Applications You Don't Have to Install to Use

By: Daniel Koepke - Posted: 2009-04-09
You may have heard the term, Web 2.0, over the past few years.  As with most things technical, buzzwords emerge and get used profusely, but by the time they actually get to the mainstream, a lot of what they meant is lost.  For an in-depth definition, read this article.  The basic idea of Web 2.0 is using the internet as an application platform.  Instead of software packages the end-user installs, the software and data resides on the internet and has a simple, lightweight interface.  Nothing to install, just open your web browser and you have all that you need.
So, this month, I'll take a look at some of the best Web 2.0 applications that I have found.  Most of them I have used on a regular, daily basis.  The others, I have tested and really like, but just haven't made the jump to move from what I am currently using.
You can't spend too much time working on a computer before you run into a situation where you need a word processor or a spreadsheet, right?  Both Google Docs and Zoho provide these applications (as well as a whole lot more, but I'll stick to just these two).  I've used both services quite extensively and oddly enough, I don't have a preference.  I have some documents and spreadsheets on both services, but at some point, I'm sure to consolidate down to one.
I have found both easy to use and quite intuitive if you are used to Microsoft Word and Excel.  Now you will obviously not have all the same features as a desktop application, but I have yet to run into a situation where the web app was missing something I needed to do.  On the flip side, you get some benefits of using a web app, such as online storage and easy sharing.  Online storage is not for everyone, but it won't be long until its so common that no one will think twice about it.  And as an alternative, you can always download the file to your local machine.  Sharing is really easy and if you have ever needed to colloborate on a document or get some additional reviews, you'll really get a lot of use out of the sharing functionality.
Both services are 100% free, by the way.  So, if you are worried about spending hundreds of dollars for Microsoft Office or don't want to try installing a ton of software on your home computer, giving one of these web apps a try may be just the solution you are looking for.
I actually found this little web app a few months ago while I was looking for a better way to organize my projects and improve my communication follow-ups with clients.  Stixy is marketed as an online bulletin board.  It provides four basic features: sticky notes, photos, documents and to-do lists.  I've been using the sticky notes and to-do lists quite a bit.  To get started, you create a new stixy board and then drag and drop one of the four features (also called widgets) onto the board.  Sticky notes and to-do lists are pretty straightforward.  You drag them onto your stixy board and then type what you want on them.  The photos and documents prompt you to attach a file.
Now I have only used this to organize my own work, but Stixy is built to be a collaborative tool.  You can share each of your stixy boards with other people, allowing them to comment on a photo album, add to your to-do list or upload their own photos and documents.
There are many uses I can see with this type of tool, so your imagination is your only limit.  Stixy is completely free, so there is no investment to give this a try.
If you are like me, then you have a handful of IM accounts.  Yahoo, AIM and ICQ, to mention a few.  Now there are already ways to combine them in one app (Trillian comes to mind), but you have to install that on your computer.  Meebo does the same thing, supports about every chat program, but does so all in a web browser.
Now you have to setup another account, but its free.  To finish the setup, you just enter all your chat account information into Meebo and then you are connected to all services.  So if you find yourself on a foreign computer, just open up a web browser and sign into Meebo.  No more worrying about installing a program on a friend's computer or losing touch with your chat buddies!
This is a really cool financial tracking web app.  I've played with it off and on for a few years, but haven't yet converted all our finances to it.  Our family uses Microsoft Money to track all of our finances and it has been an indispensable tool to help us budget, pay off debts, track investments or just get a simple, single look at all our finances on one page.  Mint does all the same things, but also allows you to connect to each of your accounts and pull in the information for you.  Microsoft Money has some similar features, but since we are using the version that came out in 2000, not all our accounts are compatible.
As with most web apps, security is always a topic of concern.  But Mint is aware of that and has taken precautions to make you feel as safe as possible.  When you sign up for an account, it is completely anonymous.  The application doesn't know your name, social security number, account numbers or PINs.  It also uses the same level of security that banks use to protect and store data.  Finally, no money can be moved through Mint.  It is a read-only service that just allows you to track and analyze your finances.
If you are looking to get more control over your finances, Mint offers you some really great tools.  Its free, so you don't have to invest any money in order to give it a spin.  If you haven't used anything like this before, take your time, read and understand how to set up your accounts and how to use the software.  I know the first time I started using Microsoft Money, there was a pretty decent learning curve and a couple of months before everything made sense.  But, it was well worth it to have more control and understanding of my money.  Mint will have a similar learning curve.  You will be amazed at how much it can help.
More to Explore
I've touched on the web apps that I have used and found, but there are so many more out there.  The Webware 2008 Award-Winners are here.  There are 96 more web apps listed there for you to try.  Many of them are usable at no cost, so its worth checking this list before purchasing something off-the-shelf.  You may be surprised by how capable some of these web apps are.
As computer usage and processing power increases over time, the trends developing show us moving towards a more internet-based computing style.  From storage to streaming data, we are starting to see more and more usage of web apps for solutions that used to be reserved for desktop only applications.  It may only be a matter of time before the processing hardware sitting on your desk fits in the palm of your hand and almost everything is a web app or web service that your interact with through a web browser.
I hope you get a chance to try out some of these apps and share any feedback you have.  I am always on the lookout for some new and useful application that can make my life easier or more productive.  Feel free to drop me an E-mail at or start a thread on the FWM Forums.  I look forward to hearing how your experience with Web 2.0 has been.

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