Greatascent: Highrise meets Address Book in web and desktop 2.0 harmony

Web 2.0 is great and all, but I bought a Mac to utilize the power of Mac OS X and its software. While working in a browser certainly has its advantages, I believe that the sweet spot of getting work done shouldn't force the user into choosing between two appealing environments. The sweet spot of which I am speaking, of course, is integration and sync - the much sought-after, hard-to-find features that some companies offer with their products, while others at least leave the door open for enterprising 3rd parties to pick up the slack. Fortunately, one of the 'others' I speak of is 37signals with Highrise, their popular web-baesd contact and correspondence app, and the enterprising 3rd party in this case is Simon Menke, developer of Greatascent. This is one of the hands-down coolest plug-ins I've seen in a while that unites web 2.0 with what I like to call desktop 2.0 - the place where desktop apps can interact and sync with online services.

Greatascent, currently in a private beta, is a plug-in for Address Book (and soon other parts of Mac OS X) that serves as a middle man between the contacts on your Mac and those in Highrise. In its early beta state, Greatascent can pull down the contacts you're already working with in Highrise, but its real appeal is allowing you to drag and drop contacts from Address Book onto a new group that is added (pictured) to instantly sync them up to Highrise. Once synchronized, however, another gem of working in Highrise is brought to the desktop: from Address Book's File menu, you can select a Highrise contact and create a new Highrise note or task that is then synched up to the service. Read on after the jump for some screenshots and details of just how cool this plug-in can get.

Your note can even be added to a case you're working on right from this window.

Tasks can use the Highrise paradigm of 'Today, Tomorrow, Next Week' for due dates, or you can specify a date and time right down to the minute.

In my tests, sync is working pretty well. I changed the names on a few contacts both in Highrise and Address Book, then added phone numbers and other data. After I performed a manual sync, everything matched up. Right now, contact images aren't synchronized due to limitations in the Highrise API that 37signals provides, but it sounds like a good handful of developers and many users are bugging the company to fix that. For the most part, most of the contact fields from Address Book seem to sync up to Highrise just fine (at least the vital ones, anyway), making Greatascent very appealing for anyone looking to bridge the gap between the portability of working online with the power and integration of the desktop.

Greatascent shows a lot of promise, even as a fresh beta, though for now it is still a beta. While synching is working pretty well for me, there is no actual status indicator or popup to let you know a sync is occurring, nor is it clear as to how often syncs are performed or if it is an instantaneous operation when you make changes. Greatascent's website also boasts integration with Mail, iCal and Safari, but those features aren't built in yet. Still, Simon Menke is doing a great job so far, as Greatascent has the potential to become one of the most impressive efforts for integrated a web service with desktop software that I've seen yet. A price for Greatascent is still to be determined, but this could easily become a must-have for any Highrising Mac user.