While web productivity applications like Google’s Writely are great examples of new and powerful web-based tools, I think it is wrong to first think of them as online equivalents to their PC based brethren. I like Writely not because it is a good word processor (it isn’t compared with Word), but rather because it is hosted on the Internet and allows for easy collaboration among distributed teams. It tracks changes to documents and allows collaborators to monitor those changes passively via RSS. If I want to create a highly presentable document, I will use PC based software like Microsoft Word. Writely is great for creating fairly basic documents that I can share across the Internet, but Writely is not a word processor with capabilities equivalent to Word for laying out professional looking documents.
Another web application I use frequently (more frequently than Writely) is called Helipad. While Writely can be seen as a web-based version of a PC application, Helipad can’t really be compared to anything in the desktop world. With Helipad I can take notes, search for keywords across those notes, easily categorize them by applying folksonomic tags, and share them with other users across the Internet. The notes I create and organize with Helipad can be easily referenced anywhere I have an Internet connection. For organizing and sharing my thoughts gathered from researching the web, Word is downright cumbersome and inflexible compared with Helipad. Helipad
Probably some day in the not too distant future web applications like Writely will evolve to the point where they have really rich user interfaces and can replace their PC based rivals. That will be great. But I think it is more interesting to think of a world where web access is truly ubiquitous. I can see applications being web-based rather than PC based, but what problems will arise that this new breed of apps will help is to solve? We’ll just have to wait and see.