Monday, February 27, 2006

I've Seen the Future, and I Like It: Web-based Applications

Because our program turns traditional PC hardware into a "WebStation" that just runs a web browser, I spend a little time each week looking at web-based productivity programs.

Certainly, in the email arena, it has been relatively easy to operate from a web browser for some time: Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, and Mail2Web. But with the advent of Gmail, suddenly it became possible for the main email program of an individual or small-business person to be operated completely from the web, and with some real independence from one's actual computer.

For the last several weeks I've used two word-processing programs that are web-based: Writely and ZohoWriter. While it cannot be claimed that either provides the same functionality as Microsoft Word, the fact that they have adequate functionality, and can be accessed from anywhere on any machine with a Web browser, means that I now store--and work on--many documents with them. It is particularly liberating to not be bound by a particular computer to work on a document that is in my "active" file.

I've also used an online calendar from that I had some limited success getting my family to use as well. While simple in it's implementation, it works very well for sharing a calendar with others. But last week I discovered CalendarHub, and I must say that I am blown away.

I think what is particularly significant about CalendarHub is it's ability to not just perform basic calendar functions, but to be able to publish or subscribe to calendar "feeds" through RSS or XML. What this means is that my wife and I don't have to share a calendar--we can each work on our own, and then I can "subscribe" to her calendar and she to mine, and we can see each other's activities superimposed on our own with the click of a button. I am able to specify that I want her events to appear in a certain color, and then click them on to see conflicts, but click them off to just see my events. CalendarHub also provides the functionality to subscribe to "public" calendars kept in standard calendar format. I don't know how many cities or schools have started doing this, but I believe most will when the power of this technology becomes apparent. It will be wonderful to be able to add to my own calendar the events of my children's schools, or our church activities, just by clicking a button.

Worth mentioning also: Meebo provides a web-based instant messaging system that now allows for a single login to access all of the major messaging protocols, and I believe that this will significantly add the the reality of the web-based computer model.

I've seen the future, and I like it. The more basic productivity programs use the web as a platform for delivery, the more that the Web- or Internet-PC becomes a reality. A PC that only runs a web-browser is like an appliance: affordable, simple to operate, and maintenance free.
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