I've been looking at all sorts of online tools the last few months. Because we look at new software and applications fairly regularly here, I've made a habit out of going out of my way to find new stuff.
Lately, I've been finding that online tools are hella handy. This is true because I can use the same one at work and home, and not have to double the work or lug a file around.
For instance, while researching a feed reader, I came across google reader. To sign up for the reader, you need to go through your Personalized Home on the google page.
As far as I know, the major service providers have customizable search pages. Yahoo had had them for awhile. I think AOL. Google's is no difference. I wouldn't ever have used Google if I a) didn't already use it for search. Constantly. and b)hadn't just signed up for a reader.
I don't know exactly what the other pages offered, but I was tickled by Google's offerings. They have tons of toys that you can stick on your personalized page: clocks, callendars, games, feeds from news sites. You can get a joke of the day, links to dictionary's, and of course, Wikipedia. You can stuff your front page full of widgets. I have 11 on my front page. At home, on a 17" screen, they display fine.
At work on a laptop screen only a little larger than an index card, I need to scroll to see them all.
You can stuff other pages, too. You can create a new page, accesible by a tab, that you can dag and drop more widgets to. It's easy to make new tabs. It took me five mintues to figure out how to delete them.
I love widgets, but I will pass them by if I don't use them. Some of the stuff I mentioned is of no use to me: I don't care about jokes, and I use the clock in the toolbar of my computers already. I already get news feeds on subjects I am interested in through Google Reader. I already subscribe to Realplay for stupid arcade games, at a better resolution for my squinty eyes.
The widgets are fun to browse in and of themselves, but I can see them getting old. In fact, a week after using google, I discarded a tab full of "informational" widgets. Didn't look at them in a week, was having a hard enough time scanning my reader. I have another page of games that may go soon. I tossed a "chinese word of the day" flash card off the desk top because it didn't have the definition, just the pronunciation in a sound file, and a quote of the day widget because I thought all the quotes were fucking stupid.
There are enough useful widgets to make it an intersting tool, however. I use two to do lists on my front page: one for game chores, one for writing chores, in case I am inspired on lunch (this is writing chore two: mundane blog).
The one in outlook doesn't appeal to me, and doesn't work from home to boot. For a long time, I've wanted a free software widget to stick notes to my desktop. This is better.
There is a sticky note that I've taught my wife how to stick notes on so that she can boss me around from home. "Pick up a quart of milk." "Yes, dear." I even made mine yaller collerd, like a real post-it.
There's a weather tab, that you can get everywhere on the web, but now I have one where I'll actually look at it.
And, of course, I can see my feed reader on it.
Some of the widgets are buggy: there are, as far as I can tell, about a dozen different to-do widgets. The one I use for both my lists is this one, but I might start using this one. It's pertier, and has an urgency indicator. But all of them have lost items, so far.
I have a subscription to google notebook, which I envision using to store wisps of genious on while I'm on the desk or in the office, so I no longer have to write them on tiny pieces of paper and re-type them later. But the first time I used it, the save button disappeared.
The Netflix widget, which shows your que, shipping, and other info seems to be down two thirds of the time.
I suspect that part of the problem might be that the Google widgets work better with Firefox, which I have on my home and office machines, than with IE6, which is on the service desks.
There is also the potential to lose information if web is down. But, you know, in 1930 I would have had to walk if my horse had gotten sick. And humanity made it through the sick-horse crises.
I don't know how different this is from Yahoo's customizable page, which I've flirted with. I've never even cut my eyes at AOL's.
I was never very interested in Yahoo's. The difference for me was that Yahoo only offered passive content: news feeds (which I didn't get to select), stock tickers (which I don't pay that much attention to), cartoons (though never my favorite).
Google offers tools which I will use every day, and come back for. So even though it's a little bland looking, I stuck it on my browser bar. It's not my homepage, though. Sort of like my homepage away from my homepage.