Alternatives to Shift and 6 other unified workspaces

I was kind of surprised to learn that there is a huge market for web browsers that are specifically designed for work purposes. Perhaps you feel similar, so in this post you can learn from my experience.

I’ll share some of the best apps I have found, and why, if you’re like me, you may well be wondering whether any of these apps are worth switching to from your regular Chrome. (You may be surprised.)

I couldn’t find a distinct product category label for these apps. Other than calling them “work browsers” other descriptions that fit might be “work hubs”, “unified workspaces” or perhaps “workspace aggregators”.

Let’s start with how I stumbled across this product category: Shift.

The best way to describe it is that it’s a Chromium-based browser with separate sessions for each tab so you can log into the same app with multiple accounts. To make things simple they have an “app store” which is really more akin to a catalog of bookmarks that the browser can save for your future use.

At first, I was like That’s it?

It’s really not much different from Chrome where extensions like SessionBox can do the same job for less.

And while I think this is the weak point for any of the products in this category, Shift does do a few things that make life easier for power users:

  • Search all apps at once: Shift claims that they do a unified search in all products at once. This is a powerful claim, as traditional enterprise searches are an entire product category in their own right. In reality, it offers a tabbed search for 3 kinds of results: mails, events and files – all gathered from multiple connected accounts. This is decent enough, but stays short of a truly “unified” search for all apps. Messages, tickets or contacts are just three of many categories lacking support.
  • Keep use of Chrome extensions: As a Chromium-based browser, not unsurprisingly, Shift let you use Chrome extensions which is a nice touch.
  • UI tweaks for work purposes: Shift makes dozens of subtle tweaks to Chrome’s UI (which it is based on) that are more than the sum of their parts. There’s easy account switching (Chrome has a rudimentary version of that), built-in tab arrangement (Chrome leaves that up to the OS) and tabs can be arranged along the top or to the side (where Chrome just offers one area for tabs).

All this makes Shift the leader in this space and I found myself comparing all the other products I reviewed in this post with it.

Source: Shift

However useful you find Shift can’t ignore its price. Let’s not kid anyone, but the free version is basically unusable as it only supports a single app – and what’s the point in an app manager that only managers one. Further, emails get a mandatory ‘Sent with Shift’ signature appended. So at $149 per year for the normal plan (there’s no trial), you’ll have to decide for yourself if sticking to Chrome is worth it or not.

Workona – Chrome tabs on steroids

Workona is the next contender and it focuses on grouping tabs and letting colleagues contribute to your tab groups. The idea is that you share the same resources throughout your team thus helping with project management.

This all works inside the real Chrome browser and employs a number of Chrome extensions to virtually open and close all the tabs you’re switching in-between. This works really well and the installation is easily explained in the Workona UI. Using the “real” Chrome also means you’ll always have the most secure and stable version of Chrome.

Workona also offers some native functions like tasks, and document templates which further position this as a project management tool with some deep-level browser integration.

On the downside, Workona’s app store – which looks impressive at first glance – adds very little usability to the UI. Adding apps mainly adds them as a source tab to Workona’s “unified search” overlay. In fairness however, the search overlay looks extremely useful and is well executed.

Source: Workona

The pricing is very transparent, with a decently useful Free version being available. The Team plan at $96 per user annually also sits much lower than Shift (and you can try it before you buy).

Focos – the bookmark store

Next up is Focos, a desktop app that is pretty much a “bookmarks switcher”. Don’t expect very much from the “app store” – it’s just a library of the bookmarks offered by Focos. Once you have added your apps they become little icons filling up the left panel where you can switch in-between them.

Apps can be added multiple times and then sessions will be kept seperate between each instance. Focus’ mission plainly is to make switching between your various tabs easy, so don’t expect too much functionality from your Focos apps: they’re really just shortcuts to the respective login screens.

It’s remarkably not different from what Chrome can do. Perhaps even a little worse, as Asana didn’t want to reveal itself for Focos is deemed “too old” of a browser (see screenshot in gallery above).

Source: Focos

At roughly $65 a year, Focos’ Solo plan is on the cheaper side so you can decide whether that is worth it for your use case. Teams can have the unlimited ‘Business’ license which costs $1,300 a year. You’d have to have at least 20 users for this to become cheaper than buying separate ‘Solo’ licenses.

Personal dashboard – the connected widgets

This next one is kind of like a home screen for all your apps. Where previous contenders all focus on linking to your apps in some intelligent way, this pulls live data from all the apps into one page and you can rearrange your widgets (called “Cards”) anyway you want.

The app store for the dashboard consequently isn’t a library of bookmarks but a collection of interactive widgets that get filled with fresh data from your apps every time you open it. The idea is that you can glance at an app before you decide whether it’s even worth opening it.

The dashboard can also be embedded into intranets like SharePoint, which would allow organizations to consolidate the number of portals, hubs and homepages employees need to frequent.

Source: Adenin

Sporting a free plan, most of the paid plans are focused on your consumption. Every widget costs 1 pass each day you use it, and the smallest plan costs $120 a year. At this price you can roughly use 5 widgets every workday and stream live data to them all day long. If you have more cards, you are likely going to need to upgrade and buy a higher pass allowance.

Station – the free one

This next one is worth your special consideration, it’s open source Station. After some initial trouble locating the correct installable, Station surprises with a beautiful UI and easy on-boarding journey.

Switching between apps feels especially swift in Station and I could see it be quite fuss-free. However it’s also frills-free, with no search and limited native functions, say, to enjoy a cohesive calendar or email integration like Shift.
All of the three “boosted” apps that exist didn’t add their content to the Station search box. This in reality is just a search of what tabs you have open, not the content that lies within them.

But Station is otherwise free and has an active community of enthusiasts, so there could be the potential of future improvements.

Rambox – the freemium one

Rambox is one of the stronger executions in this lineup. It has a unique split screen feature where you can show many windows apps side-by-side, and a multitude of adjustments for power users.

Not a glitch, it’s a feature

One of those features is “workspaces”, which lets you group multiple apps into an expanding secondary or tertiary navigation bar. This has the potential to come across as chaotic at first use.

On the other hand Rambox has a generous free plan, and their Pro plan offers another unique option of purchasing a lifetime license for just $210.

Source: Rambox

Webtop (formerly – the slick one

Then we have Webtop which has a nice looking UI that lets you organize bookmarks into “desktops”. These can be shared with your team, and each such desktop comes with its own chat and meeting functionality. Imagine Slack but each channel has a shared list of bookmarks.

As Webtop isn’t a desktop app it just runs in your browser. Consequently, clicking any of the bookmarks just opens the link in a new tab. Somehow that’s a little underwhelming when compared to other products that try harder to declutter and bring Zen to your workday.

Unique to Webtop is a password manager Chrome extension that eliminates the need to use a seperate password tracker. Neat!

What’s also neat is the price. There is a generous free plan, and at under $36 per year for the Pro version you can’t complain – there are password managers that on their own are more expensive.

There you are, these are the best picks for workspace browsers and similar ‘work unification’. Are you using any of these products? Would you suggest another solution? Let me know in the comments below.

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