pictures. One downside has been the ability to edit images. I tend to use Photoshop Elements to do the editing I need because the online tools don’t give me all the options I need.

Adobe has released a potential remedy to this problem: Photoshop Express. It is currently in beta form, which means it is still officially in “test” mode. Patrick and I took a look at this beta today and found it to be quite nice! You can preview the effect of a potential edit by hovering a mouse over a thumbnail. Cropping, distortion, filters, color sampling and replacement, redeye reduction, and lighting fixes are all included.

photoshop express screenshot

Adobe is currently giving users 2GB of space on their servers, and the best part of all: integrated access to Facebook, Picasa, and Photobucket. I was able to edit pictures and upload pictures directly to my Facebook profile with a minimum of fuss. I had to log into Facebook to tag them and correct the captions though.

A couple of downsides: there is currently no way to order prints online (I can only imagine this will come in time) and you are currently limited to JPG images of 10MB or less. Not a big limitation but a notable one.

I for one am totally thrilled with this application. It offers me the ability to do moderately sophisticated editing from anywhere, with direct access to web photo sites. I wonder how it will hold up with thousands of people creating accounts to try out this beta software…