In a previous post I discussed the forthcoming Google Chrome OS and mentioned that some of it was already here via various web applications such as Google Docs. In fact, Google has already provided a customizable browser start page called iGoogle. The start page can be populated numerous widgets so you can have clocks, calendars, bookmarks, photos and almost everything you might want on a desktop. All you need to get started is a free Google account. Having a Gmail account, I decided to see how well it worked.
I hope that this is not what to expect in the future Chrome OS. The calendar widget insisted that today’s events should be three days into the future. To set an event there is a link to the Google Calendar app. So the user must jump back and forth between the two. I found this behavior annoying. There were even more problems when I attempted to setup email. Gmail worked okay but although I found several widgets to access my POP3 account, none worked. One even reported that the code was no longer supported.I am both surprised and disappointed that Google has released this product.
Fortunately, Google is not alone in offering a start page with widgets. An Internet search turned up about 9 alternatives, some being more popular than others. After iGoogle the three most higly rated are Netvibes, Pageflakes and Protopage. I decided I would try them all and that their ability to handle email would be the deciding factor on which would go on to further testing.
Protopage didn’t make it past the starting gate. It was sluggish with Firefox and some features simply would not work. With Opera it was a totally confusing mess. I had tried this from a Windows machine some months ago and I don’t recall such poor performance. In any case on my present machine it was not usable.
Netvibes performed much better. Unfortunately it didn’t pass the email test. I could only setup a single email account. The desktop would only accept one email widget. A workaround is possible by setting up that widget to access the POP3 account and accessing Gmail and any other IMAP accounts via bookmarks. While Netvibes is not my personal favorite I would still recommend that you try it.
Finally, Pageflakes met all my requirements. It allows at least two email widgets (they call them “flakes”) on the desktop. The calendar works nicely and has an alert feature that sends an email when an event is coming up. My bookmarks appear as a simple list but are adequate for quickly retrieving the four or five sites that I use daily. While I will be testing this virtual desktop further, at this time I don’t think it’s ready for a five star rating. It does have a lot of potential.
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