9 Web-based office productivity suites

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

G.ho.st uses the Zoho online office suite for its default productivity applications, and the programs can be viewed within the environment. You can also save and access files from your Google Docs account, and can even send a document directly to Microsoft Office applications on your desktop. The only downside to G.ho.st's office suite is that it does not have a PDF reader.

Pros: Offers a whopping 15GB of free storage; wide support for various productivity file formats; a good e-mail tool that allows you to create appointments from e-mails; features a drag-and-drop appointment maker; a tabbed browser and MP3 player.

Cons: No support for the PDF format. If you are going to use G.ho.st, be prepared for the occasional flaw, but know that most problems can be fixed with a browser refresh.

Tip: G.ho.st's homepage is in Hebrew by default. In the address bar, just switch "he" for Hebrew at the end of the URL to "en" for English so you can navigate the site more easily.

Try G.ho.st

Startforce

Although it lists itself as a public beta, Startforce is one of the strongest performers among Webtops, with its own set of branded Web apps for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. It also has an e-mail client, in-environment Web browser, audio player, and IM client, and it comes with 1GB of free storage. One of the big advantages of Startforce is its fast response time, but a significant downside that I found during my tests is that Startforce does not work well with Apple's Safari Web browser.

Pros: Fast response time, customizable Windows environment, 1GB of free storage.

Cons: In my tests on a Mac, the Java-based uploader would not work, so I could not get files onto my Webtop. Also, StartForce works only if you shut down all other open Web pages in your browser. Once the Webtop is up and running, you can use other browser tabs again.

Try Startforce

AirSet

AirSet is not as functional as some other Webtops I've seen, but overall it's a pretty good experience. AirSet 's most full-featured application is its Web publishing software, which can help you create a Web site, blog, photo album, or newsletter. But Airset lacks other office essentials such as apps for word processing and spreadsheets.

Airset also has a contact and calendar manager that can sync directly with Outlook, and an IM client as well as 1GB of free online storage. But AirSet does not support Microsoft Word's ".doc" format. AirSet also has a group function that allows you to collaborate with other AirSet users; however, this is a for-pay function that is not available in the free service.

Pros: Outlook calendar and contact syncing; uses a Java applet or HTML interface for uploading (both are excellent); 1GB of free storage, $2 per month for every 5GB after that; AirSet mobile application allows for greater access; customizable desktop.

Cons: Webtop is ad-supported, so you lose some screen space; bare-bones productivity support with no spreadsheet or presentation software. AirSet does not support the .doc format--only basic text files and WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). Good IM client, but it requires a manual sign-in for each service, even though it memorizes your passwords.

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Ian Paul

PC World (US online)
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