Desktop applications have their charm, but most of your information already lives on the web. Ditch those clunky desktop apps for web apps without losing their better features — like notifications, shortcuts, offline access, etc — and free up precious system resources along the way.
Use a System Tray or Menu Bar Apps to Receive Notifications
Instead of keeping a client or SSB open waiting for notifications to come, you’re better off opening up things like Gmail or Google Calendar only when you need them. To receive notifications, install a small notifier app such as Google Notifier, which will give you notifications of incoming mail or upcoming calendar events (either through the app’s native notifications or through Growl on the Mac with the addition of Gmail+Growl).
Learn Your Web Apps’ Keyboard Shortcuts
We here at Lifehacker are keyboard shortcut junkies, so when web apps like Gmail, Google Reader, Google Calendar, Remember the Milk and a whole host of others started adding keyboard shortcuts, we were in heaven. In Google’s web apps, turning these on is easy — just go to Settings and click on the General Tab, and look for the “Enable Keyboard Shortcuts” option, which also provides a link to the shortcuts for that particular application. Other apps, like Remember the Milk, already have shortcuts enabled, you just have to use them.
Access Your Web Apps Offline When You’re Not Connected
It’s been a gradual process, but lots of Google’s apps have built up their offline access with Google Gears, allowing you to view your email inbox, calendar, RSS feeds and even edit documents when you’re not connected. This feature is likely to change soon, what with the depreciation of Gears and the transition to HTML5 (sadly, if you’re on a Mac, you’ve already been left high and dry since Gears is no longer available in most browsers), but for now all you need to do is click the Offline button in supported Google web apps (or, in the case of Gmail, turn the feature on by going to Settings > Offline) and you can access your most important tools without needing to set them up in a client. This feature is even available in some non-Google web apps, like Remember the Milk, so you can keep your to-do list around no matter how flaky the internet decides to be.
Use Multiple Accounts in Gmail and Google Calendar
In Google Calendar, this is a bit simpler — if you have, say, a separate Gmail account with a calendar tied to that instead (say, a work calendar), you can easily consolidate that with your main Gmail account by going to Settings > Calendars and clicking “Share this calendar” for the ones you want to view on your main account.
Tweak Your Web App for Everything It’s Worth
There are a few other things that web apps just don’t always give you, but they usually try and stay on top of things. In your Google web apps, be sure to check the Labs section for features that haven’t made their way to the full version, like drag-and-drop, custom shortcuts and lots of other preference-tweaking awesomeness.
Beyond features that are pseudo-built in to web apps through Labs, you can tweak some settings in your browser to give you the experience you desire. For example, if you prefer (or find yourself in a specific situation where you need) that comfortable 3-pane view in your email client, you might try pulling up the iPad version of Gmail on your computer. Similarly, you can squeeze lots of extra options out of web apps with extensions like our own Gina Trapani’s Better Gmail (for Firefox or this unofficial version for Chrome), Better GReader (for Firefox) and other such userscripts (Userscripts.org is a great place to look for these). The possibilities are pretty much endless.
When you break it down, the benefits of dedicated desktop clients are slowly going away. With things like Gears, HTML5 and AJAX powering up modern browsers, all the features we expect from native clients can be found on the web — so if you’re still tied to your 10 clients all running at once, close them up for a while and give the web a shot. You might find that your bias against web apps isn’t necessary anymore.
Got any other tips for getting the most out of your web apps — or any other gripes about client-side features that webapps don’t have? Let us know in the comments!