Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Price of Zero – Web Edition

Why the Web?

Zoho Two posts ago I talked about using free and open source versions of popular software. In that list I deliberately avoided web-based solutions. By web-based I don’t mean software you get from the internet as everyone of the offerings can be downloaded from the web. Web-based software is web-resident software – software the you use inside of a web browser.

Why would any Nigerian resident want to use web-resident software? We generally have slow spotty internet connectivity that cannot be depended on to stay online. Some ISPs claim to offer guaranteed connections with fatter data pipes. These offerings are not really all they are advertised to be, are unreliable and rather expensive. We all wait to see what GLO-1 will bring to the table, until then web-based doesn’t seem very attractive. Yet there are benefits that could make you consider them.

First a web-based solution means you are not tied to a specific computer. Many web-based software not only provide you with the functionality on the internet, but also provide you document storage online too. So you can go anywhere, use any computer and as long you have an internet connection, you can work. You can even access many of them on your cell-phone.

Secondly, you gain the benefit of more robust backup for your data. You create documents online, if you lose your computer in some way, you just need to get another one and logon.

Third, updates are handled by the provider. For the more technically oriented ones among us we are aware of constantly having to get the latest updates and installing the newest patches. With web-based software you get the latest functionality without lifting a finger. Having said that one piece of software that you do need to update often enough is the web browser itself, but most of them make it pretty easy to do. Mostly a two click process.

Another great benefit is that the people with different computer configurations can access the software. So someone with a netbook and someone with an mobile workstation can use the same tools equally well. Someone with a Windows-based computer can use the same tools as someone with a Mac, Linux or Unix computer.

Lastly, most web-based software have collaboration and online communication built-in enabling multiple people in multiple locations work together on the same thing without ever actually meeting each other. You can do that with some computer-based software but that kind of feature is native to many web-based software.

Of course, as we said about the desktop software, you may not get the same range of features that you get from the non-free versions, but you very often get all the features you actually, truly need.

So without further ado let’s look at a few examples.

 Zoho (Alternative to Microsoft Office).

Zoho is a one of the most comprehensive web-based office alternatives out there. Zoho has a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation tool, a calendaring tool, a web conferencing tool, a document management system and email. In my opinion, it is even better than the better known Google Docs.

SnapPages (Alternative to FrontPage, Dreamweaver, etc).

SnapPages is one of many tools that enable you develop pretty sleek looking web-pages without professional skills and too much effort. There are actually a lot of tools out there that you can use to bring smooth looking sites to the world. Many of the blog services, Blogger, WordPress or TypePad provide templates that you can implement with a minimum of pain. Of course, If you want a web address that is not attached to some other company’s name like digitalcrossings.blogspot.com, you need to spend some money – though not much – to get a unique name like www.digital-crossings.com.

Gantter (Alternative to Microsoft Project).

Anyone who has to do any amount of project planning has used Microsoft Project. Zoho has a project tool, but I don’t think it is one of their free tools. Gantter immediately loads into a very familiar project planning layout and you’re off and running.

The list could go on and on. If you have some that you use, how about sharing them with us?