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If you think about how you use software today versus how you did just 10 years ago, my bet is you now use a lot more web-based applications.

A piece of software that runs in your web browser and which stores your data (such as emails or photos) on the Internet is commonly referred to as Software As A Service (SaaS) or cloud-based computing – two buzz words which companies like SalesForce.com and Google use as much as they can to communicate the idea that there’s a paradigm shift taking place in the way software is built and used.

The basic idea is that a few years ago most of the software programs you used (such as Microsoft Office, Outlook, Photoshop and MSN/Yahoo/AOL Messenger) were Windows (or Mac) based applications that you had to install and upgrade. They took up space on your hard drive and couldn’t be used when you were on another computer unless you installed them again.

Today, you can get access to pretty much any type of software using just a web browser – and a lot of the times the software won’t even cost you anything. There’s nothing to install and if your computer crashes you can easily restore an automatically saved draft/backup copy in just a few clicks. This is the basic premise of the SaaS/cloud computing model.

When you think about it, the first real mainstream consumer SaaS application was Hotmail, which Microsoft acquired (nope, they didn’t build it) in 1997 for $400 million. It required just a web browser and you could login from any computer in the world with an Internet connection.

In the last 10 or so years, the shift to the cloud has changed the way companies (including us) build software and the way users consume it. While FaceBook or Gmail are probably the most-used consumer SaaS applications, there are quite a few gems that let you accomplish practically anything online, and I want to share some with you in this post.

BigCommerce, our ecommerce software, is of course delivered in the cloud – your orders, customers, products and preferences are all saved as part of our secure database cluster which you can access through your login from any computer with an Internet connection 24/7. You don’t need to install anything on your computer to use the software and upgrades are made available automatically.

As a software company we’re also big believers in cloud computing ourselves – we run Google Apps for staff in our 3 offices (Sydney, Austin and London). We also run our CRM/email marketing/analytics/SEM/HR/calendars/chat in the cloud. For new team members this can sometimes take quite a bit of getting used to – when you come from using clunky desktop software like Outlook and outdated CRM software like Siebel it’s actually a big shift (albeit a productive one) that can take a few weeks.

To speed up the transition from desktop to SaaS, we’re also doing our part via integrations with other SaaS platforms for email marketing, accounting, analytics, affiliate tracking, shipping, payments and more. A great example is our upcoming integration with Outright.com, Mailchimp and Picnik.com in version 6, and we’ll continue to build out at least a handful of integrations with every major release going forward.

Anyway, I digress. Here are 10 innovative software applications which are making the move from desktop to cloud easier and faster for consumers and businesses:

1. Aviary (think Photoshop, but free and online) -If you don’t want to spend $1,000 on Photoshop and barely use more than the basic features like most people then you’ll love Aviary. Very similar to Photoshop in terms of design, it gives you advanced photo and image editing right from your browser – and it’s free.

2. Grooveshark (think iTunes, but for radio and free) – An amazing streaming music service that’s completely free. You can create and share your own playlists or even enable radio mode which recommends and adds songs to your playlist for you automatically.

3. Google Website Optimizer – The best way to test changes to your website and how they impact your conversion rate, such as different checkout buttons or product photos. Google Website Optimizer is integrated with BigCommerce and can easily increase the conversion rate of an established ecommerce store by at least 10%.

4. Picnik (think Aviary but not as advanced) – Another excellent online photo editor. While not as advanced as Aviary, it’s a lot more popular and has an excellent API, which we’ve used to build photo editing right into the upcoming release of BigCommerce 6.

5. GetSatisfaction – A customer-centric community support platform for businesses. Customers can ask and answer each other’s questions, post ideas and leave testimonials. Used by global brands like Microsoft, Zappos and of course us.

6. SalesForce -The CRM pioneer which is slowly but surely changing how sales team manage their pipelines, opportunities and deals. Often looked at as the business version of Amazon.com in terms of innovation and adoption.

7. CoTweet (think Gmail for Twitter) – Makes Twitter as easy to manage as email. Create multiple logins so your staff can reply to customers on Twitter through one company account. You can also assign follow ups to team members and track previous conversations in a threaded format. We use CoTweet to manage our Twitter account with great success. Oh, and it’s free too.

8. SurveyMonkey – Dead simple surveys with built-in skip logic. We recently used SurveyMonkey to send out a survey asking customers why so many switched to BigCommerce (over 25%). There’s a free plan but it’s only $20 a month for practically unlimited surveys and responses.

9. Box – Pioneering file and document sharing in the cloud. Box makes it easy for both consumers and businesses to upload, share and update all sorts of files. They also have excellent mobile clients for iPhone, Blackberry and Android phones.

10. BigCommerce – And last but not least, our ecommerce platform, BigCommerce. A true cloud-based offering which gives businesses of all sizes everything they need to sell online and attract more customers to their online store. Features like built-in CRM, a suite of marketing tools and easy-to-use content management system turn your website into a platform which can sell, support and attract new customers, as well as evolve with your business needs as they continue to change in response to your own customer’s needs and habits.

What are your favorite SaaS applications? Feel free to share them by posting a comment below!

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  • I would like to add Freshdesk to the list. Freshdesk is an online help desk software that gives you complete control over managing tickets, automating help desk activities, handling SLAs, complete portal re-branding (css), community forums, knowledge base and more! More information at: http://freshdesk.com/tour

  • Vinita

    Really good article. Is useful to me for my research in SaaS testing. Thanks

  • WonderfuL! Just amazing work. I will come back every day to learn more.

  • Thanks for sharing information about these interesting apps. I appreciate your blog.

  • Thanks for useful information, I will definitely try these apps.

  • Kind of not related. Cloud != iPad.

  • Intrinsec Technologies

    Would just like to point out that your number 1 cloud app still does not work on the iPad.

  • Hi Thanks for a really interesting post, I’m relatively new to the word of SaaS/cloud computing, and now cant wait to get involved with some of the above apps. Thanks again!

  • Cool article. I would add also DataStation innovation cloud: http://www.datastation.com/
    We use this SaaS for managing innovations of our IT services and development.
    Ideation module has duplicate prevention which helps us collect high quality ideas and stop possible duplicates from being submitted. Idea prioritization is clear, we can track the top innovators.
    It is easy to use, simple to start with, and affordable.

  • SaaS seems to be seeing widest adoption in business apps that companies rank most strategic. Two of the best:
    Salesforce: http://www.salesforce.com/ (CRM)
    and of course:
    http://www.coupa.com/ (purchasing/procure/expenses)

  • mike

    I think OrderCup is a real contender in the shipping management SaaS arena. I think it’s powerful, and just what a small or medium business would need! And very affordable! So nice to not have to download any database or software to accomplish this crucial e commerce task.

  • Chris

    I stumbled onto zoho.com a couple of years ago. Their list of app’s covers everything I need to do global, online, business. Virtually all of what I need is free. But I have fallen in love with the BigCommerce shopping cart.

  • I would also add Mint (http://www.mint.com) to the list. It’s kind of like Quicken, but all online and completely free. While it’s not as complex as Quicken, it has completely replaced it for me. Very clean design and good visuals help you easily see what’s going on with your personal finances. I am also experimenting with Outright (http://www.outright.com) for my business bookkeeping.

  • Matt K.

    Good article. My favorite online software is intelecrm. Cheap, but powerful, it has allowed our small company to compete with our bigger competition in terms of streamlined sales and marketing. A few years ago there is no way we would have been able to afford a CRM. Now that all of these companies are offering solutions on the cloud, its possible for us.

  • I would add project management and collaboration tools that are in the market. My fav is DeskAway, it has a free plan that is great for freelancers.

  • I’m glad CoTweet made your list. Tools to help enterprises manage social media are necessary and blooming sector. I would also recommend you and your readers look at Spredfast (http://spredfast.com). Like CoTweet, Spredfast allows enterprises create multiple logins so a team can assign follow ups to other team members and track previous conversations. The big difference is that with CoTweet you can only only do this in Twitter. Spredfast can do this across 9 different social media channels: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, all major blogging platforms, YouTube, Flickr, Hyves.nl and SlideShare.

  • Psonar is another worth checking out.

    It’s a free cloud-based solution which is focused on allowing users to do more with music that they own, unlike streaming services where you effectively ‘rent’ the music as long as you continue to subscribe (and hope that the music doesn’t get pulled by the copyright owner.)

    With Psonar you can upload the music you own to the cloud, so it’s accessible everywhere, from any internet-connected device.

    Psonar also provides web-based iTunes-style management so that you can drag and drop tracks to any device that you can connect to a PC via USB. This enables you can have your music on your device when that’s best, but also in the cloud. This means it is great for backup, as Ben – one of my team – discovered the other day:

    http://blog.psonar.com/2010/02/26/laptop-dead-music-safe/

    So – it’s perfect if you love your old MP3 player, want to keep your music on an inexpensive memory stick or for when you don’t have an internet connection and thus offers you the best of both worlds.

    Finally, by utilising the cloud, we can do what the cloud is great for – discovery and social. We’ve got basic discovery with lots more innovative discovery and social stuff on the way very soon.

    Richard

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