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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
10:54 AM

When Online Becomes Offline

It wasn't all that long ago that I was still declaring that online applications could never replace hard disk-based software. Just wouldn't happen. Yeah -- I was totally wrong.

It wasn't all that long ago that I was still declaring that online applications could never replace hard disk-based software. Just wouldn't happen. Yeah -- I was totally wrong.This was underlined by the recent news that Zoho Writer, a part of the Zoho office suite, can now operate either online or off, courtesy of Google's recently introduced Google Gears. This utility, once installed, allows supported online applications to automatically synchronize with an offline version, thus letting you work with your data even when you're stuck somewhere without a connection.

I've slowly become a convert to the idea of online applications. Part of my new enthusiasm has to do with the ability to share information -- for example, it gives me the ability to counter complaints like, "You didn't tell me you were traveling to Cleveland tomorrow!" with "Hey, you should have checked your Google calendar." The use of online apps can also make editing documents a lot faster, easier and more flexible than shipping Word files back and forth via e-mail. And that's just touching the edge of the possibilities here.

But I've always been cautious about entrusting all my data to some online vendor. No matter what assurances are on their Web sites, companies make mistakes, go out of business, are bought up by less scrupulous organizations -- and so how sure can I be that that my business plans, financial spreadsheets, party invitations, in-progress novels, and whatever else I've got sitting on their servers will always be available? Hard drives can be temperamental and short-lived -- but at least they're completely in my control. I don't want to be told that I can't access any of my documents because my broadband connection is down, or because Google is suddenly unaccessible. You think it can't happen? Think Skype.

The appearance of Google Gears, as relatively primitive as that utility is (Google's Web site insists that it's a developer-only release), changes everything, as far as I'm concerned. If I can be assured that I'm going to be able to access my documents at all times -- even those few times when I'm not connected -- and also access them on any computer that is connected, as far as I'm concerned, it is the best of all possible worlds.

Privacy is, of course, another question, and one that I still haven't completely solved to my own satisfaction. More on that another time.

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