At Maximum PC, computer hardware is our bread and butter. We review it, preview it, and just generally love to talk about it. Unfortunately, hardware becomes less important with each passing day, as more and more software moves onto the internet. We're not looking forward to the day that our PC's become Chrome OS-style thin client, but we have to admit, some web apps are pretty awesome.
So to help you prepare for a future in the cloud, we've put together a list of 30 of our favorite web apps and services. We've tried to keep them on the lesser-known side, but a few of the classic have snuck their way in. Check out our list, and then hit the comments and share your favorites.
ScreenToaster is a web app designed to make life a whole lot easier for every family’s “computer expert.” And since you’re reading Maximum PC, we’re assuming that’s you. Rather than torture yourself trying to explain to a clueless relative how to perform a simple computer task, use ScreenToaster to capture a video of yourself doing it and automatically upload it to the web. You can also record an audio track for your tutorial. Best of all, you don’t have to install any software, and the whole
If you like to eat out, you’ve probably heard of OpenTable. Nearly ubiquitous in metropolitan areas with lots of restaurants, OpenTable is a webapp that allows you to quickly and easily make reservations online. Just punch in your favorite restaurant (not all restaurants use OpenTable for reservations, but lots do), and a time, and OpenTable will tell if you if there’s a table available. If there isn’t, it can suggest nearby times, or other similar restaurants with open seats.
Have you ever found yourself wanting to read an online article or blog post, but without the time to actually read it? Readitlater is made for people in your predicament—it’s like TiVo for your blogroll, allowing you to queue up articles to read later, from your Readitlater account page. Saving an article to read later is easy: you just add a bookmarklet to you bookmarks bar, and click it whenever you find something worth saving.
Did you know that one bushel is equal to 101.9716 hectoliters? How about that one sthene is equal to 0.3637 kiloponds? ConvertCenter is a webapp that does know both of those, as well as pretty much everything else when it comes to unit conversion. Just hit up convertcenter.com, select the kind of conversion you want to perform (volume, length, etc), select your units and enter your value. With hundreds of units to choose from, even the strangest conversion can be done in a flash.
We may be a print magazine, but we all know the future is digital. Issuu is a webapp that offers a clean and simple interface to view and subscribe to your favorite digital publications. Just open your library and peruse your bookmarks on Issuu's bookshelf-like viewer. You can manage it all in folders, like 'inspiration' or 'technology,' view your subscriptions via RSS, and share your own publications. Our favorite part is the sleek graphical interface that's sure to integrate with your favorite multi-touch device in the future.
FillAnyPDF is a fairly simple web app which allows you to upload a PDF file, then easily write on it wherever you want. This allows you to easily fill out any form, even if they’re not in an editable PDF form. You can also share your blank form with others, so you can collect forms from a group easily. FillAnyPDF also supports electronic signatures and has a repository of free forms.
“What is Google Wave?”
That was the question a lot of people asked when Google launched its email-replacement-slash-collaboration platform Wave, and to a large extent, the question remains unanswered. What we do know is that it’s a online platform for users to participate in “Waves,” documents that can be edited in real-time by any invitee. Some uses are obvious (Waves are great for collaborating on articles and presentations) while others are more contentious (is a Wave better for regular communication than an email?). Despite the uncertainty, Wave is a web app with enormous potential, and we recommend everyone give it a try.
Everyone wonders sometimes why their ISP’s claim of Blazing Fast Internet doesn’t seem to translate to faster downloads or lower pings. But both of those situations involve a second party’s connection as well, so it’s difficult to tell exactly how fast your connection is. That’s where SpeedTest comes in handy. By letting you select a server near you, and showing you ping readings and download speeds to that server, SpeedTest gives you a quantifiable measure of your connection speed.
What makes Grooveshark special enough that we recommend it over the dozens of other music streaming web apps? Well, the biggest thing is the size of its library. You can find virtually any song on their site, ready to be played instantly, included in a playlist, or added to your personal library. Your library (available with a free account) allows you to select any number of songs from their larger list, which you can then browse through with an iTunes-like interface.
Grooveshark has licensing agreements with some record companies, but its legality has nonetheless been called in to question. In other words, enjoy, but don’t get too attached.
Vuvox is a rich media creation app that allows you to quickly turn your photos and audio into a moving web collage. A set of simple editing tools allow you to crop and rotate your pictures and when you’re done you can embed your collage into any webpage, or share links to a larger version on Vuvox’s website.
Mint is a popular financial planning web app, with a whole suite of functions for keeping track of your money. The fact that you’re entrusting information about your bank account, investments and other assets may make some wary, but Mint has a strong track record, and a compelling featureset. With a Mint account, you can see a breakdown of your monthly spending by category, and you can define your own budget and see if you’re sticking to it.
Lovely charts is a truly lovely webapp that lets all you visual types make simple charts and diagrams in a flash. The diagramming is all drag n' drop, and Lovely Charts infers what you're doing to streamline the process. Once you're done, you can export your diagram to JPG or PNG, with a basic account. We like that you can use keyboard shortcuts to make the whole process even faster. A basic account is free. A premium account for professional users is 29 Euros a year (that's $39.45 for most of us).
Fonolo is one of those webapps you never knew you needed. It allows you to bypass those annoying phone menus you hear every time you call big companies, like your cable operator or an airline company. This simple webapp lets you visually browse the menus for hundreds of companies using deep dialing, record your calls, and even save your account information. Never press '1' to get your call answered in English or listen to a laundry list of options again!
Who needs Photoshop these days. Well, some of us probably do, but when you're looking for something simpler than Photoshop or are away from your home computer, Aviary offers just the ticket for editing your photos. In fact, Aviary edits more than just basic images - it lets you edit audio, vectors, and even color palettes. We love that Aviary's image editor has layers, masks, and an undo history, just like Photoshop. You can even collaborate with other artists in the community!
If you want to send a file to somebody that’s too big for your office’s email server, and you don’t want to mess with the wait times associated with one-click hosting services like RapidShare, look into YouSendIt.
YouSendIt lets you upload a file (up to 100 MB for free, or up to 2 GB with a paid account), then email a link to that file to the intended recipient.
You’ve probably heard about Wolfram|Alpha. It was, after all, supposed to be the Next Big Thing™ in search, providing curated data in response to a wide range of semantic queries. And although it never quite hit the mainstream, it still has some very interesting capabilities. Our favorite is its ability to answer complex algebraic question in a clear, readable fashion. For instance, type “minimum of 13x^2 - 25x +7” into the search bar and Wolfram|Alpha will return the minimum value of the equation, as well as the associated value for x and a graph.
Can't keep track of all your wish-lists, recipes, notes, and scribbles? We recommend Evernote, a handy webapp that helps you organize it all. Evernote offers both web and desktop interfaces to organize your text, pictures, and audio, as well as a web clipper to grab the things that interest you online. And, best of all, it all syncs to the Evernote cloud which you can also access via your smartphone. All your posts are taggable and searchable. Make a notebook titled "life" and clip that fancy camera you or your special someone wants to a note titled "wish-list." You'll never run out of gift ideas again!
Google Voice finally brings voice over IP to where it should be. This free web app not only lets you make calls over the internet, but actually assigns you a phone number (or you can pick your own) with voicemail that you can access both online and though any actual phone. The interface, which will be familiar to Gmail users, shows you transcripts of your voicemail, lets you make calls for no charge within the United States, and send text messages. You can even record custom greetings for your contacts and avoid people you don't want to talk to by marking them as spam.
Ever since Microsoft rebranded their search efforts “Bing,” they’ve been churning out one improvement after another to catch up with their rivals. One place that this has been most noticeable is in Bing Maps, which has grown from the also-ran Live Search Maps into a real contender for the title currently held by Google Maps. Features that set it apart include silky-smooth zooming and panning with Microsoft’s Silverlight-based web client, and a suite of “Map Apps” which add all sorts of functionality to the map, including integration with Photosynth and Flickr.
Newsmap.jp (don’t worry about the .jp domain, it’s not Japanese) is a web app for people who find the news just a little bit too… drab. Newsmap creates a colorful treemap out of the news, arranging popular stories on web news sites into squares. The bigger the square is, the more important the story. You can sort stories by type (world, national, business, etc) or by age, if you’re only interested in the most fresh stories.
If you’re familiar with Xmarks, it’s probably through their popular web browser plugins, which allow you to sync your bookmarks folder across any computer with the plugin installed. You might not have known that Xmarks also has a web app, which lets you log into your Xmarks account and manage your bookmarks, insuring that you can always access your favorite sites, even if you can’t install the Xmarks plugin.
There comes a time in every nerd’s life when it’s time to get up from the computer and play The Sims for real. But never fear, thanks to Floorplanner.com, you can skip the “get up from the computer” step, and design your perfect domicile right in your web browser. The free version of FloorPlanner lets you design a single house, with vibrant 2D and 3D models, or you can upgrade to Pro plan with up to 5 house plans for just $30 a year.
Finally, a full fledged web app that helps with your cooking. Tasty Planner is not just an enormous database of recipes, but it also allows you to save and create recipes to a recipe box, make a meal calendar and plan meals for the week, and helps create automated grocery lists that you can either print or view on your iPhone. The social and recipe searching aspects of this app are nice, but we particularly like the ability to organize your own recipes and plan your week around them.
For all you maximum musicians out there, Drumbot offers a fun series of web apps to keep you jamming. Included are a simple guitar tuner that helps you tune your axe by ear, a set of drum loops that you can queue up and save (for "those who can't find a real drummer to jam with"), a metronome, a drum pattern sequencer to create your own drum loops, and tap BPM, an app that tells you how many beats permit you're hitting your keyboard at. You can even download all the apps to your computer, if you prefer to access them locally.
PadMapper professes to make apartment hunting **** less, and we concur; PadMapper makes apartment hunting **** less. We'd say, it actually makes apartment hunting fun. This webapp overlays Craigslist apartment listings over Google maps. Type in a city, address, or zip code, and PadMapper takes you to the region and pinpoints available apartments. Click on the dots and a small screen pops up with the listing information. If an apartment catches your interest, you can add it to your list of favorites. Even if you aren't looking for an apartment, it's always fun to compare prices in the Outer Sunset, San Francisco against the prices in downtown Manhattan.
We'll wrap up this list with 5 web apps that aren't exactly unknown, but are so awesome they still deserve to be included:
As far as web apps go, it’s hard to get more famous than Gmail, the favorite webmail client of the technologically in-the-know. When it launched, it was immediately famous for its immense storage provisions (1 GB at a time when Hotmail offered a whopping 2 MB of storage), revolutionary thread-based email display, and controversy surrounding the privacy ramifications of advertisements based on your emails’ contents. Now, the novelty’s worn off, but Gmail is still best webmail client around.
If you’ve ever used omni-IM service Digsby, you know that its greatest feature is the ability to log in to all your IM accounts from any computer with Digsby installed. Well, why not take that convenience a step further by signing up for a Meebo account. Meebo, like Digsby or Pidgin is a multi-service IM client. Unlike its competitors, it’s a webapp, meaning it’s useable from absolutely anywhere. While we wouldn’t give up our dedicated desktop client for Meebo, is an excellent solution for when you want to get in some messaging on the go.
No list of webapps is complete without everyone's favorite internet radio service, Pandora. Pandora allows users to create radio stations based on their favorite artists, and generates playlists comprised of similar sounding artists. Like Hot Chip? You can start with Over and Over, and Pandora will follow with someone like The Whitest Boy Alive. If you don't like them, you can skip to another one of Pandora's suggestion. It's the easiest way to find new artists based on your already superb tastes.
Remember The Milk
Remember The Milk is an online to-do list app, with a remarkably convenient interface. You just sign up for an account, then type in a task, such as “saturday 2pm get car smogged” and it will automatically file a to-do entry for “get car smogged” into your schedule at 2pm on Saturday. You can further organize your to-do tasks with priority levels, locations, and tags.
Use Google docs much? We thought you might. If so, Zoho's webapps will seem pretty familiar. You can even login to Zoho using your Google e-mail address (or Facebook account, if you so prefer). However, as much as we love Google docs, Zoho's office suite is even beefier. Zoho Writer, for instance, feels closer to Microsoft Word. And, Zoho's slew of apps includes e-mail management tools, a planner, web conferencing, and business solutions. Looking for something a little simpler than Zoho Writer? Try Zoho Notebook. And, when you're all done, you can share your documents with friends and co-workers.
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