These days, so much of what could only be accomplished offline 10 years ago has been taken to the cloud. So much so, that perpetual latecomers Microsoft have even started doing TV ads on their cloud-based image editing solution. (On a side note, easy-to-use image editing software doesn’t make your kids behave – that ad seems to imply that the software comes up with the nice versions of those kids out of thin air. To the cloud, indeed.)

But now, there’s a slew of new desktop applications that are taking the content in the cloud and making the experience even better. To illustrate, I offer you two of my favourite examples from the past couple months: Sparrow (for Gmail) and Reeder for Mac (for Google Reader).

Sparrow for Mac

Sparrow takes everything I love about Gmail’s speed, organization and never-ending list of additional features and brings it to a desktop client in an attractive package with a small footprint. It supports multiple accounts and takes design notes from Tweetie for Mac, which itself is a port of the iOS client of the same name, which has now become the official Twitter client for iPhone. That evolution serves as further proof that iOS devices are influencing the way we interact with the web, even outside of the supposed “walled garden” created by Apple’s App Store.

The overall design and functionality of the application makes reading email on your Mac akin to reading it on an iPad (a pleasure I have yet to experience, as I’m not an iPad owner … yet). Sparrow is a beautiful and simple solution to desktop email. Right now, it only supports Gmail, but support for other email accounts is coming soon. I’d love to be able to add my MobileMe account to Sparrow. Sparrow also supports the same keyboard shortcuts as Gmail does on the web, making the transition from browser to email client even more smooth.

Reeder for Mac

And then there’s Reeder for Mac, another application born on iOS that was ported back to the Mac (on a related note, I think Apple is really on to something with their next release of OSX). Reeder is an RSS reading application that syncs with your Google Reader account and presents articles in the simplest, most readable fashion I’ve seen. It supports all the same keyboard shortcuts as viewing my reader account on the web, allows for quick sharing of articles, animates smoothly through the browsing/switching of stories and overall just feels great to use. It’s the best reading experience you’re going to experience outside the iPad.

You can see that both these apps take cues from mobile app design – easy-to-use column-driven navigation, big easy-to-read fonts and smooth animations to transition between items. If desktop applications keep moving in this direction, there comes a point when the platform no longer really matters. All we’re concerned with is what screen we’re viewing the content on.

I know these are just two examples of great applications that take information in the cloud and turn it into something even better on the desktop. What apps do you use on your machine that enhance your experience of consuming information from the web? Leave me a comment!