9 Web-Based Office Productivity Suites
Although it lists itself as a public beta, Startforce is one of the strongest performers among Webtops, with its own set of branded Web apps for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. It also has an e-mail client, in-environment Web browser, audio player, and IM client, and it comes with 1GB of free storage. One of the big advantages of Startforce is its fast response time, but a significant downside that I found during my tests is that Startforce does not work well with Apple's Safari Web browser.
Pros: Fast response time, customizable Windows environment, 1GB of free storage.
Cons: In my tests on a Mac, the Java-based uploader would not work, so I could not get files onto my Webtop. Also, StartForce works only if you shut down all other open Web pages in your browser. Once the Webtop is up and running, you can use other browser tabs again.
AirSet is not as functional as some other Webtops I've seen, but overall it's a pretty good experience. AirSet 's most full-featured application is its Web publishing software, which can help you create a Web site, blog, photo album, or newsletter. But Airset lacks other office essentials such as apps for word processing and spreadsheets.
Airset also has a contact and calendar manager that can sync directly with Outlook, and an IM client as well as 1GB of free online storage. But AirSet does not support Microsoft Word's ".doc" format. AirSet also has a group function that allows you to collaborate with other AirSet users; however, this is a for-pay function that is not available in the free service.
Pros: Outlook calendar and contact syncing; uses a Java applet or HTML interface for uploading (both are excellent); 1GB of free storage, $2 per month for every 5GB after that; AirSet mobile application allows for greater access; customizable desktop.
Cons: Webtop is ad-supported, so you lose some screen space; bare-bones productivity support with no spreadsheet or presentation software. AirSet does not support the .doc format--only basic text files and WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). Good IM client, but it requires a manual sign-in for each service, even though it memorizes your passwords.
Tip: When I started up AirSet I got a warning that the Webtop does not officially support Firefox 3.5, but that I should try running it anyway. AirSet officially supports Firefox 3, Safari 3, and Internet Explorer 7.
Of all the Webtops I tried, ajaxWindows is the one that most closely emulates Windows (with Startforce coming in a close second).
The ajaxWindows desktop automatically opens up in full-screen mode, but its in-environment Web browser leaves a lot to be desired. Instead of opening up new pages within the virtual computer, ajaxWindows kept directing me to a new browser window. But I couldn't see the new window outside the ajax environment, because the Webtop was in full-screen mode. Redirecting Web pages outside the environment is a common problem in Webtops.
ajaxWindows has its own applications for presentations and word processing, but nothing for spreadsheets. If you don't want to use ajax's Web apps, you can use quick-launch icons to access your Google and Zoho documents outside of the virtual computer. The Webtop will also automatically sign you up for 1GB of free storage with Box.net, computer-to-cloud syncing with SyncWizard. For music you get a free MP3 storage locker from MP3tunes. Ajax's MP3 player then uses your files stored with MP3tunes to play music in the Webtop environment.
Although Ajax Windows signs you up for these storage services, you will have to log in the first time you use them. AjaxWindows also comes with customizable desktop widgets.
Pros:1GB of free storage; uses Meebo as IM client to support wide range of IM protocols; integrated with other services including box.net for storage and MP3 locker for music storage. Ajax-branded productivity software, and quick-launch access to Google and Zoho services.
Cons: Poorly designed Web browser; no in-environment support for spreadsheets; plug-in required for Internet Explorer.
Tip: Internet Explorer users are required to download a plug-in for ajaxWindows to work. Use Firefox instead.