The Webtop
Software that was once the bailiwick of desktop computing is now going online. In fact, these web-based applications may someday entirely replace your desktop suite.
By Erick Schonfeld, Om Malik, and Michael V. Copeland

SAN FRANCISCO (Business 2.0 Magazine) - It's been a long time -- all the way back to the dawn of desktop computing in the early 1980s -- since software coders have had as much fun as they're having right now. But today, browser-based applications are where the action is. A killer app no longer requires hundreds of drones slaving away on millions of lines of code. Three or four engineers and a steady supply of Red Bull is all it takes to rapidly turn a midnight brainstorm into a website so hot it melts the servers.

What has changed is the way today's Web-based apps can run almost as seamlessly as programs used on the desktop, with embedded audio, video, and drag-and-drop ease of use. Behind this Web-desktop fusion are technologies like Ajax (asynchronous JavaScript and XML), Macromedia's Flash, and Ruby on Rails. We'll spare you the technical details; suffice it to say that these technologies are giving rise to a new webtop that may one day replace your suite of desktop applications.

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BUSINESS 2.0: THE NEXT NET 25
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Start with Writely, a free online word processor that anyone who knows how to use Microsoft Word will figure out in a few clicks. Then add Zimbra, which is taking a swipe at Microsoft Outlook with an online e-mail application that has all the latest Ajax tricks built in. Glide a mouse over a message that includes a date, and your calendar for that day pops up. Move it over a website address, and an image of the page appears.

For an online spreadsheet, try Tracker, the latest release from JotSpot (better known for its group-editing "wiki" software). Tracker becomes an interactive website open to viewing or changing by the people you invite. Users also will soon be able to subscribe to a particular spreadsheet row (say, "Sales in China") via an RSS feed.

All of these programs link to myriad open APIs--advanced program interfaces that serve as building blocks for new applications--and data on the Web from Amazon (Research), Google (Research), and others. Thus can the information on your desktop be fused with the entire Web through a powerful and increasingly invisible bridge between the two.

Google, Microsoft (Research), and Yahoo (Research) are energetically trying to crash this party. Microsoft recently launched Windows Live, a personal online command center for e-mail, RSS feeds, and other content, and is preparing to follow up soon with Office Live, a website-hosting and online project-management service that taps into the existing Office desktop programs.

See the full list and photo gallery: The Next Net 25

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.