Cloud Services vs. Desktop Apps: What Fits Your Needs?

Spreadsheets are another matter. Between Excel and Calc on the desktop, and Google Docs on the cloud, it's clear that Excel is still the champ in this category. With more functions, better analytical tools, and easier charting, none of the other spreadsheet apps come close.

The cloud-based Prezi will give PowerPoint a run for its money.

When it comes to presentations, the cloud has a surprise dark horse entry: Prezi. Prezi enables the creation of multimedia presentations that go above and beyond the traditional slideshow format offered by PowerPoint, Presentation, and Google Docs. This is the one that the rest will have to beat in the coming days.

Financial Management

Managing your money is always something that we know we need to do, but never seems to have the time to do. Cloud-based apps in this category offer the convenience of being able to log in and handle finances wherever you are, which is one of the best reasons for using Mint.com (which Quicken Online merged with in 2009).

Mint will keep your financial data in the cloud -- if you're comfortable with that

For personal finances, Mint.com is very much the best application to use, though if you're squeamish about using the cloud to handle your money, you might opt for Moneydance, a very solid app that runs on the big three desktop platforms.

Anyone with more complicated finances, such as investments or a small business they are trying to run, should stick with the old standby Quicken. Quicken has several flavors that fit a variety of situations and -- should even Quicken not prove enough -- can migrate to QuickBooks accounting software.

Graphics and photo editing

There are a lot of entries in this category, because frankly, managing pictures and images is one of the big reasons why people buy a home computer in the first place. Sorting them out takes a bit of time, because these apps vary widely in their capabilities and ease of use.

On the easy-to-use end of the spectrum, there is the cloud-based Picnik, which enables uses to upload their photos and edit them in creative ways using essentially push-button tools. Upgrade to the Premium edition, and you get more tools. Picnik is also nice because it integrates with existing image storage services like Picasa, Facebook, and Flickr.

Picnik is a surprisingly powerful cloud-based image editor.

If you are more technically skilled, you can achieve the same effects (with somewhat more variety) with GIMP, a free desktop image editing application that can run on Windows, OS X, and Linux. GIMP is very robust, but let's not kid around here -- this Photoshop-like application has a steep learning curve. If you can master it, though, you will have much more creativity than Picnik offers, at a better price.

Creating Web sites

In the good old days, it was all about HTML. Now it's all Web 2.0, and you had better go big or go home if you have a Web site to create.

Desktop applications like Dreamweaver offer magnificent creative tools, but require a big investment in terms of both cash to buy them and time to learn how to use them. Dreamweaver is not a cheap way to go, and it doesn't solve the problem of finding a place to host your Web site once you've built it.

Robust content management systems like Drupal, Joomla, or WordPress use a modular approach to Web site creation, enabling users to put together the parts they need in smooth fashion. Additionally, many Web site hosting companies provide ready-made sites with these CMSes already installed: all you have to do is go in and customize the site with your content, images, and modules.

Google Sites is a free real-time site editor that lets you host sites on Google free of charge. It's a what-you-see-is-what-you-get tool, but it's very simplistic and a bit cumbersome to manage.

For ease of use and flexibility, WordPress is probably the best way to go for all but the most complicated web sites.

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