Wednesday, 4 January 2006

Web Office 2.0: not just for businesses

Over the last couple of months, there have been numerous articles about Microsoft Office Live and the implications it can have for businesses. And there are advantages for hosted applications: easy access (any browser can access it, no other programs are required), updating (instead of updating several workstations, you update 1 server), no installation of other software then a browser and fewer bugs just to name a few. But are those web-based (or Web 2.0) applications just for businesses or could the general public take advantage of this technology as well?

If you just look at a general pc at home, you'll probably find an office suite of some kind (with a word processor and spreadsheet application) and applications for photo editing, mail and chatting. It will take some looking around the internet, but there are other web-based options for those programs available. Let's take a look.

For mail, it's pretty easy. There's of course Microsoft's hotmail, which has a wide popularity (mainly because it has been around for years and the succes of msn-messenger helps as well). And recently Google's Gmail came along. Gmail gave more features, storage and functionality than Hotmail and it rivals the standard mail applications that are installed on computers today. Anothers substitution could be Writely. Writely offers a feature-rich, webbased word processor that has enough body to satisfy the average writer. Features included full formatting, tagging and exporting to multiple formats (although the pdf comes at a price). Other possibilities are FCKeditor and gOFFICE (not related to Google). Num Sum offers a simple, yet effective application which is suitable for creating simple spreadsheets. gOFFICE also offers this, although this is still very early in the development stage. The site mentions that it's "just a fancy online calculator for the time being". Beyond the word processor and spreadsheet, gOFFICE also offers a simple desktop publishing tool. It only supports a simple business and "Thank you" card right now, but there is promise that more categories will become available shortly. PXN8 is an example of a simple photo-editing program where you can do the basic editing chores like cropping, resizing, changing saturation, hue and contrast and blurring. Chatting can be done, in a for many people familiar fashion, through MSN Web messenger. MSN Web messenger offers the basic MSN IM-client without the graphic possibilities like winks and emoticons and is not nearly as fast as the pc-version.

So there are other possibilities out there already (and not all are mentioned here), but most are lacking in features, speed or are still in beta (although, with Google it seems they always are). But what about the near future. Microsoft is introducing it's new hotmail
(read an early review by Paul Thurrott) to rival Gmail and in the beginning of 2006 Office Live as a test. The Google Office is being rumored for years and Google seems to be comming up with new web-based applications on a regular basis. Yahoo! is putting itself in the mix as well to keep up with both. Not to mention the Open Source projects that are in development like the ones mentioned above. So what we're seeing here is just the beginning of a new wave of web applications which could make some programs which are now installed on your pc absolete.

And as mentioned it has certain advantages, not in the least that you only need a pc equipped with a browser and an internet connection and you can write, calculate, edit and chat away. But in that also lies it's problems. What to do if your internet connection fails? With no installed programs you can't do any work. So there is need for an offline solution. There's also need for one standard so that every site and application will look the same in the browser of your choice. Also there are security and privacy issues at hand. The work that you do is being done (and sometimes stored) on relatively public servers. How secure are they and more importantly: what is being done with the data? How private are your stored emails, photo's or documents? Those and other issues should be laid to rest first before this crop or other web- based applications can become a real succes.

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