Saturday, June 17, 2006

Web based productivity applications: a review

Damon Darlin, writing for the NYT, has a nice introduction to "web 2.0" productivity applications.

I can't imagine using these in the office. The net is not reliable enough and my employer is not going to want my documents wandering about. At home is a different story. I'm a serious geek, and I rarely use a spreadsheet at home. (I'd use them more if I had time, but that's another tale.) I don't even have a good, supported, spreadsheet on my Macs. At home I'd love to have access to a shareable "grid widget", ideally with an embedded scripting language. That's why I'm so impatient to get access go Google's spreadsheet ... [Update: On a whim I tried Google Labs. I never got a reply to my beta request, but it turns out I have access through my Gmail account. I wonder if Google's atrocious spam filters killed their reply to my beta signup? I do find it curious that Google has the worst spam filters in the industry.]

Web productivity apps are valuable for everyone, but especially for Mac users. I've read we can expect a Cocoa version of the favored web 2.0 platform (Firefox) within the next six months ... (Firefox runs well on OS X now, but all non-Cocoa apps are 2nd class citizens.)
Now, Free Ways to Do Desktop Work on the Web - New York Times

.... Google Spreadsheets is a good example. (You can find the program at Google Labs,, but to use it you have to sign up for a Google account first. No one said free meant easy.) An alternative is Jotspot (, though its products are aimed more at business users.

Google Spreadsheets has many of the features you use in Excel, like the ability to sort, change typefaces or color and insert a variety of set formulas. The developers plan to add other features like auto fill.

You can save the document to your hard drive or to the Google servers. Once it is there, you can access the spreadsheet from any computer, which means you no longer have to load it onto a disk or flash drive to carry it home or to another office, or send it there by e-mail.

Because the document is stored on the Google servers, you can give permission for other people with Google accounts to open and work on it. A team can work on it together to make changes. The file can also be opened in Excel.

... Google's word processing software will work the same way. It has not been released yet, but an early version of the browser tool had every necessary function of Word except auto correct, where misspellings are changed on the fly. That feature is coming, Mr. Schillace said. "We haven't been able to do it smoothly."

... If you don't want to wait for Google, a similar browser application is already available called Zoho Writer at (I wrote most of this article on Zoho with as much ease as writing with Microsoft Word.) Writeboard ( is a competitor. Another program, called Ajax Write (, lacks the spell checking and word count functions that Word has taught us to rely upon.

.... Applications for coordinating calendars among friends and family is another popular application that replaces some of the functions of Microsoft's Outlook program. Yahoo and Google have some, but there are others, including one from a start-up named 30Boxes ( that is very easy to use. Microsoft is also beginning to offer collaborative Web tools.

... Google Labs offers some of them. One of the most useful is Notebook. It puts a little button on the frame of your browser that organizes snippets of information you find on the Web into folders that are then accessible from any computer. When you are on a Web site and you see something you want to save, you highlight it, right-click your mouse, click on "Note this" in the dropdown menu, and your search is saved.

....A more fully featured alternative to Google Notebook is coming soon from Plum Ventures, a small start-up company based in San Francisco. You can join the waiting list at With the application you can collect information, whether Web sites, photos, music or text files, and then annotate it and share it with others.

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