Why grapple with broken hardware when you can do it all online? Then you need never worry about PC disasters.

What's the most powerful component of your computer? For years you were told the processor was the brains of the PC, while more recently Microsoft has been telling you the true power is in the operating system. But a new wave of developers plans to put Intel, AMD and Microsoft firmly in the background with online tools that could mean you'll need little cleverness inside your desktop PC or laptop at all.

Instead, your web browser could become the most useful and powerful element of your computer. And rather than needing ever-faster and more expensive CPUs inside your system, you'll be able to rely on processors and storage located thousands of miles away. No local backup, no upgrade headaches and no fears of losing vital files – outsource all of those nuisances to a major service provider located on the other side of the world.

Most of us have been relying on web browsers for aeons, but largely for surfing the web, watching videos, downloading music and so on. The new world of online applications includes word processors, spreadsheets and even presentation tools that take a leaf out of Microsoft's PowerPoint. While this does sound innovative, you may be wondering why you'd want to dump your trusty version of Microsoft Office or OpenOffice. First of all, like OpenOffice, many of these services are free – you can use tools such as Google Docs & Spreadsheets (plus dozens of others we cover in a feature in the September 07 issue) for nothing.

But they also allow you to work and play wherever there's a web connection, and on whichever internet-connected device you find. Some developers even claim you'll no longer need to lug around a laptop or even a USB flash drive. Plus, these innovators are hyping the collaborative element of their creations – instead of documents being emailed between friends and colleagues, why not all work on one document that's stored remotely where it will exist forever?

While there's no doubt internet access is becoming a given in the home or office, in city centres and even on the train, we're years away from being able to connect from wherever we are. In some countries, it's light years away. That means we're not going to rely upon one of these tools as our main office suite any time soon. But this has not gone unnoticed. Google has been working on versions of its web services that work both on- and offline, and one of the other products we mention in our magazine feature – Thinkfree – will be there soon.

This month's feature isn't designed only for those who want to dip their toe into next generation web apps, however. We've also got plenty of online tools that'll improve your web experience today, including password- and bookmark-managers, answer sites and to-do lists. The September 07 issue is onsale now.

Fix your PC

We've also produced a PC-disaster survival guide, offering expert advice on what to do when things go awry. We cover all major problem areas – from failed hardware and lost data to troublesome broadband connections and ID theft. We guarantee you haven't heard some of these tips before – ever considered your oven or 99 percent rubbing alcohol as options when repairing broken products?

Despite the innovative online tools from the likes of Google we mentioned above, most people will rely on PC hardware and client-side software for the foreseeable future. And the reality is that when something does go wrong, you're probably going to have to sort it out yourself.