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I look at the potential, and risks, of applications such as Google Docs & Spreadsheets, and Zoho.

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This is Leo Notenboom for

I was asked the other day for my opinion on web or server based applications such as Zoho, Google Docs & Spreadsheets and others.

These applications take what we traditionally think of as desktop of computer based applications and move them to the web. For example, forget downloading or installing a word processing application, just use something like Google Docs - an on-line word processor that needs only your internet browser, with Javascript enabled, to run.

It all sounds very intriguing, doesn't it?

In fact, we've been moving in a web-centric direction for some time now. Just look at how email has evolved over time. Many people don't even have an email program installed at all, relying instead on services like GMail, Hotmail, or web interfaces to their ISP's provided email services.

The question shouldn't be "are web-based applications any good?", the real question is more like "what situations are the good for?". Just like web-based email has its own set of pros and cons, so to do other web-based applications.

The biggest difference you might notice when using, for example, a web based word processor, might simply be functionality. Since the on-line equivalent applications tend to be somewhat stripped down versions of their desktop counterparts, certain feature that you've come to expect might not be present. For example I've uploaded a fairly complex existing Microsoft Word document into Google Docs, and while I was very impressed by what it did handle, it still did miss several formatting issues that would require much effort to work around. Then again, for simple use you might not notice or care.

Also like email, there's a concern is uploading or creating sensitive data on a third party service. Consider that Google can "see" everything on their servers including your GMail, and your documents. Again, you may not care - I know I don't, I'm sure Google has other things to worry about than my boring documents.

And finally, I'll reiterate my biggest concern of all: if you lose access to your Google account (or Zoho, or whatever service you use), you run the risk of losing all your documents unless you have them backed up. Similarly, should your account be compromised, everything in it will be visible to the hacker that gains access.

I do believe that on-line applications have a future, just as online mail services do today, particularly as features sets and capabilities mature. But I also believe that they will remain one tool of many, useful for some applications and inappropriate for others.

I'd love to hear what you think. Visit and enter 11014 in the go to article number box and leave me a comment. While you're there, search over 1,000 technical questions and answers on the site.

Till next time, I'm Leo Notenboom, for

Article C2878 - December 23, 2006 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

December 29, 2006 9:05 PM

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December 30, 2006 4:55 AM

I can see web based applications being useful for remote access to simple documents. I often keep various word and excel files in my gmail account for easy access when on the road (I can email with my cellphone) for easy forwarding etc. Being able to use the web browser on my phone to open and edit a document then send it on would be a very handy tool for making quick alterations when I don't have my laptop handy.

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