In this cross platform, web app driven, fully integrated world, we are always looking for ways to get our information faster, get notified quicker, get up-to-the-second updates, and do more without having to bounce around to different websites. It’s why we use RSS, it’s why we use Twitter, and it’s why we have a ton of apps on our phones and a bunch of widgets on our desktops. In my search for better integration, I overlooked a fairly simple solution for accessing my web apps- the browser. Yes, I still go to facebook.com or groupon.com to get my updates, but I never thought of looking to the browser for a tool that integrates my webapps together.
ALOT offers exactly that- a simple, browser driven solution for easily checking your favorite web apps and bringing information to you.
ALOT is not a webapp in the traditional sense. Rather than being an app you can access from any browser, it’s a browser toolbar that’s designed to keep all of your favorite webapps together. The first thing to note about ALOT is that it’s a PC-only browser extension for either IE or Firefox. That means you’re out of luck if you’re a Mac user, or if your browser of choice is Google Chrome, Opera, or otherwise. This severely limits ALOT’s usefulness to many of us, but if you happen to fall into the IE/Firefox on PC demographic, installing is pretty easy. Simply install ALOT’s Appbar, and restart your browser. That’s it!
As you can see from the screenshot, the ALOT Appbar is a pretty beefy bar, and increases the height of the browser chrome by over a third. This is a little bit of an issue for me since I like to keep my browser clean/minimal. However, for what it has in bulk, it makes up for in convenience.
ALOT App Selection
ALOT has, well, a lot of apps to choose from, all designed to make your browsing experience more convinient. The email app brings email notifications to you, the radio app pulls in radio stations from Windows Media Player, and the Facebook App brings you your feed, wall, and notifications without you having to leave whatever website you happen to be on.
On top of that, ALOT offers several tools and utilities, such as a todo list manager, a URL shrinker using TinyURL, and a screenshot app, which was very helpful when it came to creating screenshots for this article!
Their apps are broken down into several categories, including Entertainment, News, Shopping, Utilities, and of course, Games. Some of the games they offer include Solitare, a Farmville clone, Sudoku, and my personal favorite, Plants vs. Zombies. Each of these are online webapps, that live in your ALOT toolbar.
The functionality of the apps are pretty good. Just select the app you want to run, and it will open in a movable box above your other browser windows. The apps run fairly fast, and some offer notifications or updates right in the appbar. My only complaint is that in some of the apps, like YouTube and Amazon, I expected more than just a search bar that would then use your current tab to display the search results the respective app’s website.
If you’re using an app like this, make sure you’re not in an important tab, as you don’t get prompted or warned before leaving the page.
Managing Apps in ALOT is easy. Go to the Manage Apps page and you’ll see (assuming you have the appbar installed) a list of your apps with the ability to reorder or delete them.
As far as in-app preferences, there aren’t too many to choose from. For most of the apps, the preferences include any personal information you need to make the app work (login info, location, etc). For the apps that don’t require any custom info, they likely do not have a preferences tab. That means there’s not much in the way of customizing ALOT’s appearance.
Aside from app integration, the ALOT appbar has a few extra features for your convininence. The first is a built in search bar that is powered by Google. While this isn’t anything too special since most browsers come with a search bar, ALOT includes an addon called, “Discover,” which collects anonymous data to help ALOT learn what sites users like best- therefore, the more you use ALOT, the smarter it will get!
Don’t worry! Discover is an opt-in feature.
ALOT also has an iGoogle-like interface where you can create a custom homepage and add apps there as well.
I was pleasently surprised by ALOT. When I started out, I was a little frustrated that it was PC-only since I am primarily a Mac user (and a Chrome user when it comes to browsers), and figured this was only going to be the actual sites wrapped in a custom frame. However, ALOT has a few really good apps (email, todo, the news ones, weather) that truely improve the browsing experience and are unique to ALOT. My only complaint is that some of the video ads for games can get a bit annoying since I need to watch them (or part of them) in order to play; but since ALOT is free, I can let that slide
If you’re a PC user, and would like to discover more games and other apps you can add to Firefox or Internet Explorer, ALOT is an interesting service you may find useful. By only working on PCs and in Firefox and IE, though, ALOT leaves behind the cross platform compatibility that we love about webapps.