Online desktop confusion
November 1, 2007
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?