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Last Updated: Friday, 20 April 2007, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
Web 2.0 wave starts to take hold
Ian Hardy
By Ian Hardy
Click's North America technology correspondent

Whether you use your computer for work or fun, the programs you use generally have one thing in common - they are stored on your PC. Increasingly though, that software is moving online.

Google Labs logo
Google has made a variety of programs available online

The move to put more and more of those familiar programs on to the web has been happening for a while but its latest incarnation has won the name of Web 2.0.

What is it - the definition is imprecise at best, but it loosely describes a category of websites that are known for interactivity, collaboration and community.

Developments in underlying web technology make this all possible and mean that what the sites can do is very new. Simplicity is often the key. Often it is an online application that does one thing and does it well.

CNET.com's Caroline McCarthy has a few favourites: "I have just started using a new site called Remember The Milk, which is a task manager. It's incredibly simple, a very easy to use list of things you have to do, places you have to go, things you have to buy, that sort of thing.

"Clipmarks is a site where you can just share clips or portions of a website rather than the entire bookmark, so it's good for quotations.

"Tumblr is basically a blogging platform for people who don't want to use a blogging platform. If you look at things like Wordpress and Blogger, which a lot of people use to create blogs, they're very functional. Tumblr is very simple."

Picturedots is a good example of the creativity that the so-called 2.0 sites display. You load in a photograph, trace the numbered dots on top of the image and print out the final result as a puzzle.

In a basic way it demonstrates how web browsers are gradually being used by consumers for far more than just looking around in cyberspace.

"The idea of using your web browser as a tool is still a fairly new concept," explained Mark Chackerian of Picturedots.

"I'm an internet professional, for me my browser is like a Swiss Army Knife; I use it for a lot of things and in a much greater capacity than most people.

"So for me to find a way to demonstrate to people how they can use their browser to do new kinds of things, makes me part of that new trend."

A future online?

As people gravitate to the internet for more and more free services and solutions the web browser could become the central window through which our daily lives are conducted, potentially replacing most desktop applications.

Adobe office in San Jose
They know it's going to be a big part of their companies in 10 years
Nick Thompson, Wired Magazine

Software giants like Microsoft and Adobe have been launching their own online applications, some of which resemble their well-known retail titles.

Adobe has released a stripped-down web version of its video editing software, called Remix, and later this year plans to launch an internet version of its very successful photo manipulation program, Photoshop.

"Microsoft and Adobe are in a bind," says Nick Thompson, senior editor of Wired Magazine. "They make tons of money from the software they sell in shrink-wrapped boxes. But they also know that the future is online software. So what do they do?

"I think they're doing two things. I think they are genuinely trying to figure out how to make this work, because they know it's going to be a big part of their companies in 10 years.

"But they're also trying to keep their current customers happy, and they're trying not to make it look like you should switch immediately because maybe you should buy that one last Office upgrade."

Meanwhile Google has been building an entire suite of free online applications over the past few years.

Docs and Spreadsheets is a product that most consumers could happily use instead of Microsoft Office, with multi-user, location free collaboration being an added benefit.

Advertisers' advantage

The key question is whether online software is of genuine use to the consumer or is just about advertising revenue.

"There will always be people who say that this is just a mechanism to get more eyeballs on our ads," says Jonathan Rochelle of Google.

"But I don't think people see that, and I certainly don't see that as evil, as a bad thing. If that was the case and we ended up getting more people to look at our ads it's not necessarily a bad thing."

One incentive for companies to supply online software is compatibility. In one go all customers can be upgraded to the newest version and create files that are universally compatible, unlike different generations of Word documents.

"Another advantage of online software is that the companies can track exactly what you do and how you use it. Then they can target specifically to you," said Mr Thompson.

"If you send a lot of e-mails about they'll know that maybe you're trying to buy a cellphone, and they can serve you ads on cellphones.

"So the companies really like it, and it's to the companies' advantage for the software to work extremely well and for you to use it all the time because then they get more information and then they can sell you more stuff."

To older users of desktop applications, who are usually more cautious about their online activity, this might seem disconcerting, but for younger computer users, the MySpace generation who freely flaunt the details of their personal lives, it might be not be such a big deal.



SEE ALSO
Microsoft goes on web offensive
16 Nov 06 |  Technology
Google to target software market
28 Aug 06 |  Business
Google charges for web programs
22 Feb 07 |  Technology

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