Online desktop confusion

November 1, 2007

NOTE: Before reading this entry, please note I am aware of this link and this link.

NOTE2: Digg just put this top story up one hour after I posted this entry.  Oh Digg, why do you copy me so?

For me, Las Vegas walks the fine line between interesting and inane. If it were just a little bit more refined or sane, I wouldn’t mind it. If it were any more tacky or dependent on base pleasures, I’d openly cheer for fire and brimstone to rain down due to $deity_du_jour. Once every couple of years I somehow find myself there. And it seems fun for about 24 hours. But by Hour 36 I’m shivering on a toilet seat in my hotel room putting the barrel of a gun in my mouth.

And so it is with web services and the talk of a mysterious gnome online desktop. Just the right mix of buzz words and ambiguity to keep me confused. It stands perilously on the tightrope between having my interest and having my eyes roll in contempt. I write this blog entry with full disclosure that I haven’t read up much on the topic, but that’s the very reason for the entry!

What’s an online desktop? I’ve heard people call access to another machine through VNC an “online desktop.” Or RDP. Or Citrix. Or GoToMyPC. Or PC Anywhere. Or FreeNX. I’ve heard people call Sun’s various efforts an online desktop. I’ve heard AJAX-based efforts like Ajax13 called online desktops. Or hybrid clients such as Adobe’s Flex. I’ve worked on a project where users logged in to a full-time full-screen browser window – you guessed it, an online desktop. Hell, if you ask 95% of the computing public, I’d bet that simply having a cable modem or DSL that provides constant net access would be their understanding of an “online desktop.”

You can see where I’m going with this all. Different companies or organizations will take a protocol, a port number and a rendering option and call it the same thing. Whether you’re a server-centric company like Sun or a desktop-centric company like Adobe. So when I hear about Red Hat/Fedora discussing web services and an online desktop at the recent FOSSCamp, what should be the casual observer’s impression? Freaking real Web Services via JBoss? Right? They basically bought an application server and are now talking about an online desktop via web services. But I’m reading instead about DBUS and XMPP. Which is fine, but is that supposed to be any different that a Plasma data engine with some dedicated servers as a gateway or hub? This is starting to smell like Sun’s Java Desktop that didn’t have anything to do with Java whatsoever.

The point? When you get to the granularity of asking “Do you think they mean uppercase Web Services or lower case web services when they talk about an online desktop?” and regardless either answer doesn’t induce any sense of groundbreaking activity, you start shaking your head. What will be the client for the gnome online desktop? A browser? Rich Client Applications? GTK applications? All of the above? Is XMPP the only protocol or are you actually considering SOAP/UDDI/WSDL? Does there have to be a centralized server or will you connect directly to other Web Service providers?

The sad part is: the over-engineered version that involves some lightweight JBoss server on a desktop handling SOAP/WSDL actually seems to have the most potential/power. You could introduce workflow, ESB ideas, pass wrapped applets or repository packages, etc. Can someone who was at FOSSCamp shed any light on this? Is this concept is basically similar to the GNOME Online desktop Wiki implementation here/here?

5 Responses to “Online desktop confusion”

  1. Leo Says:

    I don’t like how one of the first things on that Online Desktop wiki is “Microsoft will move too slowly.” written in bold face. You know you’re not confident in your ideas if you have to belittle others before you even get started. Yes, integration with online services can be useful, but it’s a gradual process, and one that everyone else is moving towards as well, and has been for years. I really don’t see where the innovation is.

  2. berkus Says:

    Innovation is in KDE.

  3. Segedunum Says:

    _I don’t like how one of the first things on that Online Desktop wiki is “Microsoft will move too slowly.” written in bold face._

    We have all heard phrases like that for many years now when certain people have talked about desktop Linux, and I find all this talk about an online desktop rather sad. It’s sort of an admission that we can’t compete with the rich framework and set of applications that make a desktop, so we have to come up with some sort of paradigm shift that many people have been talking about for years. We’ll then come up with some clever phrase about how Microsoft is behind.

  4. […] Online desktop confusion NOTE: Before reading this entry, please note I am aware of this link and this link. NOTE2: Digg just put this top story […] […]

  5. Kevin Kofler Says:

    Online Desktop is mainly about integrating non-Free web services like Google’s and Yahoo’s (which include the ever-popular YouTube and Flickr, respectively) with the GNOME desktop. When we (I and a few other commenters) pointed this out on their blogs, the developers just said (paraphrasing from memory) “the solution will be working on Free web services, not halting progress”, great excuse for turning core parts of your desktop proprietary. Not to mention the privacy and security concerns of hosting all your important data on some central server. And the FSF recently pointed out that even if the web services were actually Free Software (not abusing the GPL web service loophole which the Affero GPL aims at closing nor being entirely proprietary to begin with), they still aren’t Free for you if you have to rely on a central server, because you can’t control what’s running on the central server. So unless you can easily and affordably run your own instance of the service and said instance can communicate to users of the central server as well as the central instance, a web service can’t be truly Free.

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