Cloud apps

Some say that the desktop computer is a dying breed as more people turn to their notebook PCs and smartphones to get their work done. That’s partly true, and while I don’t agree that the desktop computer is going the way of the dinosaur, there are quite a few web apps that can effectively replace the full blown software you have running on your table-bound desktop PC.

You may have heard the term “cloud computing,” but what exactly does that mean? It means that you access everything that you need from the Internet, not bound to a single device or a single location. The exact same files and functionality can be enjoyed from a public terminal at the library as the what you get when you’re borrowing a friend’s computer while visiting on holiday. Desktops will still be around, but they’ll be more about getting onto the Internet to use these web apps. Here are some great examples of robust full-blown applications on the web.

1. Google Documents

Known casually as Google Docs or “GDocs,” this is a full suite of office web apps that can fundamentally replace desktop-bound equivalents like OpenOffice and Microsoft Office. With Google Documents, you have a real word processor, a spreadsheet program, and even a program to do the equivalent of PowerPoint presentations. What’s more, these office web apps allow documents to be shared with collaborators, including the ability to co-edit the file in real time. That sure beats emailing multiple versions of the same file back and forth.

2. Gmail (or Other Web-Based Email)

Another huge part of the Google Cloud comes by way of its remarkably robust e-mail offering. I personally prefer Gmail, since it integrates so well with other Google products like Google Calendar and Google Contacts, but you could get the same basic experience with other web-based email services like Yahoo! Mail and MSN Hotmail. The key advantage to any of these is the ability to access them anywhere without being bound to a single terminal, as you normally would be with the case of Outlook. For businesses, Gmail can handle email from your own corporate domain too.

3. HootSuite

Yes, you could just go to the Twitter website or the Facebook website, but what if you want to manage multiple accounts? What if you want to schedule “tweets” for some time in the future? What if you want to track the links that you send out? HootSuite is easily one of the best web apps for managing your social media accounts, offering the ability to organize those tweets and updates into multiple columns and tabs. This is a lot more robust than the regular web interface and, unlike some other similar Twitter clients, this one lives in the cloud. No local installations needed!

4. Picnik

No, you aren’t going to get the same level of power you that you would get with Lightroom or PhotoShop, but Picnik is certainly more powerful than Microsoft Paint. Use this free image editing program from within your web browser. You can use it for free outright, or you can sign up for an account and store your projects in the cloud. An alternative to Picnik is called Aviary, which can be used for all sorts of creative work including photos and music.

5. Amazon Cloud Player

Even your music can be freed from your desktop computer. Rather than relying on local storage for all your music files, you can use Amazon Cloud Player to store your music on an online server. Then, it can be streamed anywhere you have Internet access. You’ll need to purchase a Cloud Drive storage plan, but the MP3 and AAC files you upload do not count against your Cloud Drive storage capacity. It will also integrate with your previous Amazon MP3 purchases and there is an Android application for wireless streaming too.

6. Flickr and Flickr Pro

As far as services for storing files, you’ll be hard pressed to get a better deal than with Flickr Pro. Granted that it is restricted to photos and videos, but Flickr Pro is just $24.95 a year and it gives you unlimited storage space for those photos. You can organize these pictures into sets and the original files are easily downloaded should you need them. You can try the free basic Flickr service at first, but you are restricted in the number of images you can upload. If you are concerned about privacy, it’s important to know that any and all of your content can be set as public or private too.

7. Springpad

Need to keep track of everything going on in your life? This web app lets you save notes everywhere, including smartphone applications for iOS and Android, as well as a Springpad app for the Chrome web browser. Your notes are automatically organized and they are appended with “useful info and relevant offers” where applicable. You can even use your mobile device to scan barcodes and take pictures, saving those notes for later reference.

8. OnLive

Believe it or not, even higher-end gaming experiences don’t really require the power of a high-end gaming computer. This too can be done in the cloud by way of OnLive. This gaming service streams the video content to your local computer, but all the rendering and storage is done on a remote server. So long as your computer is able to play web videos reasonably well, it can enjoy OnLive gaming. There are over 100 titles available through OnLive, including Aliens vs. Predator, Borderlands, Braid, Homefront, NBA 2K11 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

9. Dropbox

When it comes to storing files on the web, Dropbox is one of the best. Your files are automatically synchronized across the devices you have connected to your Dropbox account, which makes it very convenient to work remotely. The files can similarly be accessed through a regular web interface through any browser. The free account gives you 2GB of storage with more coming when you refer other users. Alternatively, you can upgrade to Pro 50 (50GB) for $9.99 per month or Pro 100 (100GB) for $19.99 per month. Other online storage options include Box.net and SugarSync, among others.

10. Movavi

You would think that you’d need a proper computer program to convert video files, but that is no longer the case either. Movavi is a free online video converter with nothing to install. Better still, even though it is a free service, there are no ads to interrupt your experience either. Better still, the pure web-based interface can be used to merge multiple video files into a single larger movie file.

11. Freshbooks

For all the professionals in the audience, your business management can be done through cloud computing too. You may already have your internal files managed through a service like Google Documents, but what about the CRM side of the equation? Freshbooks is a web app that lets you invoice your clients, track time, organize expenses, and more. That’s pretty powerful. The free version allows for up to three clients, while the $14/month premium plan bumps that to 25 clients that you can manage at any one time.

12. F-Secure Online Scanner

The Internet may be the source of all kinds of viruses and malware, but it can also be a huge resource for the solution. If you suspect that your computer has been infected by something bad, you can point your web browser at F-Secure and use the free online scanner. This small Java-based app can be used to do a quick scan, a full scan, or a file/folder-specific scan. Even your computer security can live (partly) in the cloud.

13. Grooveshark

I can’t believe I only discovered Grooveshark recently. You can go to a number of different websites for radio stations and listen to them live, but you still have to deal with commercials and they might not play exactly the songs that you want. With Grooveshark, you can effectively create your own web-based radio station, hand-picking the individual songs, albums, and artists that you want to hear. The music then streams through your browser absolutely free. As long as you have Internet access, you don’t have to buy any songs to listen to some tunes. Fantastic.

Image credit: Double_Vision / iStockphoto

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