10 cloud apps that slam-dunk their desktop counterparts

Computing in the cloud: it rocks. Instead of working with programs and documents on your PC or Mac, you move the whole experience (along with the app and all your data) online. That means there's no more syncing, no more installing, and no more backing up.

Now that Microsoft has announced its entry into the cloud-computing arena, calling its upcoming cloud system "Azure," you can see a trend developing. With broadband speeds increasing and connectivity becoming more dependable, it's practical to run apps and data from afar. But Microsoft will be entering a crowded and hotly competitive field of well-developed cloud applications.

We've been trying a lot of those, and we're so crazy about cloud computing we've decided to abandon desktop apps by the dozens. Peek onto our globetrotting desktop (or lack thereof), and see how we've abandoned scads of installed apps, setting ourselves free with our heads in computing-cloud cuckoo land. C'mon, click Continue — it'll be a liberating experience.

1. Gmail
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Replaces: An enormous number of clunky desktop e-mail apps
Better because: Three words: No. More. Spam. Never worry about e-mail backup again, and enjoy Google's world's-best search engine to sift through and search every word in all your e-mails. Don't like its look? It's easy to customize the Gmail interface in a variety of ways with the excellent Firefox plug-in, Better Gmail 2.

2. Picnik
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Replaces: Any image editor
Better Because: It lets you edit pics to your heart's content, and it's all free. Picnik has a red eye-removal tool, sharpen controls, exposure tweaks, and even auto-fix. And yes, it resizes, crops and lets you grab your stored shots from Picasa, Flickr, FaceBook, and others, saving or sharing them whence they came.

3. FitDay
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Replaces: Dietpower, desktop calorie counters
Better Because: Keep records of every calorie you consume, no matter where you are. Studies prove that counting calories and then keeping a record of your intake is the most effective way to lose weight, and FitDay's huge database of foods makes that easy. FitDay also includes a diary of your moods and goals, and tracks exercise, too, putting your entire weight-loss picture together in gorgeous graphs. It's also free.

4. Quicken Online
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Replaces: Quicken, Microsoft Money
Better Because: You can access your personal finances from any PC or cellphone. It's easy to use — in fact, the hardest part is correctly entering all your bank and credit card account numbers and passwords. All we're missing is the extensive budgeting and investment features of the desk-bound Quicken, but besides that, this is trouble-free finance tracking, plus it's free.

5. MozyHome
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Replaces: Time Machine, Acronis Backup
Better Because: If your house burns down or computer is stolen, you're still backed up. You do back up, don't you? With MozyHome you get 2 free gigs of automagic backup goodness, and unlimited space is a reasonable $4.95 a month. It takes a while to send all your files up to the Mozy server, and restoring that data isn't instant, but that feeling of being backed up, off-site? Well worth the price of admission, even if it's not your only backup method.

6. WordPress
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Replaces: Dreamweaver (Web page creator)
Better Because: A blog is just journal-keeping software gone online, and WordPress makes it easy to create one. Park your blog on the WordPress site, or use it to build a kingdom in your own domain name, but there's no better way to write and manage your blizzard of words and pics. Add plug-ins to accomplish almost anything — even turning your commenters' words into vowel-less gibberish (bwahahaha!) — and it's all free, snark not included.

7. Google Calendar
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Replaces: Microsoft Outlook Calendar, iCal
Better Because: Invite anyone with a Gmail address to your calendar, and even allow others to add or modify your events. Access your schedule from iPhone or just about any smartphone, add events from Gmail, and even check a weather forecast for your location, right there in the calendar. Best of all, there's an army of creative developers writing plug-ins for the calendar, extending its usefulness ad infinitum.

8. Pandora
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Replaces: iTunes "Genius"
Better Because: You won't pay a cent for tons of music you'll like. Sign up for the free Pandora on a computer or on your iPhone, and it asks you to name your fave song or artist. It then finds music similar to that song, and the hits just keep on coming. You can set up numerous "radio stations" around a particular artist, song, or style, or mix and match bands for your own custom sound. Better hurry with this one, though — the greedy record companies don't like it, so it may be going away soon.

9. Zoho Office Suite
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Replaces: Microsoft Office
Better Because: All your documents are out there for you to edit from anywhere, and others can work on them, too. Zoho's smooth interface is nearly as good as Microsoft Office, and in many ways it's better and easier to use. Text, spreadsheet, presentation, planner, invoicing and a whole lot more await you at Zoho. The company also offers plugins for Microsoft Office, letting you import Zoho docs into Word or Excel, and save them back online when you're done.

10. Photoshop Express
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Replaces: Photoshop Elements
Better Because: It's similar to the desk-bound Photoshop Elements, but Express is online and free. Like Picnik, it lets you snag pics from Picasa or Flickr and edit them where they sit. Adobe takes that a step further by spotting you a free 2GB to store your snaps. It's a sophisticated app — even more refined and smooth than Picnik — and its high point is its visual way of showing you lots of thumbnails of possible image edits, letting you choose your favorite. If this is where the real Photoshop ends up, that's okay with us — we're already liking it a lot.