09:27 AM

Review: Is Google Still The Ajax King?

Google has taken a decisive lead in creative Ajax-based applications, but challengers abound. We review 20 other online apps to see how they stack up against Google's offerings.


The Winners: Pageflakes and YouOS
I went back and forth trying to decide between Pageflakes and YouOS, and in the end, decided that they both rate as winners in this category.

That is, if this category can be said to have any winners. Ajax-based webtops basically act as Web-based backdrops for a bunch of applets such as RSS feed readers, chat engines, blogs, photo organizers, and so on. They are a lot of fun to play with, but whether they are actually useful is still in question.

Pageflakes: If I were going to use an Ajax desktop, Pageflakes is the one I'd pick. To begin with, Pageflakes has the most interesting and useful types of applets (which it calls Flakes), and the widest variety: Besides offering a very easy way to link to various popular RSS feeds, the service lets you add the Funny Quote of the Day and TV listings; use a movie finder that hooks into IMDB.com; chat live using the Pageflakes chat engine (which is actually not very useful, since you can only chat to other Pageflakes users); write notes; check the weather; keep to-do and contact lists... There's even a link to a simple Alexa graph that lets you monitor the traffic of up to five Web sites. As of this writing, there were 98 different Flakes that you could choose from.

Pageflakes has the most interesting and useful applets (which it calls Flakes).
Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.

The interface is useful as well: You can organize your Flakes into separate tabbed pages and easily move them from one page to the next. You can even share pages with friends. Pageflakes has obviously had a lot of thought go into it -- and it shows.

YouOS: The developers of YouOS call their webtop a "web operating system," which is catchy, but not terribly accurate. The reason? They not only invite their users to contribute their own applets (here called Apps), but provide the development environment as well. All you have to do is click the "Develop Apps" button and you're provided with a text window, a syntax checker, a compiler -- everything you need. In other words, YouOS isn't a simple webtop site as much as it is an educational tool for users who want to develop their JavaScript programming skills.

YouOS looks like a real desktop with icons and minimized apps.
Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.

Meanwhile, YouOS is doing a nice job of building an Ajax-based environment that, unlike Pageflakes, does its best to look like a real desktop -- it includes a snazzy desktop graphic and Windows-like icons. Live applications are listed along the top of the window, which I found confusing, since I've become used to looking for tabbed pages there. Your list of available apps, and other features, can be found in a drop-down menu labeled "Stuff."

Ajax Apps

•  Introduction

•  Calendars

•  E-Mail

•  Info Managers

•  Spreadsheets

•  Webtops

•  Word Processors

•  Image Gallery

As of last count, there were 119 Apps available, many built by YouOS fans -- as a result, while there are some highly useful and/or entertaining entries, including encryption programs, e-mail and chat apps, and games, the count also includes Apps such as the one called "The Best Messege!" [sic] that offers a single inspirational text message. Currently, YouOS is obviously in the development stage. However, any application that invites its users to participate to this extent deserves attention.

The Runner-Up: Goowy
Goowy is an interesting combination of office suite and webtop. It offers a simple, well-designed interface; features are accessible by icons on the bottom right of the screen. It includes a contact list, calendar, e-mail app (that, unlike the one in YouOS, can send and receive e-mails from outside the environment), instant messaging, and a variety of widgets (which it calls Minis).

Goowy is an interesting combination of office suite and webtop.
Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.

Most of the apps are very beta: I was unable to sign in to the instant messaging, for example, and had some problems importing my contact list. However, the makers of Goowy are obviously thinking very hard about their interface and their offering; it will be interesting to see how this one develops.

Also Available:

Protopage: This is the webtop for the artistic personality. Protopage only offers a short list of widgets, but it also lets you design your own environment, including access to a variety of configurable color schemes and the choice of either lining up your various boxes or just placing them wherever you like (including, if you want, overlapped). Not all that useful, but very enjoyable. (Click here for image.)

Windows Live: The corporate version of the webtop, brought to you by Microsoft. Tabbed pages give you access to news feeds, weather, your Hotmail account, stock quotes, and a variety of applets, here called Gadgets. Some useful stuff here, but they're obviously playing it safe. (Click here for image.)

--Barbara Krasnoff

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