For small businesses the advent of cloud computing could be one of the most important technological developments of recent times.
By using apps via the web you don’t need to worry about site licenses or purchasing and maintaining expensive hardware. It also makes remote working and collaborating with colleagues incredibly easy.
Here’s our pick of the 5 best web apps, all of which are free to use.
Formerly Google Docs, this is probably the best known web app out there, not just because it was among the earliest available but because it also offers a great set of features.
In addition to the 5GB free storage space for uploading any kind of file, Drive allows you to create, edit and view common formats including .DOC, .DOCX, .XLS, .XLSX and .PPT/PPTX – which covers the main files encountered in an office – as well as numerous other files such as Photoshop images (PSD) and PDF documents.
But it’s the sharing features which really make GDocs so useful. You can instantly grant guest access to any file stored in your Google Drive folder by entering an email address, and guests can also leave comments within your documents.
This hugely popular cloud storage service is endlessly useful and incredibly simple to use thanks to its fantastic cross-platform software.
You can access the storage via a straightforward web interface for uploading, downloading and management of file space, but there are also desktop apps for Windows, Mac OSX and Linux and extensive mobile support for Android, iOS and BlackBerry.
Usefully, if your job involves taking a lot of photos it’s often possible to set your smartphone to automatically upload to Dropbox, which is not only good for backing up but also means you don’t need to bother about transferring files later.
Basic Dropbox accounts get 2GB free but there are several ways to increase this without spending any money, and if you do start to run low there are premium options which greatly increase the available space.
Pixlr is an online image editor. You may be expecting something like an online MS Paint but impressively Pixlr is closer to Photoshop, with a feature set that’s similar to popular free editors like Paint.net and GIMP.
Layers are supported, it offers an extensive suite of editing tools, you can open and edit PSD files and there’s a big list of filters for easily applying effects.
Pixlr is extremely handy if your image editing needs are only occasional and not worth the high price of a Photoshop license, making it perfect for small businesses looking to save money.
File transfer services are ten a penny – and with good reason ‘cos they’re really useful for sending large files that won’t go over email.
Wetransfer is one of the best for a couple of reasons – you can send files up to 2GB for free, and it doesn’t require any registration. Just enter a few details, select the file, and you’re done. Uploading is reasonably quick as well.
Microsoft Office Web Apps
This is Microsoft’s equivalent of Google Drive. Like Drive it offers free storage space (25GB rather than Google’s 5GB though) and allows you to edit MS Office documents. So why use it over Google Drive?
Well, Drive doesn’t always offer full compatibility with documents if they’re complex, particularly Excel spreadsheets. If your job requires access to spreadsheets packed full of formulas and macros then it may better to use MS Office Web Apps to ensure full functionality.
It’s also very similar to the desktop version which is great if you don’t want to spend too much time training up new starters.
You only need a Live account to get started with it – that’s the same login details as Hotmail or Live Messenger so chances are you won’t even need to register.
Matt Powell writes on behalf of Office Genie, a UK marketplace for desk and office space.