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These days virtually everyone is in touch with Cloud Computing. In fact, most of us are relying on it to some degree. The internet, metaphorically referred to as “the cloud”, produces ever more Web 2.0 applications that enable us to take our lives online. We don’t write diaries – we blog. We don’t call to share news – we twitter. We meet friends through social networks, and our busy calendars are readily available online.

Ultimately, the cloud will be able to replace a majority of everyday programs on local desktop computers. This brings freedom and convenience in that we don’t have to buy expensive software, we can access our data wherever we go, and we don’t have to worry about updates or security, since it’s all taken care of by the providers. The danger of course is loss of control over your privacy and data, and potential consequences are data piracy or identity theft. What if the service fails and data cannot be accessed? Imagine the internet went down, all hell would break loose. These are just some of the scenarios to be considered.

While at this point it may not be advisable to transfer your whole life to a cloud, detaching from a desktop computer may actually have great advantages, such as retaining a great deal of independence. So after starting with a somewhat lengthy introduction, let me provide you with a short list of online software alternatives to popular desktop applications.

Microsoft Word becomes Zoho

Zoho is, without a doubt, one of the most complete online office suites available to date. Zoho comes with a word processor, spreadsheets, presentation tool, note taker, organizer, project management, web conferencing and much, much more.

Other than that it provides plugins for MS Office, MS Outlook, Firefox, and IE to ensure you’re not locked up with this service, but can take your files out of the cloud to create backups or avoid online storage.

Microsoft PowerPoint becomes Preezo

If you don’t want to rely on Zoho to replace your whole office suite, here is an alternative for PowerPoint worth mentioning. Preezo is an Ajax-based web application to create and share professional presentations over the web without the need for software or plugins installed on your computer. It totally looks and works like PowerPoint and you can import or export .ppt files. Perfect.

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Microsoft Excel becomes EditGrid or [NO LONGER WORKS] ChartAll

Not quite Excel but close. EditGrid is one of the most comprehensive online spreadsheet providers. Another possible alternative, much simpler but therefore not requiring you to sign up, is chartAll.

MS Outlook becomes Google Mail

What more do I need to say? At this point we are stuck with Google because to my knowledge there is not a worthy alternative to GMail.

If you would like to learn more about GMail, and let me tell you there is a lot you probably don’t know about it yet, search Make Use Of for some great articles! Or go directly to our Gmail tag.

Microsoft OneNote becomes LinoIt or Springnote

LinoIt is an online pinboard to which you can stick your notes to. You can have multiple canvases for multiple purposes, make them public or share them with specific users. The stickies can serve as reminders or to-to lists, organizing and customizing stickies is easy, and you can post new ones by eMail.

If you’re looking for more advanced note taking, give Springnote a try, which I reviewed in detail Advanced Online Note Taking Made Easy Advanced Online Note Taking Made Easy Read More several weeks ago.

Adobe Photoshop becomes Splashup or PhotoShop Express

Websites like Photoshop Express or Splashup Who Needs Photoshop When You Can Have Splashup? Who Needs Photoshop When You Can Have Splashup? Read More may not be a complete or worthy replacement for Adobe’s Photoshop. However, they provide a very familiar interface and cover more than just the most basic photo editing tools. Definitely better than fiddling with some crappy desktop application (e.g. the Windows default), when Photoshop is not available.

Instant Messengers become Meebo

Meebo allows instant messaging through all popular messengers via your browser. It supports AIM, Yahoo!, MSN, Google Talk, and more.

Simon wrote about Meebo and two more web-based IM clients 3 Web-Based IM Clients For Chatting The Night Away 3 Web-Based IM Clients For Chatting The Night Away Read More back in July this year.

Your Desktop Online

Back in March I wrote about online desktops (aka Web Os) Eight Ways To Get Yourself An Online Desktop Eight Ways To Get Yourself An Online Desktop Read More . As pointed out in the comments, this may not make sense for most people. However, to retain a familiar desktop environment with shortcuts and wallpapers, it may be quite nice to have. It’s those seemingly superfluous things that make life great.

Now that you know some alternatives to desktop applications, let me say this: It may be convenient to use Google for everything, but unless there is absolutely no better alternative, don’t. Keep a variety and make your private cloud rest on more than just one foot. Last but not least, keep backups!

How far into Cloud Computing are you, and which services would you rather not trust anonymous providers with?

  1. Dylan
    September 25, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    I noticed a lack of media player alternatives on this list. Where's the Last.fm entry?

  2. Biljana Pesevska
    August 20, 2008 at 5:40 am

    I completely agree with Tina. The technology advances with amazing pace! The applications you are mentioning are not yet developed enough, however check on them in about a year from now, I bet that more than half of them will be fully developed with some "crazy" features.
    The web 2.0 revolution has just started and that's why there is no know-how, everyone learns from the mistake they make.
    I for example couldn't imagine my work without Delicious, Gmail, Facebook, ProjectOffice.net, Netvibes...

  3. Alice McLane
    August 18, 2008 at 2:28 am

    Tina,
    You could add "MS Project becomes Wrike". We recently released Wrike's enterprise version and introduced some really great features, that make online project management even more efficient than before. The cool part is we even provide an option to painlessly transfer all the data from your MS Project file to Wrike. It will take just about 2 minutes of your time.

  4. Joe
    August 16, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    What is your problem with putting all your eggs into one basket (ie Google). For one google, is reliable (for me I've never had a problem) and stable. Putting everything into Google allows for easy cross-filing. (ie. opening email attachments into google docs). What can be said of some of these other startups? I tried using Humyo for some data and I've had a number of files become corrupt and undownloadable, while also being completely insecure. Their PC Client is garbage and unusable. Who knows where those people will be in 5 years.

    I put everything into Google, and run backups, because unlike other providers, Google lets you take your data and export it. So many cloud services take your data and hold you hostage once you try to get it out.

    GigaOM= get real and stop telling us what to do with our internets.

    • Tina
      August 17, 2008 at 5:31 am

      @ C.M. White
      We are in the middle of a digital revolution. 100 years ago almost no one had a phone, thirty years ago almost no one had a mobile phone, twenty-five years ago almost no one had a private computer, fifteen years ago almost no one had internet at home. Look at the world now. Within the past 30 years mobile phones, computers, the internet, and handhelds with internet access have become a matter of course. Technology is making advances exponentially, not gradually. Even third world countries are catching up with a breathtaking speed.
      Where do you think are we going to be 10 years from now?

      @ Transcontinental
      Revolutions are always tough to swallow. In fact, cloud computing already is a reality. Many of the youngest internet users access the internet from many different places - home, friends', school or library computers. Look at the success of MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Blogger, etc. etc. etc. This generation routinely uses online networks and online data storage. This is also the generation that is going to shape the future.
      I think it will become increasingly uncomfortable to swim against the mainstream. Of course "old school" computing will not disappear, just like cash payments and postal letters are still in use. So relax, there are many shades of gray.

      @ Maximillian
      I agree. But do you really think that if they want to read your eMail they are not already doing it? You have to use the internet to send mail and someone else has to use the internet to receive your mail. eMails are passing through servers, very likely servers located in the US, and no matter how well your eMails are encrypted (if you use encryption at all), if someone wants to read it, they will be able to crack the encryption sooner rather than later.
      I think it's naive to believe that you can escape big brother. The only thing you can do to make it tough for big brother to use anything against you, is to remain unpredictable, use proxies, mask your browsing habits if you will or flood him with data, and use old school technology for stuff that is seriously confidential.
      On the other hand, I hope that big brother isn't all that interested in me. After all I'm just one out of roughly 7 billion people. If they delivered tailored ads to my desktop, I couldn't care less. My taste varies, my preferences develop, and my thoughts are free. :)

      @ Joe
      I have no problem with Google, I just don't like the flavor of monopolists and that's where Google is going. And just how boring would this post have been had I recommended Google for everything, when great alternatives (that - by the way - do allow to export files) are available?

  5. Transcontinental
    August 15, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    There is a point which seems strange to me, and that I feel as having been implicitly expressed in this article : the fact that cloud computing is an unavoidable reality of tomorrow's computing. I'm not saying I wish so, neither that I think it is good or not, but that it is unavoidable.

    Three arguments against.

    One is that online applications at this time are not as functional, or at least as convenient as their desktop equivalents. Perhaps. This is only a practical argument.

    The second critic is that of reliability. What happens to data when if the Cloud vanishes? Well, backups as it is mentioned here. The idea is backup, wherever be the originals, on the Cloud or on the desktop. Ok!

    Last, and that is my feeling more than my truth, the idea of confidentiality. I am myself somewhere between paranoia and lucidity, at least concerning privacy, mine and that of my documents. When Gmail reads my mails to deliver corresponding advertisements, I ask myself if my paranoia is not lucidity ; when I wonder what may be done of a company's documents comfortably lying on a Cloud, I do admit wondering if that lucidity is not closer to paranoia. Still, whatever it be, I am not, how to say, confident. But, are my doubts not related to the uncertainty of a new computing dimension yet to fully expand in coming times, where we would not more worry of our documents being looked at than we do nowadays of our phone calls being listened ? No idea.

    To conclude, I wish that whatever arises, it be true progress and not a logical continuation on a wrong path. Not only do I ignore what tomorrow will be, I moreover ignore what it should be.

    • Maximillian
      August 16, 2008 at 4:55 am

      I dont think I am ready (or ever will be) to trust my personal life, browsing habits, emails or anything that can be used against me to any private or gvernment organization that is subjected to public law. Especially, when it comes to US companies.

  6. C. M. White
    August 15, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    This is all well and good, but I haven't seen an online application that offers the convenience and fluidity of a desktop app. Sadly, the best options for Office alternatives seem to be Abiword or StarOffice, both of which are clunky, buggy, and under-developed at best...inoperable at worst. Why is there so much emphasis on web 2.0 apps? As someone who doesn't always have an internet connection, I don't see what advantage they really have over offline apps.

    • Aibek
      August 16, 2008 at 4:52 am

      I also prefer desktop apps towards the web-based ones, but only when it's faster and pleasant in design. I guess most of Adobe Air apps fit this description. In case anyone interested check out

      4 Ways to run your Favorite Web App from the Desktop

  7. Art Gelwicks
    August 15, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    I'll have to throw two cents in and suggest Evernote as the alternative for OneNote. With the ability to import OneNote files, synchronize with the Evernote web site, and provide mobile access, it's got a complete offering both local and cloud based.

  8. Guillermo
    August 15, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    With FireFox, Meebo and Google I'm done and more than please... So my only hope is for Google to continue doing business for a long time (or at least until I have a back up of all these docs out there!)

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