What is so productive about productivity software?

Desktop Applications Versus Web Services
Zoho is a suite of online productivity software where all the applications are stored on remote Web servers.
Zoho is a suite of online productivity software where all the applications are stored on remote Web servers.
©2008 HowStuffWorks

Users install desktop applications on their local computers. The applications run by taking advantage of the computer's resources, including processing power, computer memory and hard disk drive space. Web services exist either wholly or partially on the Internet. The application's resources reside in a cloud on the computer network.

In general, desktop applications are more robust than Web services. That means desktop productivity software often gives users more options than Web service counterparts. If you need productivity software with all the bells and whistles, it's hard to argue against desktop programs.

Productivity software based on Web services may not be able to deliver the same options as desktop programs, but some people believe it's at least "good enough." Developers use languages like JavaScript to create applications on the Web. Using these languages, developers can create applications that provide the basic functions of desktop applications.

One of the attractive aspects of Web service applications is that you can access them from any computer connected to the Internet. Many Web service applications are interoperable across multiple platforms, meaning you can use the same application whether you're using a PC or Mac.

One advantage Web service productivity software has over desktop applications is the issue of compatibility. Even if a company buys the same brand of desktop applications for all its computers, compatibility issues can arise. Large companies might upgrade software in phases, so one department might end up working with software a version or two behind another department. When those two departments try to collaborate, problems can pop up. A file generated on a later version of a productivity software program might not work well -- if at all -- on earlier versions. While many desktop applications allow users to save files as if they were generated on earlier editions of the software, doing so can negate some of the current version's functions.

Web services don't have that problem, because the service provider can update functionality across the service in a short time frame. Users across the service don't have to worry about compatibility issues.

An emerging trend in productivity software is collaborative software. That means multiple people can work on the same file at the same time. For desktop applications, files must be saved on a networked disk drive that is accessible to all the collaborators. In Web services, users save files to a database on the Web. Collaborators can work on the file from any computer connected to the Internet. There are still some wrinkles: Developers will have to iron out to make collaborative software run smoothly. For example, if two people try to change the same information in a file in two different ways, what does the software do? How does it decide whose change is the correct one?

Google Docs is an online productivity software suite from Google which can be used collaboratively.
2008 HowStuffWorks

So that's the story of productivity software. It can help make your job a lot easier, but in the end the thing that makes productivity software is you. So get to work!

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  • Battelle, John. "All the world's a platform." The Guardian. Sept. 29, 2005. Retrieved March 26, 2008. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2005/sep/29/digitalmedia.technology1
  • O'Reilly, Tim. "Inventing the Future." O'Reilly Network. April 9, 2002. Retrieved March 26, 2008. http://www.oreillynet.com/lpt/a/1697
  • "OS Platform Statistics." W3C Schools. http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_os.asp