Though it's conceded a huge head start to the likes of Google and Zoho, Microsoft is finally entering the online productivity game. Free online versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint will make their debut with Office 2010 and will offer many of the same collaboration, sharing and online-storage features of their rivals. They'll also integrate with their desktop counterparts, though to what extent has yet to be revealed.
Free Google Docs/Microsoft Office integration plugin for Windows by OffiSync
Thanks to OffiSync, however, you can get a taste for what a future with Office 2010 might look like. OffiSync is an add-on for Office 2003 and 2007 that integrates with your Google Docs account, allowing you to create, edit and save documents to the web service using the Office applications you've come to know. The add-on also provides quick access to Google's web and image searches, from which you can copy snippets of web pages or image search results straight into your documents.
OffiSync doesn't provide quite as seamless an experience as you might hope for; all the Google Docs features are accessible via an Office toolbar and are separate from Office's own open/save commands. Moreover, getting fancy with formatting in Word can occasionally cause display problems when viewing the same document in Google Docs. The tradeoff is that you get the full benefit of Google Docs' collaboration and revision history features, which Microsoft hasn't been able to implement quite as elegantly, let alone through an online service.
Free software-centric social networking/tracking app by Wakoopa. Web-based, works on Windows/Mac/Linux
If you're a regular reader of this column, chances are you're the type of person who goes through new programs like water - forever trying out applications and, most likely, uninstalling them after fifteen minutes. Perhaps you show a great deal of devotion to a pet application, or maybe you're just interested in trying out all the movie players or text editors out there. It's for people like you that Wakoopa was created.
Wakoopa is a social network that tracks the software people use and enjoy - a Last.fm for applications, if you will. The tracker application that you install to your computer is the key to the network, recording the active and background processes running on your system and uploading the data to Wakoopa. You can then see what programs you have running, how long you've used each one, and whether Wakoopa has any recommendations based on your history. The network also builds pages for every application it recognizes, showing you how popular the program is and what its competitors are. You can even look at other people's profiles and see how closely their computing habits match yours.
It might seem a little strange to build a social network around computer programs, but the Mac vs. Windows vs. Linux debate and the browser wars offer more than enough evidence that many people closely identify with what they choose to install on their computers. If you're looking for new ways to discover new applications and read up on your old favourites, Wakoopa is a great place to start.
Free CD/DVD image mounting utility for Windows by Ivan Shcherbakov
Designed to encapsulate the entire contents of a CD or DVD in a single file, disc images are finding new life as the use of physical media starts to decline. Now they're often used as a way to distribute software that normally would go on a disc, or to back up old CDs and DVDs. Though intended to be burned to a disc, images can also be read directly from a hard drive or USB stick - though not without a little help.
There's an entire class of applications designed to load disc image files into Windows as if they were physical discs. But none blend so thoroughly with Windows as WinCDEmu, a virtual disc mounting utility that has practically no interface to speak of. Unlike more traditional apps like Daemon Tools or Alcohol 120 per cent, WinCDEmu runs in the background. You mount a disc image simply by finding the file in Windows Explorer and opening it. Unmounting an image is as easy as ejecting the disc in Windows Explorer or double-clicking on the image file again.
The utility supports most of the popular image formats like ISO and BIN/CUE, though more exotic file formats like Microsoft's little-used VHD format are missing. WinCDEmu may not be quite as fully featured as some of its competitors-it can't create or burn disc images-but that's not the point. It's designed to mount CD and DVD images without fuss, and it does a very good job.