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.
(Business 2.0) - 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.
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, Microsof (Research)t, 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.
Company: JotSpot (Palo Alto)
What It Is: Wikis and online spreadsheets
Next Net Bona Fides: A pioneer of Web collaboration apps, a.k.a. wikis, it has unveiled its new Tracker application, which provides a powerful, highly collaborative online spreadsheet.
Company: 30Boxes (San Francisco)
What it is: Online calendar
Next Net Bona Fides: This Web-based software allows families and groups to create private social networks, organize events, track schedules, and share photos; it may soon allow you to save phone numbers as hyperlinks and make calls by simply clicking on a link.
Company: 37Signals (Chicago)
What It Is: Online project management
Next Net Bona Fides: Its Basecamp app, elegant and inexpensive, enables the creation, sharing, and tracking of to-do lists, files, performance milestones, and other key project metrics; related app Backpack, recently released, is a powerful online organizer for individuals.
Company: Writely (Portola Valley, CA)
What It Is: Online word processing
Next Net Bona Fides: It enables online creation of documents, opens them to collaboration by anyone anywhere, and simplifies publishing the end result on a website as a blog entry.
Company: Zimbra (San Mateo, CA)
What It Is: Online e-mail
Next Net Bona Fides: Taking aim at Microsoft Outlook, its Ajax-based application can, among other things, bring up your calendar for any date your mouse encounters, launch Skype for any phone number, or retrieve a Google map for any address.
INCUMBENT TO WATCH
Microsoft. By rolling out Windows Live, Office Live, and other Next Net-centric software, it hopes to grab a dominant--if not monopolistic--share of the webtop, which Bill Gates regards as a crucial strategic priority.
From the March 1, 2006 issue