9 Web-based office productivity suites

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

iCloud

Created by Xcerion, iCloud (in public beta) is optimized for Internet Explorer, with a Firefox version currently in alpha. I did most of my tests on Mac using Firefox, but for this Webtop I also hopped over to a Windows machine to give iCloud a try on Internet Explorer.

At first glance, iCloud seems to be tailored to the recreational user, with an application for watching online videos, a network of online discussion groups, and an instant messaging application with support for MSN, AOL, ICQ, and iCloud's own IM protocol. ICloud also has the best full- screen functioning out of all the Webtops I tried, giving you a more authentic desktop feel even though you're actually working online.

Productivity apps in iCloud are fairly basic: They include presentation software, a to-do list, and personal budget tracking. All word processing is done in Rich Text Format, with a Microsoft Word converter for uploaded '.doc' files. ICloud also has a calendar and contacts manager, and you get your own iCloud e-mail account with IMAP support. No spreadsheet support is currently available.

Pros: Easy to use, responsive software. Good full-screen support.

Cons: Annoying Vista-style widgets take up screen space; productivity suite is limited.

Try iCloud

cmyOS

cmyOS is based on the eyeOS cloud operating system. If you're looking for a bare-bones system that still maintains a reasonable amount of functionality, then cmyOS just might be the Webtop for you. cmyOS has a word-processing app, but no spreadsheet or presentation software. Other applications include a calendar and a contact manager, as well as a limited in-environment Web browser.

In short, cmyOS works well, but it doesn't have a lot of features. At the same time, I didn't run into any of the roadblocks I experienced with G.ho.st. I also felt cmyOS has its priorities for Web apps straight, unlike AirSet, since it focuses on Web publishing instead of a word processor or spreadsheet program.

Pros: Online collaboration; no-nonsense Webtop focused on productivity.

Cons: Limited functionality compared with other Webtops; in-environment browser limited to YouTube, Yahoo Messenger, Google, Facebook, and Flickr. Storage space not specified. No support for spreadsheets or presentations.

Try cmyOS

Astranos

Clearly a Mac-inspired creation, Astranos stands for Astra is Not an Operating System, and, boy, they aren't kidding. The bare-bones Webtop features a bizarre mix of an OS X Tiger-style dock mixed with Windows 95 application windows. And what Astranos lacks in style it does not make up for in functionality. The only apps on this Webtop include a notepad and an IM client. Astranos is also a little buggy, displaying cryptic error messages whenever you call up some of its applications.

Pros: Has notepad function, IM client, and 1GB of free storage from Dropboks (no relation to Dropbox).

Cons: Extremely minimal, not much functionality.

Tip: Unless you're a fan of Tetris (one of the games available on Astranos), you might want to steer clear of this Webtop.

Try Astranos (no login required at startup)

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Ian Paul

PC World (US online)
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