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How I became a prisoner of Outlook

Right now, the one program that dictates all my other hardware and software choices is Microsoft's e-mail software, and unfortunately, that might not change for awhile.

Last year, I decided to give Linux a try. Everything was going well, until I started working for a company that uses Microsoft Outlook for e-mail. There's simply no straightforward, reliable way to run Outlook on Linux. I tried Outlook Web Access, but the service strips code from HTML attachments, among other limitations.

(The company I worked for prior to my current employer used Lotus Notes, which is probably the only e-mail program in the world more proprietary than Outlook. Organizations must get some huge benefit from using these closed e-mail systems, because they sure make life difficult for users.)

I didn't get far with my Linux experiment, but I'm not giving up on my dream of a simpler PC. I'm ready for the true network computer. Unfortunately, Web apps aren't quite ready for me. More specifically, they're not ready for my boss, though they appear to be getting closer every day.

Do you really need all those programs on your hard drive?
It's downright wasteful to have huge software applications collecting dust on PC hard drives. Take a look at the programs with shortcuts on your Start menu. I bet you haven't opened half of them more than a handful of times in the last year, and a bunch you probably have used but once or not at all.

Adoption of Web-based versions of PC applications has been slowed by the services' limited features and performance compared to that of their desktop counterparts. Also, a dropped Internet link leaves you out in the cold.

Today, online services such as Zoho provide much of the functionality of various desktop apps, including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Zoho also includes an offline component that lets you continue to work without a Web connection. Likewise, Google Docs and Spreadsheets, Picasa, Wordpress, and more recently Gmail use Google Gears to allow offline access to your data in those services.

Security of Web-based apps comes up short
Of course, from an IT perspective, the most serious shortcoming of Web-based applications is their perceived lack of security. In particular, Google doesn't let you encrypt the data you store on the company's servers. Zoho's FAQ page states that the company will soon add a data-encryption option. Still, storing the organization's data on somebody else's servers can give system administrators nightmares.

There are still some applications I use regularly that don't have a Web equivalent: Outlook, the TopStyle HTML editor, and the Corel Paint Shop Pro imaging program, among a handful of others. The one thing all three of these programs have in common is that they were selected for me--by my boss.

Personally, I'm ready to go the Web-app-and-Netbook route. And as soon as I can say adios to the monster applications my work seems to require, I'll give the always-online life a try. Wish me luck convincing my employer to join me.