I've had a big first world problem over the last few years. I work within a big clinic system and, like many large companies, our computer environment is locked down by our IT department. For me, this means I can't install or upgrade programs, use browser add-ons, or even visit certain websites (although there's no rhyme or reason to this - some seemingly innocuous sites are inexplicably banned while others, like FaceBook, are OK. And no, I haven't even tried visiting the, er, red light district of the web from my work computers). Worst of all, I have no choice over my platform or browser. This means I live in a Windows XP / Internet Explorer 8 purgatory.
The thing is, I'm not even asking for much. When I'm at work I expect to work. I'm not looking to play Farmville while my patients wait for me. I just want to do the some normal day-to-day things that I dont feel are unreasonable, such as checking my Gmail account or creating spreadsheets or documents in Google Docs. However, activities like these result in so many freezes, crashes, and lost emails and documents that I've found myself avoiding doing anything productive when I do get a chunk of free time.
Then I had a revelation - I can't install another browser, say Chrome, on my work computer, but could there be another way to run it on that computer? I recalled hearing about the existence of mobile versions of Chrome and Firefox, and I decided to give it a try. First, I downloaded the portable version of Chrome from Portableapps.com to a USB flash drive.. Then, I unpackaged it, which turned to to be a little tricky because my work PC doesn't allow for the installation of applications, and my home Mac won't open a Windows application. Fortunately I had a really old Windows laptop in my basement - I pulled it out, fired it up, and unpackaged the application on my portable drive (all the time wondering how on Earth I ever built my website on that thing!).
The next day I went to work, plugged in my USB stick, double-clicked the browser, and . . . it worked perfectly! To be honest, I didn't expect it to. I thought my work computer would block the application from even opening. But it didn't, and I can't tell you how happy I've been. It runs like butter and hasn't crashed or even slowed down once. Even more exciting, it syncs with my home browser so all my bookmarks (and bookmarklets) are present, and I'm even able to use some of my favorite browser extensions. Furthermore, every time I boot up Chrome it opens up the tabs that I had open the last time I used it. I feel like I've been driving a work truck that wasn't allowed to go over 40mph and I was just upgraded to a, uh, really fast car. I no longer have to use the Internet like an animal.
Since I work from multiple locations I put my flash drive on my keychain - that way 1) I'll never forget to bring it and 2) I won't accidentally leave it in a work computer when I leave.
Now that I had a little taste of browser bliss, I wanted more. When I'm at home I've become very accustomed to using 1Password. Using the browser extensions it let's me easily (but securely) use strong passwords to access all my websites. Without having that on my work browser I've had to:
- pull out my iPhone an open open it
- open up the 1Password app (it syncs with my laptop via Dropbox)
- enter my 1Password password (and sometimes a second password)
- look up the password I want
- manually type it into the form on my computer (and we're talking about long passwords here)
And then, I discovered 1PasswordAnywhere, which is the perfect solution if you use Dropbox syncing with 1Password. Simply
- Log into the Dropbox website from the portable Chrome browser
- Open the 1Password.agilekeychain folder and then 1Password.html
. . . and you effectively get a 1Password app right there in your browser window! By entering your password you can view all of your logins and whatever secure information you've stored there. it's easy to copy a password and then paste it into a logging form in another tab.
In the end, I still miss the workflows, the shortcuts, the utilities and software that I have on my powerful home computer. However, being able to choose and customize my browser sure has made me a happy guy.