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Computing in the Cloud

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In the last five years a quiet revolution has been happening on enterprise, small-business, and home desktops: web-based applications have been quietly supplementing or even replacing traditional local or network applications. Far from being merely email or social-networking tools, web-based apps are bringing the concept of "computing in the cloud" to bear on all types of business activities. Mark Edward Soper provides an introduction to the world of web-based apps: how to select them, how to use them, and how to avoid problems.

In the last five years, a quiet revolution has been happening on enterprise, small-business, and home desktops: web-based applications have been quietly supplementing or even replacing traditional local or network applications. Far from being merely email or social-networking tools, web-based apps are bringing the concept of "computing in the cloud" to bear on all types of business. This article provides an introduction to the world of web-based apps: how to select them, how to use them, and how to avoid problems.

Types of Web-Based Apps

You're probably heard of the leading web-based applications, such as Google Docs and Microsoft Office Live (office suites); Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail (email); Photoshop.com (photo sharing and editing); Acrobat.com (PDF converter, word processing, web conferencing); and Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace (social networking for individuals and businesses). However, these applications provide only a tiny sample of the increasingly large web-based application universe.

For example, in a recent visit to Go2Web20.net, one of the leading catalogs of web-based application, I found:

  • 17 task management applications
  • Two document and image proofing applications
  • 36 calendaring applications
  • 29 design tools
  • 17 file sharing tools
  • 12 media sharing tools
  • Four accounting tools
  • 25 project management tools

Another useful catalog of web-based apps, The Unofficial Web Applications List, lists:

  • Eight online office suites
  • Four personal finance tools
  • 25 conversion utilities and file viewers
  • 13 group collaboration tools
  • 27 programmer's tools

Whatever your business or organization needs, it's safe to say there's at least one web-based application that can do the job for you.

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