They do not need to be installed on your computer, but Web apps can help you work smarter in ways you never imagined.
They have been around for a while now, delivering a lot of value, but seldom getting the kind of recognition they deserve. They can run on almost any computer, require no installation space on your hard disk and can be accessed from just about any system, as long as you have your username and password handy. We are talking about Web applications, or Web apps as it is fashionable to call them these days — those applications that work within your browser just like others do on your desktop.
A few years ago, such applications were painfully limited and let you do little more than the most basic tasks. For instance, online storage sites would let you store information online, but sharing it with others was often a messy experience, involving either handing out your username or password or running the risk of the other person seeing all the information you had stored online rather than just the bits that you wished them to access. Bandwidth was a major issue, slowing down their performance. In fact, the most popular Web apps used to be casual games that could be played within a browser!
Things are very different now. Thanks to better bandwidth and of course, the inevitable progress of techology, Web apps have now reached a stage where a company like Google has started a whole online store dedicated to Web apps that run on its Chrome browser (the Chrome Web Store). And while games continue to be as popular as ever, there are now a formidable array of productivity-oriented Web apps that let you do your work from just about any computer that has a Web browser and internet connectivity.
And here are seven of the best for the hardworking and connected executive:
MS Office is by far the most-used software (after browsers and e-mail clients) in professional circles. And it is a tribute to just how good Google's online office suite, Google Docs, is that many consider it to be on a par with the Microsoft behemoth, with excellent sharing options thrown in. Google Docs lets you edit and create documents, spreadsheets, presentations and drawings from within your browser, its plain interface hiding just about every editing option most executives would need from tables to word counts to showing revisions. And it supports MS Office formats too, so you can actually open an MS Office document in it, edit it and save it. Best of all, you can not only share your documents with colleagues, but also work in them in real time, seeing the changes each of you is making, irrespective of your geographical location. Top that off with the fact that you can view the files you have saved on Google Docs on just about any smartphone and you can see why we consider this to be one of the best productivity Web apps around.
Access it from: https://docs.google.com/
E-mail might have made communication a whole lot easier, but anyone who has used it to coordinate a team effort will tell you that following different threads and knowing whom to mark in and out among the recipients can be a bit of a nightmare. Basecamp, an online app dedicated to better project coordination, makes it much easier. You can leave notes to specific team members, send messages, share information, use readymade templates, assign tasks and responsibilities in a much more organised way by using this online tool. There are also a number of add-ons ranging from burndown charts to timelines to help things along. No, it is not free and comes for $49 a month, but the fact that it works smoothly on just about any system makes it invaluable for teams working on projects.
Access it from: http://basecamphq.com/
It has been around for a while now and in spite of competition from the likes of Google Calendar, the quaintly-named 30 Boxes remains by far one of easiest and most powerful online calendar apps to use. You can mark out events, have groups of events, share them with your friends, search for specific entries, add them to your blog, place them on a map and do a whole host of other things, all through an incredibly simple and zippy interface that has you making notes and entries in boxes that represent each day. Almost as easy as scribbling on a real calendar.
Access it from: http://30boxes.com/
Remember the Milk
"Never forget the milk (or anything else) again" promises this Web app and it sure delivers. Although basically a to-do list app that lets you record the tasks you need to do in the coming days, Remember the Milk throws in some very handy features and a simple interface that make it stand out. Not only can you set out tasks (you can even add them by sending an email), but you can also select how you wish to be reminded of them — by SMS, mail or even, for chat addicts, on IM. You can make as many task lists as you wish, plot them on a map and share them with contacts.
Access it from: http://www.rememberthemilk.com/
Hardcore designers might need heavy duty tools like PhotoShop, but if you are the type that needs an app that will let you do most basic imagetweaking with minimum fuss (read "no downloading heavy software"), and a little more besides, then Aviary's online suite of tools is an excellent option. It has a powerful online image-editing tool with colour, vectors and effects editors thrown in, and even a music editing app thrown in, making it far more versatile than Adobe's own online version of Photoshop. Just make sure you have a good internet connection as some of the apps take time to load within the browser.
Access it from: http://www.aviary.com/
This simple and yet very effective Web app makes Web conferencing and screen sharing an effortless task. Users do not need to download anything — all they need to do is go to a link, and enter a PIN to be able to see what is on your computer screen, be it a spreadsheet, database or presentation. You can even share keyboard and mouse control, so an attendee can actually highlight a point they need to understand better, and there is a very decent global audio conferencing system integrated into the app for those times when you need to talk as well. Again, it is not free (rates start from $8 per day to $79 for a year), but a terrific tool for those into Web conferencing.
Access it from: http://www.yuuguu.com/
Yes, we know that Google Docs has a very decent presentation tool in it, but if you are the type who really loves the "power" in Power-Point, then we would recommend trying out 280 slides, which has a formidable array of options up its sleeve, with a slick interface to boot. You can import existing presentations into it and edit them as well as create new ones, complete with videos and pictures, and use some very stylish online themes too. Of course, you can mail your presentation, download it in PowerPoint 2007 format (alas, the new version is not supported...yet) and even put it on your website with minimum fuss. A very easy to use and powerful presentation tool.
Access it from: http://280slides.com/
WEB APP BENEFITS...
In most cases, you do not need to install anything on your computer's hard drive. This is particularly useful if you're working on a restricted computer (where app installation is barred) or one with guest user access
You can access the apps from most computers that have a Web browser and a stable internet connection
You can access the information saved on them from anywhere — no need to carry your data around on a notebook or portable storage
Many of them are free, and most cost a lot lesser than their desktop counterparts
Most Web apps need a brisk Internet connection to work at their best. So if you have anything less than a decent broadband connection, do not think of using them.
While most Web apps claim to be secure, the fact that you are working online does expose you to a certain number of security threats that you would not face in the case of installed apps. So do be careful with your usernames and passwords, as your data is not on your computer but out there on the Web.
Classically, a Web app should be able to run within just about any browser, but a number of Web apps of late tend to run better in some browsers than others and some even require you to install plug-ins to get the most out of them, thus negating the "access-fromanywhere" benefit.