Seemingly overnight, something remarkable has happened. The next generation of Web-based applications — Web 2.0 — has arrived. Many of these are useful for remodelers, and many are inexpensive or free. Take the Google applications suite www.google.com/intl/en/options/. You probably know about Google search, and you might know about Gmail, Google's free e-mail system. But did you also know Google has a word processor (Writely), a spreadsheet (Google Spreadsheet), a mapping/directions tool, a shared calendar, and a photo organizer (Picassa)? There's even a free personal version of the SketchUp design program (www.sketchup.com), which lets you place your 3-D designs on “Earth” — Google's interactive map of the planet.
Will Google's free applications replace a $500 copy of Microsoft Office? A couple of months ago I would confidently have said “no,” but now I'm not so sure.
Although many Google applications are basic, they're collaborative, which is better for remodelers. When was the last time Microsoft Office (at any price) gave you the tools to put a model of your client's house, with the addition you're doing, on an actual map of their property and interact with it in 3-D space? Or what about just posting a simple, interactive, and secure project budget, calendar, and task list online — without anyone having to purchase or upgrade (or learn) complicated “conventional” software? Those are all things you can do now, using Google with just a Web browser and an Internet connection — and most features won't cost you a penny.
Don't like Google? There are dozens of Web 2.0 applications in almost every software category by other developers, and we'll catch more of them in coming months. — Joe Stoddard is an industry consultant and the director of Builder Operations for Dynami Solutions. Reach him online at www.joestoddard.com.