Balsamiq for Google Chrome

If you work in an agile environment you’ve probably heard about the practice of “designing in the browser”. It’s a great way to design where you pair a UX and visual designer and let them execute their ideas directly in code to instantly see what it looks on any device.

Wireframe Created with the Balsamiq Chrome Extension
Wireframe Created with the Balsamiq Chrome Extension

Well here’s a way you can wireframe in the browser. Balsamiq Mockups now has an extension for Google Chrome that lets you build sketchy wireframes in the browser and save them to your Google Drive. You can also share them with other Google Drive users and edit them collaboratively.

You create your wireframes using the familiar Balsamiq widget set; you just do it the browser. Mockups can be saved to Drive as BMML or PNG files. Both can be downloaded, and the BMML files can be edited in your Balsamiq desktop software.

The extension is available in the Chrome Web Store. It comes as a 30-day free trial and you can get a single-user license for $5 a month or $50 a year.

While the Chrome extension is a useful tool for small teams and academic groups, you may need the more robust features for project management and collaboration offered in the myBalsamiq web-based product. But the Chrome extension is a great example of Balsamiq’s flexibility and shows how Google is turning the browser into a robust application environment. Enjoy!

Why Outlook.com is Good For Email

Microsoft launched a preview of its replacement for Hotmail this week (rebranded as Outlook.com) and this could be a good thing for all web-based email users.

While I’m not normally impressed by the user experience of Microsoft products, my first impression of Outlook.com is that it is a significant improvement over Hotmail (which was an ancient and dying beast, to be honest).

Interesting side note: I actually had to create a new Hotmail account and then upgrade to Outlook.com since I hadn’t signed into Hotmail in at least 10 years or so.

Outlook.com is exciting because it could introduce new competition into the web-based email market. And competition is good; it keeps us on our toes and forces us to constantly focus on improving our products. The screen shots in this post clearly show Microsoft is moving to a more simplified user interface that makes better use of layout and content organization. The product appears to be taking cues from the more simplified design of Google’s Gmail.

The annoying ads that plagued Hotmail have been reduced and social media integration with Facebook has been added (although I did not experiment with it).

There are plenty of beta-software moments, like how editing your profile takes you back into the Hotmail user experience, but it was clearly labeled as a preview.

Engadget gives the Outlook.com preview a pretty good review. CNET also gives the preview pretty good marks.

Would I switch over to Outlook.com? Probably not, mostly because I have committed too much effort to living with Gmail and Yahoo Mail. And in the mobile-centric world I live in, most of my email is sent and read from a mobile device anyway. But if Microsoft can keep its smaller Hotmail user base from moving to Gmail or Yahoo, it will probably consider the effort a success. And if Outlook.com causes the other web-based email providers to keep looking at ways to improve their user experience, we all win.

Hotmail
Hotmail
Outlook.com
Outlook.com