If you’re an avid user of Google’s suite of Web apps (Gmail, Reader, Calendar, Docs, etc.) then you likely find yourself with several browser tabs open all day. While Google does a good job making their Web apps easy and efficient to use online, sometimes apps just feel better when they run as native apps on your system.
I recently discovered a pair of Mac OS X applications (sorry Windows/Linux folks) that do a great job of bringing Google’s apps to the desktop. Sparrow gives Gmail a polished Mac look, and Reeder (still in beta) does the same for Google Reader.
Sparrow reminds me a lot of Tweetie for Mac, atebits’ desktop companion to the Tweetie iPhone App which eventually became the official iPhone app of Twitter. You can add multiple Gmail accounts which are displayed in a lefthand side-bar with avatars and links to your inbox, sent messages, all mail, trash, drafts and favorites. Messages are displayed with brief previews in a list in the next window, and selecting a message will expand to a third panel where you can follow the conversation. Put simply, it works a lot like the native Mail app on the iPad.
Reeder works much in the same way, with subscriptions and groups in a left hand sidebar, listed entries in the next window, and full contents in the righthand panel. Reeder also has a built in Web browser which will let you open links and explore info from your feeds seamlessly before getting you quickly back to your reading. There is also a plethora of sharing options built in, including Twitter, Instapaper, Delicious and ReadItLater support.
You can also use native Google Reader functions like sharing and adding notes, and best of all, everything is kept in sync with your Reader account, meaning unread items appear unread no matter if you’re on the Web, in the Reeder app, or using the app on another machine. Reeder is free on the Mac, but also has a $2.99 companion app on iOS devices.
While these apps are great Web-free versions of Gmail and Google Reader, they do have their downsides as well. Sparrow is lacking largely in search capabilities, something that makes Gmail the useful app that it is, and Reeder (still in beta) is in need of some subscription management. Despite this, I’ve found myself using Sparrow and Reeder without much frustration for a few weeks now. The similarities between Sparrow and Tweetie for Mac make me really want one app that just combines them, because they are visually and functionally very similar.
Give these apps a try and see if you too can unplug your Google apps from the Web and live to tell about it.