Mail Droplets Keep Falling on My Desktop

Service lets you access Web-based e-mail, messaging, and photo sharing offline from your desktop.

Curt Franklin, special to

Thursday, October 05, 2000

You love your Web-based e-mail, but you want the convenience of working off your desktop, right? If you don't want to go to the trouble of setting up Outlook, Netscape, or another desktop e-mail package, you might want to try Droplets.

Droplets is designed as a simple, Web-oriented e-mail and messaging interface that works on your desktop. It provides three applications--e-mail, discussion groups, and picture sharing--in two distinct ways. You can move a droplet of any application to your desktop. This allows you to access the droplet's function just as you do any other Windows-based application. It installs an icon on your desktop. Double-clicking the icon launches a Java applet that accesses the Droplets Web site for the main application and all the data you have stored there.

So why should you use this package instead of relying on Outlook or Netscape? When you're away from your primary computer, you can still access all your applications and data through a standard Web interface. This "all-points access" is one of the great advantages of a Web-based application suite.

Always-on Internet access, whether from a business LAN, cable modem, or digital subscriber line, dramatically increases the usefulness of Droplets. It works with a dial-up connection, but going through the dial-up routine every time you need to reference something in an e-mail message loses its charm very quickly.

Applying the Applications

When you are connected to the Internet, Droplets provide solid, well-equipped applications. In each of the three, you can choose between at least two color combinations for the window. Navigation and command buttons are clearly labeled and laid out. You'll find facilities for creating indexes in the picture album and nested folders in the e-mail application.

The one drawback to the system is the independence of the applications. If you have logged into the e-mail application and want to look at a picture in an album before sending it, you will have to log into the picture- sharing application. If you close rather than minimize the applications between uses, you'll need to log back in at each new invocation. It's a small annoyance, and certainly a security feature. But if you're used to opening and closing your e-mail application often, you'll develop muscle memory for your user name and password before the end of the first day.

It's similar to an application that got some attention earlier this year, Zaplets from FireDrop. A Zaplet delivered to your desktop is automatically updated when you go online, so e-mail becomes dynamic. Information such as weather forecasts and stock reports can always be current, and you'll always see the newest thread in an ongoing discussion.

Droplets' Web site says that the system is built on an object-oriented GUI tool kit that will soon be available for developers wanting to create other Droplets. The idea of an application that follows you wherever you go is compelling in a mobile society. If developers leap onto the Droplets bandwagon, the market may turn out to be large, indeed.