Michael Eaton did a recent blog post on making the switch to online applications. I enjoyed reading the post and it inspired me to try some things out. The first new online app I tried out was Google Docs and my initial experience has been great. It worked well for creating a simple document of notes for a client I'm working with. And since I've started developing in virtual machines (I'll post more about this later), it worked great since I didn't want to install Office in my development virtual machines. If I use Google docs, I can easily access the documents from my virtual machines and anywhere else I happen to be. And it export documents in various formats including Word and PDF, that is if I don't want to share them directly on the web.
I'm not too thrilled with the .pst file format from Outlook, but I use Outlook every day. My laptop hard drive is slowly dying, which I think contributed heavily to my recent loss of a .pst file I can no longer access (and that Scanpst chokes on...) Having all of my mail in a .pst file makes me nervous. So, based on a conversation I had with Dan Hounshell, I decided to try out consolidating all of my email in Gmail. Dan informed me that Gmail has the ability to use POP3 to get mail from other accounts. It was pretty quick work to set this up in Gmail and get all of my mail in one inbox. One nice feature of using POP3 to retrieve mail from other accounts is that you can automatically apply a label to incoming messages, which is quite handy in organizing all of my email, including various business and personal accounts. I'm still using Outlook, but now I just get mail from my Gmail account. And I've configured Gmail to leave the original on the server when I access it via POP3. So I get to use Outlook, but I have a backup of all of my messages in the cloud. And if my new .pst file becomes inaccessible, I can pick up my correspondence on the web without delay.
And it's not only Google applications that I'm using. I've been using Highrise for a few months now to keep track of business contacts. I'm pretty happy with it so far. At Tellus, we also used Basecamp extensively for project management and it worked quite well for us.
And another one I might try soon (based on Twitter traffic) is unfuddle. It's an online software project management application that includes Subversion hosting. You can get a free account to manage one project.
And I agree with Michael when it comes to backups, I think I'm better off having my data online. For my email, I automatically have a "backup" in my local .pst file. For Google documents, I can easily send myself a document as a Word document if I'm concerned about its loss. Highrise will export all of my contacts as vCards or Excel. Many online applications have APIs where I could likely automate a backup process if I wanted to. In the end, I think that Google or 37Signals will likely to protect my data just as well or better than I will myself.
Are there any online applications you can't live without? Leave a comment and I'll take a look.