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These days, even brawny tasks like video editing can take place solely in your browser. Check out these great sites for productivity, creativity, security and more.
Browsers get brawny
The World Wide Web sure ain't what it used to be, and when it comes to getting things done anywhere and everywhere, that's a good thing. Once, the idea of working in your browser was nothing more than a pipe dream. And the idea of replacing desktop software with online alternatives completely? Pfah! Ridiculous.
No more. Between the rise of broadband and robust web technologies like HTML5, modern browsers are capable of amazing things, and shifting your workload to the cloud is a very real possibility for many people. Whether you're rocking a Chromebook, looking for handy occasional-use tools, or want to ditch the hassles associated with standalone software whole hog, these websites can replace your traditional desktop applications.
We might as well get this old standby out of the way early. No, Google's suite of Drive productivity apps—comprised of separate tools for documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, and drawings—aren't as full-featured as Microsoft Office proper. But they're more than powerful enough for the average user, and Google continues to add handy features—most recently, Suggested Edits, whichplays nicely with Office's track changes. (Finally.) Plus, Drive's collaborative features can't be beat.
If you can't shake your passion for the Office aesthetic, Microsoft offers Office Online, a stripped-down, Drive-look version of the Office suite you know and love (assuming you've gotten over your loathing of the Ribbon UI, that is).
Let's face it: As ubiquitous as they are in the workplace, traditional presentations are booooooring. Prezi turns the stale state of affairs on its ear by reimagining presentations as lush, wide-open visual canvases, allowing you to zoom and pan around from point to point. It's fun to use and utterly gorgeous to see in action. When's the last time you heard that about a PowerPoint slide?
Check out PCWorld's review of Prezi for more details, including its various pricing options. Yes, there's a free tier, but be warned: All free-tier presentations are publicly visible and limited to 100MB in size.
How potent are Mint's web-based personal finance tools? So powerful that Intuit, the maker of the Quicken, bought Mint back in 2009 to prevent the rise of a potential rival. Fortunately, Intuit didn't shutter the free Mint service, which syncs with your bank accounts to help you track your spending and budget accordingly, complete with handy-dandy graphs to visualize just how much you spend on to-go coffee each month. The site can also send you alerts when your accounts balances are low, when suspicious purchases pop up, or when you need to pay your bill. Heck, it'll even keep track of your Bitcoins.
In short, Mint's great. Read PCWorld's head-to-head comparison of Quicken and Mint for more details.
Virus Total can't quite replace traditional antivirus solutions, but it can come close, especially if you're using a Windows-free Chromebook. After you upload a file to this extremely useful site, Virus Total scans it for viruses using dozens—yes, dozens—of anti-virus engines, website scanners, and other tools.
If Virus Total says a file is clean, it's clean. It can check the sanctity of websites when you point it toward a specific URL, too.
Yes, you can even edit video in your web browser now, which could come in handy on a Chromebook or a friend's PC. Sure, WeVideo has some limitations by its very nature—watch out for that standard-definition resolution on free accounts!—but all in all, it's successful and straightforward for what it is.
The Dropbox integration and deep collaborative features are especially nice touches, well-suited to a cloud-based video editor. If you plan to use it semi-often you'll definitely want to spring for a premium subscription.
If you need to tweak an image, Pixlr Editor's your web app. This graphics editing tool isn't quite Photoshop, but it's far more powerful than the Paint program that comes pre-installed on PCs will ever be, with a wide array of tools, filters, adjustment options, and yes, even layers. You can start from scratch with a blank canvas or tinker with images stored either on your local hard drive or on a website.
To be honest, it's shocking that a graphics editor this powerful is this, well, free. And yes, you can save local copies of your work.
Zamzar or FreeFileConvert
Need a file automagically converted to another type of file? You don't need to fiddle with desktop software as long as you've got a browser. Zamzar (pictured) and FreeFileConvert can each convert files into different file types, and each supports a wide range of formats.
Zamzar claims to support 1,200-plus file formats, and it's been around for a long time, but it only lets you convert files up to 100MB in size before you have to buy a subscription.
FreeFileConvert's site has more ads, but it lets you convert files up to 300MB in size—and, unlike Zamzar, it doesn't require you to register an email address to download your converted files.
Each site also lets you save files from URLs of your choosing in the format of your choosing.
Google Hangouts may be best known as the proprietary IM service built into Google+ and various other Google properties. But beyond mere messaging, Hangouts shines when it comes to web-based video chats.
Hangouts supports live video chats of up to 10 people, complete with screen sharing and silly sticker overlays (ugh), and if you don't feel like coming your hair, you can instant message or call your contacts. Sounds a lot like Skype, huh?
Even better, Google Hangouts is absolutely free, and the magic is all handled in your browser. Ditching Skype and its desktop software might be difficult if you have a deep contact list inside that service already, but if you don't, Hangouts is a worthy alternative.
Mind-mapping and flow-chart software is pretty niche, but when you need it, you need it. MindMup's website delivers mind-mapping tools that are simple enough that newcomers can dive in easily, while still being deep enough to satisfy power users.
The vast majority of the site's tools are completely free, but some features—such as exporting particularly large maps or embedding your MindMup map in a website—require a $3/mo. MindMup Gold subscription.
If the recent flood of hack attacks have taught us anything—and hopefully they have—it's that yes, you need to have strong passwords, and yes, you need different passwords for each site you visit to minimize the potential fallout if a site you visit is breached.
That's where password managers come in. These specialized pieces of software manage your various logins and can even create strong, randomized passwords for the sites you frequent.
LastPass stands out because it's web-based—unlike KeePass—and built around browser extensions. Your passwords are stored in the cloud, encrypted by a master password only you know. When a password is needed, LastPass automatically springs into action. It's dead simple and super effective. Just be aware you need a $12/yr LastPass premium subscription to use its mobile apps.
The cloud storage provider of your choice
But forget software; let's replace some hardware. Cloud storage is ridiculously cheap these days, with Google Drive and Microsoft's OneDrive divvying out, for example, 100GB of data for just $2 per month. A full terabyte of Google Drive space will set you back a mere $10/mo. That's crazy cheap, and your cloud-stored goodies are available anywhere there's a web browser handy. (Top services also offer desktop software and mobile apps too, of course.)
If you're looking for an abundance of server-stored data for even less than those cut-rate prices, check out PCWorld's guide to supersizing your free cloud storage to 100GB or more. Just be sure you back up your data locally every now and again, in case there's a hiccup in the data center.
Spotify web player
From Windows Media Player to iTunes and yes, even the beloved VLC, media players are some of the ugliest and least intuitive software around. Plus, storing scads of songs on your hard drive consumes space lickity-split.
Enter the Spotify web client. This streaming music service grants you full access to more than 20 million songs you can listen to on-demand, and for the low, low price of $0—assuming you're willing to listen to ads, or spend $10/mo. to dump them, as well as unlock higher audio quality options and offline listening. Spotify's Discover, Browse, and Radio features do great jobs of surfacing new music to jam to, as well.
If you already have a deep collection of local music, Google Play Music lets you upload up to 20,000 songs for free, then stream them straight to your browser or mobile devices.
Get your game on
But don't forget: All work and no play make Homer something something. You can't play your Steam backlog on the web just yet, but there are still a slew of online-only games that are just waiting to suck up all your free time. Check out PCWorld's guide to 16 free and amazingly fun games you can play in your browser for a recommended list, complete with helpful links.