I first profiled a Web 2.0 office in early September and since then more web-based office products have surfaced. Peter Rip posted recently that he's now "bumped into an alpha or beta Web-incarnation for every Microsoft desktop product". He says most are AJAX, but some are Flash or Flex-based (both Macromedia products).
Peter thinks desktop apps are on the way out, because "no one works at their desktop anymore." While he rightly points out that office people are spending more and more time on the Net, I don't agree with his conclusion that this necessarily signals the end of desktop apps - yet. A recent Computerworld article states that laptops will soon replace the desktop as the preferred business PC, citing mobility as the main reason for this trend. Microsoft office products - and increasingly OpenOffice and other open source desktop programs - will continue to be used on both laptop and desktop PCs for the forseeable future. The reason is the advanced and wide ranging functionality they offer, together with perceived stability in an office environment.
However I do think that long-term, the writing is on the wall for desktop office applications. Once the current crop of alpha and beta web-based office products reach a level of maturity, they will be ready to challenge Microsoft for the minds and pockets of consumers. One of the keys is achieving the level of functionality that Microsoft Office undeniably has. But there are also issues of online security and reliability that web-based apps will need to address, in time. Office apps are just too important to corporate productivity for CIOs and IT managers to entrust their businesses with web-based apps, without complete confidence in their functionality (ability to do the job efficiently) and performance (security and uptime).
The time for the web-based office will come, mark my words. When broadband is ubiquitous, web functionality is richer, issues of security and reliability have been put to rest, and most importantly of all - when Corporates are ready to make the jump. It may be 5-10 years down the track, it may be longer. For now, let's take a look at the current crop of promising web-based office apps and hope a few of them last the distance.
Ones I mentioned in my initial post:
Writely - "The Web Word Processor" (note that for creating documents, it uses an HTML editor and then converts to Word format)
FCKeditor is also an MS Word-like web app. It's open source too.
gOFFICE - "a browser-based online word processor and desktop publishing program"
Num Sum - web-based spreadsheets - except only the author of a spreadsheet can edit it.
Kiko - Online calendar solution powered by Ajax.
Gmail and now the new Yahoo! Mail (Microsoft is rumored to be working on a Hotmail upgrade, codenamed Kahuna)
called S5 - web-based Powerpoint
Webnote - web-based version of Microsoft's OneNote
thinkfree - online Office suite
Openomy - online file-system
Feel free to add more web-based office apps in the comments below. Better yet, tell me if you agree with my prediction that web-based office apps will eventually displace desktop office apps.