Get to Your Data Anywhere and Anytime: Tools and Tips

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Do Everything on the Web

Illustration: Mick Wiggins
In an ideal world, we could walk up to any computer; punch in a Web address, name, and password; and instantly gain access to all of our applications or to an archive of all our data, ready for editing. And to do this, we wouldn't have to run a single piece of extra software, aside from the browser.

We're on a path leading toward that ideal, but challenges remain along the way. Though online office and collaboration suites are readily available now, they're not yet fully mature.

Reliability and availability continue to be major concerns. Your Internet line or the hotel's Wi-Fi connection can flake out at a moment's notice, interrupting your work and causing data to vanish. Virtually all of these services are in beta, so you can expect a few bugs and random errors. That said, the professionals who manage these services responded quickly to our questions and went the extra mile to address our bug reports.

Most services enforce strict limits on file size, too. Though a 10MB maximum is common, some companies impose far lower limits: Google's ceiling for a text document is a paltry 500KB, for example.

Finally, don't forget that you're working in a Web browser, not an offline app. Large documents will load and refresh slowly, and in most cases you won't get an "Are you sure?" warning if you accidentally try to close the browser window without saving your changes.

The bottom line: Today, hosted application services are great for occasional or emergency use when you're on the road, but we wouldn't rely on any of them as our primary system for storing and editing documents--so you should make sure to keep a copy of your data locally. Still, if you're willing to try, here are the mobile options we found that worked the best and did the most.

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