MyFreeDesk: An ASP Too Soon

SAN FRANCISCO (01/25/2000) - The market for application service providers is getting increasingly crowded, and last week, yet another ASP jumped on board., made available to the public in a beta form on January 17, offers a free office suite of applications that can be accessed over the Internet from any computer with a Web browser.

MyFreeDesk offers a platform-independent suite of applications, including a word processor, a spreadsheet program, a presentation program, an e-mail program, and a Web page editor. A basic database program will be added soon.

The applications are free, as long as you don't mind looking at a few ads (no surprise there, right?). For business users who want a more professional experience, an ad-free version will soon be available at $4.95 per month.

I took a look at MyFreeDesk to see if I could abandon my desktop and work entirely on the Web. My answer? Not anytime soon. But MyFreeDesk isn't advertising itself as a replacement to the applications on your desktop, but rather as a complement to them.

"[Our ambition] isn't to replace local suites, but to create the ability to work anywhere, any time, any place," says Odeh Muhawesh, the president of MyFreeDesk.

But even for use as a complementary service, I found the actual experience of using MyFreeDesk laborious.

What's the Password?

To start out, I wasn't allowed to choose my own password for my account -- instead I had to wait for MyFreeDesk to send one to me. The e-mail came very quickly, but my password was a string of eight numbers that I wasn't ever going to memorize. Instead, each time I went to use MyFreeDesk, I opened my e-mail, copied the password, and pasted it into the log-on screen. Was it time-consuming? Yes. Especially when you consider that you have to enter your password more than once to get into MyFreeDesk.

Users will soon have the ability to choose their own passwords, Muhawesh says, also noting that the need for the repeated entering of the password will soon disappear.

But in order to be prompted for your password that second time around, you first have to be able to enter MyFreeDesk's applications area. That was a challenge in itself.

I logged on with my user name and password and proceeded to the next screen where you can choose to log on to the applications. Here was another warning:

Logging on for the first time could take a few minutes, and subsequent access should be considerably faster. I gave it a try. I waited 10 minutes and nothing happened. So, I tried again. This time it took about 6 minutes, but I got in.

This is when I had to enter my password again. I was then presented with a pop-up window containing icons for the applications. MyFreeDesk uses pure Java, so each time you click on something you are presented with another pop-up window -- by the time I got to the word processor, I had five windows open.

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