9 Web-based office productivity suites

A good number of services already allow you to put your own computer in the cloud for free

Tip: When I started up AirSet I got a warning that the Webtop does not officially support Firefox 3.5, but that I should try running it anyway. AirSet officially supports Firefox 3, Safari 3, and Internet Explorer 7.

Try AirSet

ajaxWindows

Of all the Webtops I tried, ajaxWindows is the one that most closely emulates Windows (with Startforce coming in a close second).

The ajaxWindows desktop automatically opens up in full-screen mode, but its in-environment Web browser leaves a lot to be desired. Instead of opening up new pages within the virtual computer, ajaxWindows kept directing me to a new browser window. But I couldn't see the new window outside the ajax environment, because the Webtop was in full-screen mode. Redirecting Web pages outside the environment is a common problem in Webtops.

ajaxWindows has its own applications for presentations and word processing, but nothing for spreadsheets. If you don't want to use ajax's Web apps, you can use quick-launch icons to access your Google and Zoho documents outside of the virtual computer. The Webtop will also automatically sign you up for 1GB of free storage with Box.net, computer-to-cloud syncing with SyncWizard. For music you get a free MP3 storage locker from MP3tunes. Ajax's MP3 player then uses your files stored with MP3tunes to play music in the Webtop environment.

Although Ajax Windows signs you up for these storage services, you will have to log in the first time you use them. AjaxWindows also comes with customizable desktop widgets.

Pros: 1GB of free storage; uses Meebo as IM client to support wide range of IM protocols; integrated with other services including box.net for storage and MP3 locker for music storage. Ajax-branded productivity software, and quick-launch access to Google and Zoho services.

Cons: Poorly designed Web browser; no in-environment support for spreadsheets; plug-in required for Internet Explorer.

Tip: Internet Explorer users are required to download a plug-in for ajaxWindows to work. Use Firefox instead.

Try ajaxWindows

Prism

We've spent most of this article focusing on Webtops that take you to the cloud. Prism Mozilla, on the other hand, does exactly the reverse and brings the cloud to your desktop. Prism is a Mozilla Labs experiment, available as a stand-alone program or as a Firefox add-on that allows you to create local Web apps on your personal computer's desktop. I tried out Prism by creating local versions of Gmail, Meebo, and Google Docs applications. The applications can be placed as an icon on your desktop or in other locations on your system, depending on your OS. With Prism, your choices of applications are virtually limitless; as such they would work well for Linux or Windows users with empty systems who want to opt for Web apps instead of open-source or commercial software.

I was disappointed with Prism, however, because I'd hoped to create Web apps I could put on a thumb drive and port around to whatever system I happened to be in front of. Unfortunately, at the moment Prism isn't designed to do that, and I don't know of any other services that are. But if Mozilla could figure out a way to have Prism create quick-launch apps of your favorite Web sites and services that you could carry with you, Prism would be a more relevant and usable system than it is right now.

Pros: Fast access to your Web apps without opening a browser; acts and feels like a desktop application.

Cons: Using too many Web apps at once can put a drain on your processing power. Not an entirely practical solution when so many other online services are available.

Try Prism

Tags productivitycloud computing

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Ian Paul

PC World (US online)

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