| By Ian “Gizmo” Richards |
You’re probably familiar with Web-based apps such as Google Calendar and Flickr, but there are dozens of useful, though less-known, Internet apps available for free.
Some of these superb apps offer an excellent alternative to installing expensive, specialized utilities on your PC.
The silver lining in the Internet cloud
The forecast for cloud computing has been — you’ll pardon me — hazy for years. However, Google’s Chrome operating system (in beta) could finally give cloud computing real impetus.
In a Chrome world, applications don’t live on your local hard drive — instead, they live out in the Internet cloud on some remote server. Click your spreadsheet icon, and it comes down through the Chrome browser and then lives on your PC only as long as needed. Want to quickly edit a few digital snapshots? Pull a photo editor down from the cloud. Even your data would reside on a remote server.
This webcentric scenario assumes there are many online services (not just Google) offering a smorgasbord of browser-based apps — all with power and features comparable to the programs installed on your PC today. Applications will become smaller but more numerous (no more mega-apps), making them ideal for relatively low-powered Netbooks and Pad PCs.
The good news is that you don’t have to wait for the Chrome OS. There are dozens of richly featured and free Web-based applications available now, and they run fine on a garden-variety Windows PC (or any other OS with a browser, for that matter). The following are a few examples I’ve found particularly useful.
Quick-and-easy flow charting and diagramming
Cacoo (in beta; site) is an excellent online drawing tool for creating flow charts, network diagrams, office layouts, wire frames, and the like. It runs directly in your browser, but you do have to set up an account.