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Are Web-based Applications any Good?

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

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

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

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2 comments on “Are Web-based Applications any Good?”

  1. 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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