11 Web Applications that are Ready for Primetime

I’m looking forward to the day I can use any computer with a web connection to be as productive as I am on my own computer. Most websites that try to replace desktop applications fall far short off their counterparts. In the meantime, here’s what’s ready and what’s not:

Ready to Use:

  1. Gmail – this one is obvious and nothing new. With well over 2gb of space I’ve completely stopped using a desktop mail client. I have about 6 email accounts and all go through Gmail. It’s nice getting it all in one place.
  2. Google Talk – while Google Talk isn’t as full featured as other IM clients, it has one great feature–logs are saved to Gmail and searchable right within Gmail. This is the case whether you use Google Talk from the web interface in Gmail or from a desktop client.
  3. Meebo – IM in the browser with meebo feels almost as natural as IM in a desktop client. Meebo is great for friends who don’t use Google Talk since it supports AIM, Yahoo, Jabber and others. It also saves chat logs, though they aren’t searchable yet. I’m not sure how meebo makes money since there are no ads, but I’m sure that will come.
  4. Google Spreadsheets – I’ve seen complaints that it’s not as full featured as it could be, but for the type of spreadsheets I make, it’s perfect. I love being able to collaborate in realtime on spreadsheets and even chat with people in the same browser window as the spreadsheet. I am a pretty basic spreadsheet user, but for me it’s already replaced Excel.
  5. NetVibes – I recently switched from Google’s custom homepage to Netvibes. I went kicking and screaming, but the tabbed pages, more compact interface and a few other things made their customizable homepage better for getting the news and reading blogs than Google’s. I guess this really isn’t a desktop app replacement, but it’s great to be able to log into it anywhere get a quick news fix.
  6. Google Calendar – this has completely replaced my desktop calendar application. It is full featured and integrates nicely with Gmail. Inviting others to events and sharing calendars is simple. Overall a very well done web application.
  7. Bloglines – there are a million blog aggregators out there. Bloglines was one of the first and is still the best. Some of the more interesting desktop aggregators let you sync your feeds so you can read them within the browser or within the desktop application but they still seem like more of a hassle than they’re worth. Why not just do it all from the browser?
  8. Remember the Milk – I defy anyone to find a faster, more featured to-do manager than Remember the Milk. It it excellent. Complete with keyboard shortcuts it makes managing to-do lists simple and much more pleasant than any desktop to-do list I’ve tried.
  9. Basecamp – This one is fairly specific to web development type projects, but Basecamp has been perfect for managing projects. I can’t even imagine going to MS Project after using it. The simplicity and effectiveness of Basecamp is excellent. Basecamp is the only one that I don’t pay for out of the list.
  10. Google Notebook – I use this for storing bits of information on random things. It’s been a hard switch from Notational Velocity (which is much better overall) but the convenience of having it all online has made it worth it.
  11. Del.icio.us – It’s been more than a year since I bookmarked anything in a browser. Del.icio.us has completely replaced browser bookmarks making them available wherever I am. Google Search History is also useful and falls in this category.

Almost there:

  1. Writely – I’ve tried using Writely for online word processing a la Microsoft Word, but they still just aren’t quite there. Imported documents don’t maintain all their formatting which is of utmost importance when using a Word Processor (otherwise I’d just make a text file). I’m sure that at some point Google will get Writely up to par, but for now I haven’t made the switch entirely.
  2. Flickr – I love Flickr for managing photos and hesitate to put it in the “almost there” category, but I still don’t feel comfortable enough keeping my photos ONLY on Flickr to say that it has replaced iPhoto or Picasa. Fluxiom looks like it might be featured enough to fully replace Flickr, but none of the plans fit my budget–even the one that costs 89 euros a month only lets you store 3gb of stuff.

Someone make this please:

  1. Online Budgeting – I subscribed to Mvelopes for a month or two but couldn’t get used to the strange Envelope budgeting mentality. I just want something decent with double entry accounting online. The one thing Mvelopes did do extremely well was pull data from all my financial institutions. From Paypal to my bank to my credit card companies, they connected to everything perfectly. They also offer bill pay to companies that don’t accept online bill pay. Mvelopes would be excellent if it weren’t for the whole non-traditional envelope paradigm.
  2. Online CRM – I’ve tried Sugar CRM and looked at Salesforce.com for long enough to know that they are too tedious for me to ever want to use them. I’m looking forward to Sunrise from 37Signals.
  3. Online Outline- I love Omnigraffle, but don’t get to use it as often as I’d like since I’m always going back and forth between Mac and PC. I would really like to see an online outliner that had similar functionality. I’ve tried Sproutliner and some of it’s offshoots but found them to be pretty lacking.

Might never happen:

  1. Photo Editing – I use Photoshop and Illustrator quite a bit for work and play. While there are basic image editing programs online, nothing comes even close to these.
  2. Video Editing – Again, there are basic video editing programs online, but I don’t foresee being able to connect my video camera and edit video in a browser like i would in iMovie or Final Cut.
  3. Text Editing – (programmers only) – TextMate is my choice of text editor. I still see text editing as the domain of desktop applications. Maybe later I’ll go into more details here. When TextMate isn’t available, I’m comfortable using Vim, but to use that I still have to have an SSH client.
  4. Music – Things like Pandora and Last.fm are really nice, but I can’t see anything completely replacing desktop music applications in the near future. It’d be nice if something came along and surprised me though.
  • stefan

    marcus,

    great post, i agree in most cases – but think (obviously, otherwise i wouldnt work for last.fm) you did not quite get the point of what we are working on. its not about “completely replacing desktop music applications in the near future”.
    its about what you are LISTENING to, no matter what digital source – on your pc, mp3, mobile phone, you name it.
    its about SHARING with others (and yourself, remind me what was the song back in that holiday, 10 years ago).
    and its about DISCOVERY, cause the magical sauce of the last.fm community keeps you up with a constant flow of new music – based on your personal taste.
    we are learning out of 10m songs a day – give it a try.

    thanks stefan

  • http://www.marcusvorwaller.com Marcus

    stefan,
    I agree with you–I probably misrepresented what Last.fm does–it’s not somewhere to upload your music and listen to it and thus should not be listed in a post talking about moving from desktop to web apps. Like you said it’s about the community and recommendations.

    Don’t get me wrong though, I love Last.fm –I’ve used it for quite awhile :)

    http://www.last.fm/user/zzzmarcus/

  • http://blog.soundacious.com soundacious

    I finally discovered the joys of GMail just this week. I knew it existed for some time, I’ve even had an account for the past year … but I finally grokked how to get it to rock.

    Everything anywhere, what a wunnerful phrase …

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  • http://www.searchnsniff.com Jonathan Nelson

    “Online Outline- I love Omnigraffle, but don’t get to use it as often as I’d like since I’m always going back and forth between Mac and PC. I would really like to see an online outliner that had similar functionality. I’ve tried Sproutliner and some of it’s offshoots but found them to be pretty lacking.”

    I’ve used an online tool called Gliffy and it works amazingly well. Check it out.

    http://gliffy.com/

  • http://thehaberdashery.wordpress.com Eliza D

    Marcus,
    Good roundup. I will give my support for Basecamp. I use their software to manage three of our non-profit’s projects and it works well with our needs and budget.

  • Mike

    Nice article – It’s a good summation of some really good software.

    For image editing, there’s an open source program that is every bit as good as Photoshop:
    It’s called GIMP – just go to http://www.gimp.org.

    For some other useful (free) software, visit this guy:
    http://www.jasonchen.com/free_software/

  • http://antonio.dsouza.name Tony

    For online budgeting, try SpendingProfile.

  • sasha

    Marcus,
    it's been a while since you posted this article, but if you are still looking for online outliners, try http://checkvist.com, it has some notable keyboard support (create a hierarchical list just as in any desktop editor), and a simple user interface.