Do you remember how web browsers worked in 1998? Even back in the days of dial-up, Microsoft was so worried that your browser might replace your desktop that they nearly tore themselves apart trying to stomp down Netscape. That’s right, Netscape, a web browser that some of you reading this may not even remember. But take a look around the web right now, and it turns out Microsoft was right to be concerned—you'll be amazed at just how much it’s possible to do, and do surprisingly well, in a browser.
We’re not talking the obvious, if often impressive stuff: email, calendar, and document management from Google, Zoho, and Microsoft itself. These are the sites that will save you hard drive space and clutter, and help you get by without having to shell out for software to just do that one thing you need. And they are definitely worth a bookmark or six.
Multi-track audio editing and recording: Myna
Need to chop together an audio interview, add some music to a talk, or otherwise tweak some audio? If you don’t have a Mac with GarageBand handy, or you’re not quite trained in the ways of Audacity, you can fire up Myna, Aviary’s free multi-track audio editor. Not only can you drop in audio files and make non-destructive edits, but you can record your voice or ambient sound straight from your browser tab. Aviary makes a whole suite of nifty browser-based tools, including some very handy image editors, but you should really check out ...
Photoshop-like photo editing: Pixlr
When you need something more than just crop, resize, and save, Pixlr is where you turn. Multiple layers, a big undo/redo memory, unsharp masks, burn and dodge tools, curves and levels, and a big selection of filters are all packed in here, with much more to discover. That would all be so much pipe dream if the app wasn’t so fast-loading and responsive, even compared to its less-ambitious counterparts.
File conversion/Swiss Army knife: Zamzar
It’s 10 minutes until that Big Thing is due, and you just realized: You’ve got it in X format, and it needs to be Y. Sometimes X or Y can be really tricky, like a WordPerfect document (lawyers!), a TIFF image (publishers!), or a Pages package (Mac snobs!). Head to Zamzar, which isn’t particularly pretty or fancy, but does take in files and email them back to you in whatever format you need. You can also download web videos and send big files from Zamzar, just because, well, they figured they’d make it even more useful.
Chat, particularly Skype chat: Imo.im
In the life of every web-adept worker, there comes an encounter with a person, or an entire team, who uses Skype as their main means of chat. Skype may be free, but it’s also a bit hefty and annoying if all you want to do is chat. So sign into Imo.im, which runs chats through its web interface and doesn’t require a separate account. You can also open your GTalk, AIM, MSN, and Facebook chat accounts within the same frame, if you’d like.
Microsoft’s web-based PowerPoint tools are meant as a complement, a view-and-maybe-fix option, for the desktop Office suite. Google Docs’ Presentations and Zoho Show are decent, if you’re aiming for the standard PowerPoint-style presentation. But SlideRocket was built for the web, and its templates and editing tools are good at helping people with lesser design skills (read: this author) look halfway decent. It’s easy to export and download to standard PowerPoint or PDF files, or you can grab SlideRocket’s own presentation tool for a more interactive show. There are free "Lite" accounts that restrict offline access and cut out analytics, but it might not be hard to impress your boss enough to get them to swing for a Pro account.
Instantly copy tricky little characters: CopyPasteCharacter
Got the keyboard shortcut symbol for trademark (™) memorized? Neat. How about copyright (©), all rights reserved (®), and the upside-down exclamation point (¡)? Didn’t think so. CopyPasteCharacter might not seem impressive, compared to the more server-taxing entries above, but consider what a pain it is to have to search out those characters, either on your laptop or on the web, click them, then press to copy them. On this site, you just click on the symbol you want, and it’s copied to your clipboard. You can even create your own personalized set of oft-copied characters, but try to keep in mind that not everybody thinks ✈ is an acceptable way to tell clients that you’re traveling.
[Image: Santiago Cornejo via Shutterstock]