Free Online Apps: What’s the Catch?

Microsoft is currently trialling an initial release of its free online developer toolset PopFly. It provides enough kit to get yourself up and running with your very own Web 2.0 site plus an inbuilt social network for the developer community. The hosted application requires a “Flash-like” plugin called Silverlight.

The only limitation on users is their imaginations and the fact that PopFly version 1.0 still has a few eccentricities yet to be ironed out. In time honoured fashion this has not discouraged MS from releasing it to a willing public in order to carry out free user-lead testing on their behalf.

PopFly is a response to other hosted offerings such as Yahoo’s HotPipes which goes by the rather esoteric descriptor of “interactive feed aggregator and manipulator”. That’s geek-speak for “recombining” the assets of other web 2.0 sites and placing them at your fingertips and for others to use.

Microsoft is competing in this space because it doesn’t want to be outflanked by its arch nemesis Google (and others) who are populating the Web with hosted applications as fast as they can build them. But there is another more subtle reason. You simply cannot run PopFly unless you have IE 6 or 7 and Windows XP or Vista.

Upgrading your O/S seems to be less of a cultural imperative than it used to be in the past. Until quite recently I was happy running my basic home office business functions, such as email and word processing, on a Windows 98 platform. It remained reliable and has only once succumbed to a viral infection, from which there was a full recovery of data. Furthermore, “broadband” connectivity is so slow in the suburbs that my experience of “media rich” applications could hardly justify spending my hard earned cash on a new O/S. Hence MS know that they now need to make a much stronger case for late adopters like me to upgrade by providing free toys to play with online – toys that only work with the most recent version of their ubiquitous O/S.

But I’m still nervous about being tied to a single service provider for life. So why doesn’t someone clever make an easily installable Linux based O/S for laptops, complete with a nifty applications toolset? Then I don’t have to be reliant on Microsoft (or Apple) or Google to get my work done. Well apparently Ubuntu has the answer. Ubuntu is a free open source operating system that has its own user/developer community and is now reportedly installed on over 100,000 private and government owned computers.

The downside is that Ubuntu is still evolving. And whilst it performs adequately in a basic setup, it can be a wee bit buggy to install where there are lots of peripherals, sound cards, drivers and other toys involved. Furthermore Ubuntu has not been embraced (yet) by the likes of Adobe or by games developers for example. However support groups are popping up like mushrooms, as are new applications that do work with the Ubuntu O/S. A company called Canonical facilitates the project and offers to provide software support on a commercial basis whilst releasing upgrades and promising to keep the software free of charge. It’s a great example of how crowd-sourced content and user communities can make a difference in the world of technology. No doubt a lot of people are watching to see if this business model can be made to work on a global basis.

If anyone has tried Ubuntu, please do share your experiences.

[tags] Ubuntu, open source software, crowd sourcing [/tags]

1 thought on “Free Online Apps: What’s the Catch?

  1. We use Ubuntu on a meeting rom hack at work (we need Windows based apps on the other machine). It seem OK but
    – it makes me nervous that thre are so many diffeent customisations of it. I like the fact that XP SP2 is just that no matter wher you are
    – while I am a part time geek, one shouldn’t have to be to install and OS. Ubuntu seems more gek requiring than MacOS/Win
    – As you mention it’s early days in terms of app support

    I prefer the concept of an OS-less platform that is pruely browser based. Until then my dream set up is the robustness of the Unix cored MacOS (shame I use PC’s then)

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