Tabs & Tools: Protonet SOUL


RATING: 3.5 

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With browser space at a premium on my work computer, I welcome any service that will reduce my twelve consistently open tabs to eleven. Or if I'm really lucky, ten. A program still lives in my dreams that would integrate all of the services for interoffice communication, timesheets, calendars, vision boards, assigned tasks—the list goes on. However, while my brain still figures out the logistics for that magical service, I am taking note of the perks and downfalls of programs on the market now.

Protonet, the German-designed social project management tool and personal cloud server, is my newest tab and our latest office organizational tool. The operating system, coined “SOUL,” is complete with calendar, messaging, notes, to-do lists, file storage, and even a protobot who sends me generally unhelpful little messages. Successfully replacing both Slack, our old messaging service, and Basecamp, my go-to for color-coded calendars and to-do lists, and soon replacing our encrypted cloud file program, Tresorit, Protonet has simplified my browser, even if only by a tab or two.

Though I initially had some trouble navigating the program, after a few months working with Protonet (and, for fun, watching some foreign language instructional videos), I have embraced the slightly confusing nature of the program and have even come to enjoy my interactions with protobot.

It seems to me that the many apps and web services popping up focus on either how the user will feel about them or how the user will be able to use them. In other words, they either look pretty or do everything you want—but not both. Protonet is excluded from this generalization because the service doesn't quite fit either category; it isn't visually captivating in a way that begs me to dive right in and explore the web design, yet it doesn't quite do everything I need it to.

Despite the user interface’s general German gloom aesthetic, it is easy to understand and relatively simple to navigate. In a clean widget-like board presentation, it is easy to find what you're looking for and navigate between projects, to-do's, messages, and calendars. Yet, for all that Protonet does for our company, there is so much that it does not, which makes the program helpful only to a point. Not to mention I have some major complaints about the calendar function. I can’t color-code anything, so my work, rehearsal, meetings, appointments, etc. all appear in the same horrible manila folder color. This (in addition to not being able to duplicate events or create repeating events) means that Protonet has successfully created a barely functional and decidedly drab calendar.

For all of the downfalls of the program, the perks are perky enough to stick with Protonet and keep it safely as the fourth open tab on my browser (only behind my two email accounts and my timesheets). As a project management solution, it simplifies our formerly long list of other shared services, a feat which peers Basecamp and Asana fell short of accomplishing, which is partly what has earned Protonet its spot in our offices. But as an application striving to be so much more, it still has some SOUL searching to do if it wants to bring all-in-one personal servers to the masses.

While I can only review Protonet’s web application based on my experience, I also hear from my more tech-savvy colleagues that it has even greater potential because of its optional accompanying desktop server solutions. These (as I am told) keep all information in-house while always remotely accessible through the secure web portal of Protonet’s login page. To tell the truth, I didn’t even know I was using our server until I inquired about an additional orange canteen sized object on my boss's desk which certainly qualifies it as easy to use.

Alas, I will leave any hardware reviewing to them and stick with my 3.5 out of 5 rating, giving a positive outlook on what the crafty fellas at Protonet's offices in Hamburg will think of next.

Meanwhile, I keep dreaming of that magical service that will one day cure all my tab (and calendar) woes as I continue to wage my personal war against the ever-multiplying tabs.