A web application is a program run over the internet via a browser. So, for example, Writely is a full-featured word processor accessible via the web. The advantage of Writely, as with all web applications, is that you can use the program and access your data from anywhere in the world and on any computer.
An early type of web application was web-based email. Yahoo! Mail, MSN Hotmail, and GMail are examples. But recently we’ve seen the advent of full office suites. In addition to Writely there are Thinkfree, Zoho Writer, Google Spreadsheets, Picasa Photo Editor, Google Calendar, and Google Base (among others). Microsoft, obviously a bit worried about this competition, is planning to make their Works office suite available via the web.
Web applications are catching on—even in the Chad’s News household. I’ve switched mail programs from Outlook Express to Gmail. I did it for the spam filtering, but it’s also nice to be able to check email whenever I’m out of town. I also switched RSS readers from Habari Xenu to Bloglines.
One of the big negatives for web applications is that you’re trusting precious data to a third party. Using Gmail, for example, I have no way of backing up my email data and I’m trusting Google to maintain it in perpetuity. I’m also trusting Google to not go out of business. (This can be a real issue. I have a friend who hosted digital photos in an online repository that went out of business with almost no notice. He happened to be offline for a few weeks, and by the time he got back online it was too late to retrieve his data.) There are also privacy concerns when using a web service for confidential data.
Another negative is that web applications rarely have all of the features found in a dedicated program. For most people this will not be a issue, but power users may run into problems.
Web applications are here to stay, and they’re gaining in popularity. Expect to see them used more frequently.
(Thanks to Josh for the idea behind this article.)
Copyright © 2006 by Chad Cloman