37Signals’ Backpack gets an update

There are few web 2.0 companies that get as much positive buzz as 37Signals does. For the uninitiated, 37Signals is the company behind some of the more practical web applications and productivity tools available today. One of their most popular applications, Backpack, was recently updated. Essentially, backpack is a light wiki-type application that allows you to create task lists, manage notes, and store files all within a simple/elegant web interface. When first launched a couple of years ago, Backpack received enormous amount of buzz, and helped catapult 37Signals into the web 2.0 mainstream. In recent times, however, Backpack had fallen behind in updates, and quite a few users openly wondered if 37Signals had abandoned the project. While the company might have put Backpack on the back burner, it has re-assumed center stage with some nice tweaks and enhancements to the interface. A complete list of updates can be seen here.

Search, finally

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I’ve used Backpack, on and off, since it’s inception. The application is deceptively simple, but can also be very frustrating. One of the major frustrations that drove me away from daily Backpack use was the lack of a search capability. Well, as you can see on the right, that has been corrected. Can you imagine having a central repository of notes, ideas, or tasks that didn’t have any ability to search? Just by adding a search capability, 37Signals has substantially enhanced the usability of Backpack. Search is not perfect, as it only presents back the page on which a searched term resides.

Move stuff around

Another major complaint about Backpack was the inability to move sections (lists, notes, attachments, etc.) from page to page. 37Signals had already incorporated a slick drag-drop capability to move stuff around within a page, but not to other pages. This has now been fixed. Sections can be dragged onto other pages, and sections can be moved about anywhere on a given page. This is really, really nice. One big miss here is that individual list items can’t be moved from page to page. I’d certainly like to see that sometime soon.

There are a bunch of other tweaks worth checking out. Overall, this is a worthy upgrade to Backpack, not a huge improvement, but they’ve addressed many shortcomings in this iteration.

By the way, Satchel users will be happy to hear that the upgrade only caused minor hiccups in the ability to synchronize Backpack with the PalmOS based Satchel.

Highrise, 37Signals finally ready to reveal it’s contact management application

More than a year ago, I wrote about 37Signals’ plans to unveil a ‘CRM type’ application to go along with their wildly successful Basecamp and Backpack online applications. What was then referred to as ‘Sunrise’ has now morphed into ‘Highrise’ just as details are beginning to emerge. The original announcement hinted at a CRM style solution, while today’s announcement lays out a more modest vision. Instead of trying to address the sales force automation (pipelines, opportunity management, etc.) aspect of CRM tools, Highrise will help you track the relationships in your business (and personal) life. 37Signals expects to slowly reveal the features of the new tool in the coming days leading up to launch. If you’d like to get in on that launch, be sure to register here.

Like their other online applications, it looks like 37Signals is painting with a broad brush stroke. Already there are some people complaining about this feature or that feature that hasn’t made the cut. Yes, Highrise does not live up to the expectations that were created by pre-announcing Sunrise, but I don’t think anyone will doubt the usefulness of the application when it does launch. From what I’ve read, so far, it doesn’t look like a legitimate replacement for my SugarCRM deployment. But, then again, I can’t wait to see what these guys have come up with.