How my latest project has enabled me to do (nearly) everything in a web browser
Years ago when my job changed significantly to a “coach”, I toyed with a bizarre concept at the time, “Could do everything for this job, on an iPad?”
It was a fair question, since I was using the tablet an awful lot for pretty basic things: email, an iOS chat app, and web based tools like Google docs, Rally, Confluence, etc. The rest of my work was a whirl of sticky notes, whiteboards, and conversation—not digital tools at all. As it turned out, I could in fact, do almost everything with just an iPad but it would be a cramped experience and at times, limiting.
These days I’m doing experience design work closer to the rest of my career and my latest project has given me a similar opportunity to experiment with this sort of minimalism:
Could I do all this work, entirely from a web browser?
This is a fairly complex project between 4 organizations who all focus heavily on using Microsoft software and traditional practices—but at the same time, I’ve earned a fair amount of autonomy in guiding the definition protocols and choosing some tools for it.
- There are 5 methods of communication: Slack (my preference), Teams, Outlook, Skype for Business, and Skype.
- Each org has their own networking and instance of Teams, Outlook, Sharepoint, and Office which I need to switch between.
- The main product we’re configuring is Dynamics and the custom apps are either being built in React for the web or native iOS code.
- The main tool being used for organizing definition is DevOps and for smaller bits I’m able to use Trello.
- The tools I’ve chosen to collaborate on visual definition are Moqups and Figma.
- Documentation is being written in a content system called Kentico.
Notice anything about all this? With the exception of the custom apps, there is a web client for every one of these. I can run all those in the browser.
I have been contributing to some of the React development and was doing so locally. But if I wanted to spend the money (no one else had interest), I could have set that up in a cloud container.
I also have been editing and annotating screenshots and videos using local apps. But again, there are web tools for this.
I think the answer is “Yes.”
So if I’m able to do my entire job from web-based apps, the question then becomes why. Is there an advantage to running these in the browser?
To that again I say, yes. There are several benefits:
- Device independance. I can jump around to different devices whenever I want. I can go between my phone, iPad, Macbook, Chromebook, Windows desktop, and even someone else’s computer if the need arises. I recently needed to bring my Macbook in for a battery swap and there were only a few things I couldn’t do while it was away.
- Protection against data loss. While all of these web apps don’t have backup history, some of them do. And even if some don’t, my devices could literally blow up and the products my work would be just fine.
- Documents stay current. Notice I didn’t say “always stay current”? That’s because coworkers still sometimes save off their own local versions and then need to upload. Old habits die hard. But for the most part, the document is the document and what’s in the shared location is the only “version” that matters. This saves so much pain while collaborating. Web apps allow you to see each others’ cursors are especially great for this.
- Getting around app limitations. Remember each org running their own separate instances of some apps? Well if I’m using the native app versions, I’m limited to just one sign in at a time. But if I’m running the browser version (particularly if I’m using a flexible one like Ghost Browser), I can be running all the instances at the same time. That way I don’t miss anything and I’m not wasting time signing in and out of everything just to switch and check the other instance. I get enough of that already.
- RAM usage. While browser tabs use a lot of memory, so far in my testing, browser tabs plus several native apps open uses even more memory. When my Macbook is using a lot of memory, the fan goes into high gear. When this is compounded by the stress of screen sharing during an online call, my computer can slow to a crawl… which makes screen sharing a painful thing for me and my audience to wait for. I don’t have any Apple Silicon devices yet, so I don’t know if that will help the issue — but anything I can do the lower the memory usage gives me a better experience.
- My “work desktop” in an app. When I need to start and stop work, I think it’s a nice experience to have all of it contained. I can stop work by quitting the browser. I start work later and all my tabs re-appear. It’s similar satisfaction to being able to “quit” Windows in Parallels (or another VM in Windows/Linux).
In summary, I’ve reached Peak Browser for day to day work and it’s allows for a good amount of flexibility. The mainframe terminal operators of yesteryear would be proud.