Imagine being able to access all your important documents from any computer with an Internet connection—or never having to buy, install, or upgrade office software again. You may already use a Web-based e-mail service instead of an e-mail client, but the next programs to go online could very well be your word processor and your spreadsheet program. You can now get a lot done with only a humble browser.
The idea behind Web applications is simple: rather than running on your computer, a Web application runs on a server—you interact with it through your browser. These programs don’t need to be updated and maintained on individual computers, and since your files are also stored on a server, you can access them from anywhere without schlepping a disk around.
Google is the biggest and best-known company that’s generating buzz for a growing collection of Web applications. It includes a word processor called Docs and a spreadsheet program called Spreadsheets (both available at docs.google.com ); a calendar called Google Calendar ; and, of course, the Web-based e-mail service Gmail . The price for all of these programs is a whopping $0.
Can these Web applications replace your $399 copy of Microsoft Office? If you have a slow or unreliable Internet connection, the answer is definitely no. But most people who do some word processing or spreadsheet work can benefit from Google’s programs—either as a complement to Office or, in some cases, as a replacement.
I’ll show you some of the coolest things these programs can do. To use them, you need a Mozilla-based browser, such as Firefox . You also need a Gmail account or, if you don’t want Gmail, a Google account ).