The Web2.0 and AJAX craze is showing us dozens of potential web-based applications that might one day bring the desktop-based computing world as we know it to its knees. AJAX programs include meebo for instant messaging, Gmail for email and chat, and more.
But one AJAX application has really caught my eye: Writely, a web-based word processor.
While only in beta, Writely can seem a little rough around the edges, and occasionally makes a few mistakes. But it has the potential to rival desktop-based solutions such as OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Word. In fact, Writely can upload existing HTML, plaintext, rich-text, MS Word Documents, and OpenOffice .odt and .sxw documents. It can support .gif, .png, .jpg, and .bmp images for embedding in your files.
I experimented a bit with Writely, but came away happy. I only had a few minor problems, as is expected from a beta service. I lost some tab formatting in an rtf document that I uploaded. I had trouble getting cut/copy/paste to work, but the problem appears to be a compatibility issue with Firefox that can be fixed. And the Undo button wouldn't work for autocorrections made by the spell-checker. Also, Writely provides an RSS feed of documents you made public (i.e., available for others to see), but this proved a bit finicky. I did not experiment with Writely's vast set of collaboration tools, but they seem easy to use and powerful.
I successfully created a test document from scratch online, applied various special formatting, bulleted and numbered lists, tables, page breaks, horizontal lines, hyperlinks, and just plain content. I exported it to MS Word .doc successfully.
Overall, Writely as it stands provides a free, efficient, clean solution to most word processor users. I look forward to it coming out of beta as a functioning and streamlined product. If more web developers can create applications (and I don't use that term lightly; Writely came across as equally powerful to many desktop programs) with Writely's potential, then Web2.0 might succeed.
EDIT: Slashdot recently posted a thread about Web2.0 that features some more AJAX examples worthy of mention.