Top 8 Cloud Applications

The Cloud has come of age with the advent of Chrome and Chrome OS. With Chrome’s application shortcuts, we see web-based applications appearing in our start menu, desktop and quick launch bar. They are, other than the fact that they don’t work off-line, near-indistinguishable from their desktop equivalents.

The following apps are all targeted at the home user. Throw away Photoshop. Abandon Excel. The Cloud is here to stay.

best photo editor: pixlr

Pixlr provides photoshop-like photo-editing tools such as red-eye reduction, brushes, filters, alpha transparency, feathering, anti-alias,  and layers. It supports PSDs, JPEGs, GIFs and PNGs amongst others. The array of filters is impressive and work continues on adding new features. Pixlr Grabber allows Pixlr to behave even more like a desktop app. A plugin for Explorer, Firefox and Chrome, it adds an option to the context menu to allow you to open images in the Pixlr editor directly.

Runners up

FotoFlexer
FotoFlexer came a very close second. It offers extensive filters and editing tools, but I prefer the Pixlr interface. Very good integration with photo sites such as flickr.
Picnik
Nice to look at and simple to use, Picnik just doesn’t have the power of Pixlr. It’s MS Paint to Pixlr’s Photoshop.

best feed reader: feedly

Feedly is in fact a Chrome extension but, once installed, it behaves just like any other cloud app. The download site has the tagline: “feedly organizes your favorite sites into a fun, magazine-like start page,” which is pretty accurate.

It’s the most original, prettiest and by far the most usable feed reader I’ve seen. Serious attention has gone in to the typography and landing pages. Landing pages have intelligent content filtering, leading to an experience that’s more like a magazine than a classic feed-reader.

Subscriptions are managed through your Google account, so any subscriptions you’ve set up in Google Reader will appear here and (of course) this works the other way as well, so it’s already integrated with Buzz.

Feeds can easily be sorted in to categories on a drag-and-drop management page, making organisation easier than ever. It also provides various feed discovery methods: “popular” shows you what posts are popular right now; On a category page there’s the “you might also like” section in the sidebar; In the digest view there’s a section called “explore”, which allows you to browse feeds by category.

It’s all wonderfully well presented and seamlessly integrated with Flickr, Google, Buzz, Facebook & Twitter. It really goes that extra mile. Don’t miss out.

Runners up

Google Reader
Very powerful, but little else. Reading feeds should be enjoyed, not treated as a chore.
Bloglines
Much like Google Reader in style and functionality, Bloglines is just another feed reader. It fails to go the extra mile.

best task manager: remember the milk

Keep track of your day-to-day tasks with this superb task and list manager. The interface is simple at first view but provides quite advanced functionality including useful default lists, tags (and lots of other meta data), dynamic search-based lists, sharing options, iCal exports, GoogleMail and Google Calendar integration and an excellent app for both the iPhone and Android handsets.

A good task manager, like a calendar, is essential for a busy life. The trick is learning how to use it effectively. Check out Getting Things Done: How to Achieve Stress-free Productivity for the best tips on keeping your task list (and your life) well organised.

Runners up

GQueues
Still in it’s early stages, GQueues may take the crown if they manage to perfect the Google Calendar integration.

best IM client: Meebo

Meebo is the only cloud-based IM client I’m aware of, but that doesn’t mean that calling it the best is unwarranted. It supports every conceivable protocol (MSN, Yahoo, ICQ, GoogleTalk, etc) and does it well. Log in to Meebo from anywhere in the world and have all your friends and colleagues right there waiting for you. It’s awesome for going travelling, where computers may or may not have a random IM client installed, or for ensuring that IM accounts at work and at home are always synced.

Bright, reliable and nicely user-friendly, Meebo’s the way to go.

Runners up

None.

best email client: GMail

The granddaddy of all cloud apps, GMail just about started the revolution. It was the first sign that applications we had always thought of as desktop apps could really become web-based. It was cloud computing before the term had been coined. It still does it better than any other mail reader I’ve seen, including most desktop versions. It’s not pretty, but oh how it works, and with unlimited storage you’ll never need to worry about losing email ever again. Awesome.

Runners up

None. If you want an email app, use GMail.

best calendar: Google Calendar

Google Calendar is the defacto choice for an online calendar. Just about everyone I know has one. This is how I find out if my housemate is going to be home for dinner, or the best day on which to hold a party, or when bank holidays are, what time the sun rises, when clubs run, etc, etc.

The ability to import as many calendars as you like and have them appear alongside your own is fantastic. Some great public calendars are available, such as Victoria Line Closures, telling you which days the Victoria Line will be out of action so you can plan those trips to South London without fear.

Runners up

None.

best music player: Audiobox

Audiobox offers the ability to store your music in a central location and access it from anywhere over their streaming server. It’s lacking a few features, but it’s improving fast.

Dropbox offers a very similar service, but requires a local installation, while Audiobox is web-based. It’s a super little app and one which I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

Runners up

Extension FM
A lovely little extension for Chrome that records the location of all the mp3s you see on your web travels and presents them as though you had downloaded them and stored them locally. Play them back at your leisure without having to visit the site and trawl through their pages.

best word processor: Google Docs

Google Docs offers a lot more than just a word processor, but for most people this is the start and end of an office suite. Google Docs’ word processor does everything the average user wants to do and is straight to the point. There’s no clutter here. No confusing options. No hidden menus. It’s straightforward and up front about what it is and what it does.

And it has autosave on by default.

Honestly, how could you not have autosave on by default? Why would you ever want to lose your changes? Really?

Use it. Relegate MS Word to the tip and let the crows pick on its bones. It’s time to move on!

Runners up

None.