Briefcase

Last week we talked about setting up your flash drive so that you had a “portable office” of sorts wherever you go. This week we’ll take it a step further and look at the web apps you can use: all you’ll need to ensure is that the computer you’re “borrowing” has a good browser installed.

In recent times, people have become less and less fearful of putting their data in the hands of a third party, which was previously the main obstacle preventing web apps from taking off (as well, of course, connection speeds). Though those who claim it’s never a good idea to upload your data to a third-party, web-based app are going overboard, you do need to be careful. It’s not only important to always keep a local backup of your data; it’s important to read the terms of use on any of the following sites before uploading your intellectual property.

That said, web apps can make you truly mobile. It will no longer matter if you forget to bring your flash drive with you. We’ve got a list of the very best that you should know about if you want to have a truly “portable” office.

Online Office Suites

Office suites are the nerve center of the office (funny that) whether it’s a portable one or the one tethered to a desk and a floor. There are two particularly popular office suites that are web-based, both of which have zillions of zealous fans.

Google Apps offers email, documents, spreadsheets, notebooks, and more, attached to your own domain name. There are also personal versions if you don’t own a domain, such as Gmail and Google Docs.

Zoho is much like Google Apps, though many proponents say it has a far richer feature set than Google. Features aside, the range of apps is far more diverse – it has offerings for invoicing, databases, project management and even a wiki.

Organization

It goes without saying that we at Lifehack are obsessed with organizing, so these are some of our favorite web apps–you should get obsessed too, since working on the move can mean being disorganized for many workers. Take a look at these:

Backpack offers project management capabilities, as well as task management and note-taking.

Evernote offers a cross-platform desktop and web-based app for taking notes, which you can tag, share and sync between all of your devices. It can even make the text of an image searchable – great for taking a snapshot of the whiteboard at the end of each meeting.

Remember The Milk is a fantastic task management web app. It’s got all the power you’ll need to make your task management system work in a web-based setting, with a fantastic blog and team behind it making it better all the time. Check out this post if you want to improve your Remember The Milk setup.

Business

Managing your invoicing and your money is a painful necessity for not just freelancers and web workers, but practically everyone (well, perhaps not invoicing, but money in general). There are some great web apps that make these tasks easier.

Blinksale is a fantastic invoicing web app, starting with a free option and scaling up depending on how much you need to use it. Highly recommended.

PayPal is a must for any web-worker. I, for one, get paid by PayPal down to the last cent of my pay as a freelance writer – you just can’t get by without a PayPal account these days unless you shun the internet all together. If you don’t want to fork out for Blinksale, PayPal’s invoicing is pretty good, although it doesn’t let you apply a discount to the invoice, which is often annoying as it means (gasp) manual calculations!

Harvest is a web app for time-tracking, making it easier to calculate your fees and write up an invoice (with invoicing built in, if you find it easier to track time and invoice from the same app).

Communication

Basecamp is a web app that endeavors to improve your project communication and collaboration, allowing you to make to-do lists, share files, track time (as part of a team, rather than for freelance invoicing purposes), and schedule milestones.

Campfire is another one from the makers of Basecamp that we here at Lifehack use for collaborative meetings. Imagine the chat rooms that typified the net in the nineties, repurposed to accommodate business and creative meetings

Meebo is handy if you need to chat with clients, colleagues or business partners while out and about on AIM, Yahoo!, Google Talk or MSN instant messaging networks and you don’t want to download anything. It’s a web-based client to handle them all.

Diversions

C’mon, everyone needs a diversion once in a while! It’s part of what keeps us productive. There’s no point trying to be productive at all if we don’t have a little time to unwind in between bursts of hard work. It is actually a proven scientific fact that all work and no play makes for zero productivity in your day, though I am going to whistle innocently for repeating this claim even though I can’t seem to re-find the article where I read this.

Twitter makes for a good diversion since it’s not intrusive, so you can have some social fun while not allowing the application to take over in such a distracting way as instant messaging. It still can get distracting, but there’s an order of magnitude between Twitter and something that beeps and flashes like MSN or Skype.

I was recently surprised to find that Shockwave is still around–I used it for diversions probably around a decade ago and thought it had since disappeared. It hasn’t, and currently has some excellent word games that can both “warm up” my mind when I’m having trouble getting in the writing mood, and cool it down after too many hours spent typing (thanks to Gina-Marie for this one).

YouTube is a site you already knew about, but when it comes to taking a break, nothing beats a surf around this site. Especially if you want a totally passive break, as both Twitter and Shockwave require a certain level of interaction.

So there you have it: the most useful web apps for running your office away from the office. I could have given you some mega, massive resource list that listed every web app in the world, but there are plenty of those out there just a Google away. This article gives you the essentials that sometimes get lost in bigger lists. Enjoy, and do add your own essentials in the comments!

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