Cloudware is filtering down to consumers. Google’s free collection of online apps includes a suite of personal productivity tools that rivals Microsoft Office. For a monthly fee, users can get 10 Gbytes of data storage and telephone support to boot.
At the same time, a profusion of Net-connected devices are challenging the primacy of the desktop. Exhibit A: the Nokia N800 Internet Tablet, a slick handheld that does Web browsing, email, IM, and media playback. The TiVo digital video recorder sells movie tickets and streams Net radio. And smartphones like the Motorola Q, Samsung BlackJack, and a little monster called the iPhone are leaving the lonely desktop with less and less to do.
By offering online alternatives to desktop apps, businesses can amass a trove of data about customers and their activities — information that can be used to deliver ever more tailored services. Consider wesabe.com, a personal finance service. The site pulls financial data from a user’s bank, credit card, and other accounts. Then the server categorizes purchases, savings, and so on and compares them with the user’s stated goals. It also compares each user’s behavior with that of others on the site, computing average spending and saving habits. And it organizes communities of people who share particular aspirations or patronize a specific vendor.