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Online applications are booming. Their popularity isn't hard to explain: Compare an online application like Google Documents to Microsoft® Word, and you'll quickly see certain benefits. It's much easier to allow multiple users access to the same document, and you can access a Google Doc from anywhere with an Internet connection.
But just because a new application is available, doesn't mean that you should immediately switch. There are several considerations to look at in order to keep an office running smoothly, regardless of whether you use desktop software or online applications.
With any software that a business uses, certain features are absolutely mandatory. With Microsoft Word, for instance, those may include the "track changes" feature if a document goes through several revisions or templates to speed up your work.
Many online applications handle such features differently than their desktop counterparts - if they include them at all. Google Documents, for instance, does have a feature similar to track changes called "revision history," but it can take some time to learn the differences between the two. And, Google Docs doesn't handle templates the same way Microsoft Word does.
Before making a switch, it's crucial to go through a new application and make sure it handles your projects in the way you expect. It's even more important when you realize that the selling point for many online applications isn't so much a similarity to an offline option, but the fact that you can access your data from anywhere. That can be a very useful feature - especially if you work from multiple computers or if others in your office need to be able to access your information easily.
The Big Green
One of the biggest appeals of online applications is the fact that many of them are free, while most desktop software has a price tag attached. But the cost of that free application may be a little more than you expect. If you're a heavy user of a particular application, you might be asked to move over to a paid account.
There can also be hidden costs: If you decide to move off of a particular application in the future, there's a chance that you'll need to pay to get your information out of it. Although you may not have to pay the application-maker, you may need the help of an expert if you can't easily export your information.
Similarly, training new users can take time and even money. If you're not the only person who will need to use a particular application, testing out the learning curve can be crucial to deciding whether you'll actually be able to get others up and running without spending too much time or money on training.
The Privacy Factor
When you're working with desktop software, your data is generally secure. It's up to you to check the security of your computer, of course, but the situation's under your control. But when you put your data into an online application, you no longer have control over the security of your information; it's up to the application-provider to make sure it's secure. Some applications do significantly better than others.
Check out the security of any online application you're considering, especially if you'll be using it to store information that could be considered proprietary. Sales contacts, financial information, and other personal data should be safeguarded. Depending on the application in question, such information can be found on its "About Us" page, in its frequently asked questions (FAQ) section, or elsewhere. Unfortunately, there isn't a standard approach for online applications to share information about security precautions.
The Choice Is Yours
Some online applications are better than others in terms of security, the ability to export your data down the road, and similarity to your desktop software. Furthermore, you may have different needs in terms of security or features than other users.
All of this adds up to the fact that you need to examine any application you're considering. It's worth playing around with the application in question, even if you have to actually sign up for an account to see all of its features.
What online applications do you use? How do they compare to their offline counterparts?
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