I keep telling my significant other that he's lucky to have his own computer consultant in-house. But when his computer, one of my hand me downs still running Windows 98, started having problems, I started to sweat. His email archives had disappeared, and it was my responsibility to track them down. If I failed, my name would be mud. I managed to recover the email files, but it was a traumatic experience for both of us.
That's when it occurred to me. All he really uses is email and Microsoft Word. He needs only the most basic features. Why not have him use Google Docs instead of Word, and Gmail, or Yahoo Mail instead of Thunderbird? I'd never have to worry about lost data again! And with that revelation I better understood the threat Microsoft sees in Google.
Google Docs & Spreadsheets is an online, fairly stripped down, version of Word & Excel. The features are minimal, but most of us have minimal needs, especially at home. These apps aren't suitable for power users, and to some extent, business users, but for a fairly large number of people, they might be more than adequate.
They're also powerful collaboration tools. You and a selected few can view and edit documents at the same time and changes can be tracked. This online collaboration is something that you can't do with Word.
For example, I used Google Docs to write my article for Law Librarians in the New Millennium. When I had a first draft, I gave rights to the editor, so he could take a look and see if I was on the right track. When I was done, I didn't attach and send a file, I just notified the editor that it was compete, and he could feel free to grab it from Google Docs.
When I recently worked on a joint project with some friends, we collaborated on a document on Google Docs. I created the document, then invited them to view and edit. While on a conference call, we each made changes that were immediately seen by the others. There was no need for a web conference since we were working live in the document. It was very cool.
Google isn't the only one going down this road. Zoho has a full suite, geared towards business and home use, including project management and presentation apps, email, chat, a wiki, even a database module.
If this is all sounding a little bit familiar, you may be flashing back to the '90's, when Sun Microsystems introduced their "thin client" network PC (NetPC). Data and programs ran off of a central computer using Java. Most of the computing power was on the server, not the PC . These were the days before broadband became popular, and this idea never took off, at least partially because the price of desktop PCs dropped, leaving the NetPC as only slightly cheaper and thereby negating their main advantage.
But it seems that everything old is new again. With the recent advent of Ajax for web programming, developers can make these kinds of applications work more llike the ones on on your desktop. Considering how complex personal computers have become, the idea of not dealing with backups or software upgrades starts to sound more and more appealing.
I haven't yet moved my SO to the web. He doesn't tolerate change well, and since I recently purchased a new computer, again passing along my older computer to him, things have settled down a bit. But sometime soon, I'll encourage him over to a specially selected group of applications on the web. Possible data loss won't ever come between us again.