The Desktop Diet Challenge

Two months ago, I was listening to “The Intrazone,” a podcast on the SharePoint intelligent intranet.  Episode 6 discussed their experiences with the Desktop Diet Challenge where they attempt to use the browser version of the popular Microsoft products like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, SharePoint, etc.  After listening to that episode, I decided to give it a try for a week.

Step 1: Outlook

I started off by immediately switching to the Outlook web app.  The first thing that I noticed was a little more productive.  I found that I spent less time checking email because I wasn’t constantly seeing the notification appear every time an email came in.  The web app does have a chime whenever an email comes in but my laptop is usually muted so I don’t notice it much.  A common cause of productivity loss is context switching and this one change dramatically reduced how often I “paused” what I was doing to check the latest message.

The web app also has some additional features that aren’t available by default for the desktop.  One feature that I liked was the ability to let meeting attendees vote for a meeting time before scheduling.  You can send the attendees several times to choose from and each selected time shows up as a “HOLD” on your calendar.  If everyone votes for the same time, it will automatically book that time and delete the other holds.  I also liked the contact card better on the web.  It provided more information about the content that users were working on and people that they’ve been working with lately.

Step 2: OneNote

I take lots of notes in OneNote and I have it open almost all of the time.  This one was difficult to switch from.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t because of any changes or lack of functionality.  For me, I found the client more convenient when switching from one notebook to another.  This switch was almost derailed before I even got started.  I was meeting with a client and I couldn’t connect to their wifi.  Since the purpose of the challenge was to avoid the desktop client, I wouldn’t have been able to access my notebooks.  Realistically, you’d sync your OneDrive files locally and then use the desktop app to work offline and when you get back online the files would sync.  Luckily, the meeting started a little late, and I managed to connect on time.

 Step 3: Word, Excel, PowerPoint

On day 2 or 3, that’s when I needed to crack open some spreadsheets, write a statement of work, and prepare slides for a presentation and the results were mostly positive… Mostly.

I was determined to stick to the challenge so I would go out of my way to do so.  If I had a file saved locally, I would upload it to OneDrive just to open it via the browser.

As far as the experience goes, it was mixed for me.  Overall, the functionality was there but there were some quirks.  Images in Word get positioned awkwardly.  They don’t appear to be properly aligned but if you open the same doc on the desktop client, the image looks fine.

PowerPoint… this one was the one that I wasn’t a fan of.  Similar to Word, it was awkward to align images and other things.

Excel was a good experience.  Overall, the experience felt the same.  The only exception was around filenames.  I had 2 files in different directories with the same name and the web app wouldn’t allow me to open both at the same time.

Step 4: Teams… kind of

Honestly, this one went nowhere.  At the time, I was working on a chat bot in a development tenant of mine and I had trouble logging into Teams on my work tenant so I stuck with the desktop version; however, I did use the mobile app to chat with coworkers when I wasn’t near a laptop.  Conversations feel natural on the mobile app but opening files felt a little slow, especially when viewing PowerPoint slides.  It wasn’t anything major but I could see it becoming a nuisance if you need to skim through a large number of slides.

Results

As I mentioned, the goal was to try it out for a week.  It has been two months and I still use Outlook’s web app almost exclusively.  I have opened the desktop version a couple of times since completing the challenge but not for anything like missing functionality.  I believe that the only times that I’ve opened it, it had to do with 3rd party tools that integrated and opened it for me but I haven’t sent an email or scheduled a meeting from it in 2 months.

I will flip flop between the versions of Word and Excel.  If I have a file saved locally, I won’t go out of my way to open it from the browser but files that get emailed to me will get saved to OneDrive and most likely opened via the browser.  If I have a document where I need to adjust the location of an image, I’ll use the client for that but I would say that most of my Word usage is through the web app but most of my Excel usage is through the client.  I can’t really say that there’s any reason preventing me from using Excel’s web app; it just kind of turned out that way.

I have not used PowerPoint’s web app for creating or editing presentations since the challenge but if I’m just reviewing slides, I will.  I thought that the experience of editing a presentation online just felt awkward so I haven’t bothered to try it again.

I really prefer the client for OneNote.  I just think it’s convenient and I switch notebooks a lot which as I mentioned above, wasn’t a great experience on the web.

As for Teams, that didn’t work for me.  I keep the desktop client open at all times and I will use the mobile app from time to time.