The future is online

Shared applications have turned the ways we present and document events and data on their heads

These days, the internet is where the most innovation seems to be happening. Whether in the form of the YouTubes and MySpaces of this world, or in collaborative online efforts such as Wikipedia and news blogs, it's largely shared applications on the web that have turned the ways we present and document events and data on their heads.

There's sense in this, for the internet is simply a way of linking up people via their computer terminals. Increasingly, we're focusing our efforts online, using it to present our ideas, to share our efforts and to solicit feedback from others in a shared web space. And what works well for personal pursuits can be replicated just as effectively in our working lives.

There have been ways of sharing details with other trusted souls for a while, of course, as more business-focused networking services such as Plaxo, Friendster and the U.K.-based MIdentity prove. Perhaps it is down to Google and its amazing success with all things web-based, but a raft of programs that are equally useful for leisure and business pursuits is now going through beta and likely to graduate in the coming months.

Familiar business applications are being emulated by free programs that reside online. These allow you to create documents, edit them from wherever you happen to be, or even to share them with others who can add their own comments.

For contact management, there are online calendaring and meeting-scheduling tools. You can host video-conferences via the web or, as with the programs we look at in the following pages, you can share and collectively update your spreadsheets.

While paid-for business applications sometimes come with bolt-on modules at an additional cost, all the applications we have covered here are completely free.

SHARE SPREADSHEET DATA ONLINE WITH NUM SUM


1. First things first, you need to sign up and download a small enabling applet. Head to www.numsum.com and fill in your chosen username at the registration page. Enter a valid email address, then you can verify your identity by cutting and pasting the link from the confirmation email into your web browser.


2. Click on Create New Spreadsheet and, when Num Sum brings up a blank table of cells, enter a name for it. Num Sum offers fields for you to describe what the content relates to and to add tags to make it easier to find once you've created several spreadsheets. We added our business name and the service that we sell.


3. Having saved the spreadsheet, add categories and data. Num Sum data is public unless you specify otherwise. Click on the blue Share link at the bottom right and, in the pop-up window, select Private and hit Save. You'll then return to this screen to send out invites to colleagues or friends.


4. As with programs such as Excel, you can resize columns depending on the amount of information you need to squeeze in, or edit other layout elements. Clicking on the colored 'abc' icon lets you alter color properties, while the drop-down arrow to the left of the Cells button enables you to add more columns and rows.


5. For the sake of customer confidentiality, we have deliberately used job, cost and commission codes in this example. And we've been thrifty with details that may identify our clients, again for privacy reasons. This approach is essential for any information shared online.


6. Once you're happy with the details in your spreadsheet, save it and return to the Share window. Enter the usernames for existing Num Sum users or invitees' email addresses, separated by a comma. A field below this one lets you import email addresses from one or more spreadsheets. To share via RSS click the XML button.


TIPS & TRICKS

STOP YOUR SECRETS GETTING OUT

You may use one of the free applications we've mentioned to share spreadsheets, but the chances are that Excel is what you'll create them in the majority of the time. Keeping confi dential elements private is important when distributing them. To prevent any of your sensitive details being printed, hold down <Ctrl> to select non-adjacent cells, or drag across neighbouring cells, then rightclick one of the borders and click Hide. To unhide all rows or columns, Select All to highlight the entire worksheet, right-click on a column/row header and choose Unhide.


HELPFUL DOWNLOADS

ONLINE SPREADSHEETS

Google Spreadsheets is an online spreadsheet tool with more charting options than Num Sum. You'll find it at labs.google.com.

CLEVER CALENDAR

A handy online application used by various PC World staffers is 30 boxes. It lets us post details of press events, or which colleague has wrangled a day's break. Once you've registered, you can send out e-mails to invite colleagues to share their diaries with you (www.30boxes.com).

GET A NEW VIEW IN EXCEL

If you have a newer version of Excel than your colleagues, they can use Microsoft's free Excel Viewer 2003 to display and print any version (www.microsoft.com/downloads).

FREE ALTERNATIVE

If you can't afford Microsoft Office, but need to use office apps, including spreadsheets and word processing (that's also compatible with the Microsoft suite), then try OpenOffice 2. Its free, and you can find it at www.openoffice.org.

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