Experiment: student life exclusively on Firefox for week

Blair Hanley Frank

Earlier this year, Google hired several student interns to work with the team behind Google Docs, its free internet collaboration suite, with features similar to Microsoft’s Office and Apple’s iWork. The interns’ goal was to create a Docs suite that fits better in a student’s workflow.

When I read about this, I thought to myself, “would it be possible for me to live solely on the Internet for an entire week?” So, I tried it: No desktop applications for me, save for Mozilla’s open-source Web browser, Firefox, my personal favorite.

On a dark Sunday evening, I laid out some ground rules for myself.
1. No use of desktop applications, except for Firefox. That meant no iTunes, no Skype, no exceptions.
2. For all documents, spreadsheets and presentations, I must use Google Docs.

So, I started along my merry way that Monday, beginning with my Encounters class. Notetaking, most notably outlining, in Google Docs is a chore. I finally took to manually tabbing everything over without bullet points just to not have to deal with the sheer annoyance. When it came time for me to go to chemistry, I was dreading the coming week.

That’s when Docs began to shine. We were discussing bonding in class, drawing a lot of diagrams, and one of the things I learned very quickly was how easy it is to draw figures in Google’s own diagram-drawing system, built just for Docs. Then Firefox crashed. I was beside myself. I did a lot of work on those drawings and didn’t want to lose them. Thankfully, Docs auto-saves every minute. I didn’t lose any data and I was able to pick back up right where I left off. Crisis averted.

When it came time to send Professor Miles my discussion paper for ‘Church and State in American History,’ Docs was a boon. Google makes it incredibly easy to e-mail a document to someone in Microsoft’s .doc format. As a test, I set up offline mode using Google Gears and turned off my Wi-Fi. I was able to make a new document for my class notes, write in it, save it and upload it to the web when I turned my Wi-Fi back on.

When it came time to work on a paper, I nearly broke my ground rules. Docs is great at being a word processor, but it’s really bad at isolating you from the Internet. I typically use Vim or Hog Bay Software’s Writeroom for writing papers because of their barebones approach to text editing and the ability to isolate myself from the Internet, where I tend to get lost in all sorts of time-wasters.

Unfortunately, due to its online nature, Docs doesn’t allow me to shut off all distractions. In fact, it was quite the contrary. I had to fight with my inner procrastinator tooth and nail before I finally got the paper done.

All in all, my experience in working on the Web was a positive one, especially when it came to Google Docs. That said, there’s one fatal weakness of that whole system: Google.

Without having documents saved on your computer, it means that you’re completely at the mercy of Google’s servers. If, heaven forbid, the Docs servers were to crash, there would be no way to access your data until they came back up again, which would be unfortunate if you were counting on them in order to write a paper, or study for a test. However, Docs is so convenient and easy to use; it might be worth the risk.