What is a Desktop?

When we think about a desktop, various things come to mind, a mini-tower machine sitting next to a monitor on your actual desktop, a set of applications running on an Operating System that you use to get things done, and (if you are me) either GNOME or KDE on a Linux System.

Will Google Do _____ ?

Rather all or any of the above come to mind when you heard Desktop, it’s important to note that there have also been long-standing rumors that someone like Google will be doing A) Google-branded Linux Distribution (Googlix, anyone?) B) Giving out free desktop machines with someone’s distribution on it all branded neatly with Google or C) Google somehow putting all the apps that one could ever need into the browser experience and taking over the Desktop market by neatly snaring everyone the moment they want to do something.

I’ve often wanted to know if there is a correlation between Google product announcements and the amount of people who experience severe heartburn at Microsoft’s various consumer-focused divisions. Perhaps a Google Maps mashup of the Seattle area and the sales of Pepcid AC at the local convenience stores would be informative….

The Community Gets Involved

Recently the GNOME developers were presented with the idea of an Online Desktop, not a “WebTop” where everything is run off the web, but something that could be a desktop replacement in every important way, you could boot off a Live CD/DVD or just get access to the web from any machine that can load a browser and supports open protocols.

This really opens up a lot of ideas, questions and suggestions, such as what if all we had to do was get to the web, and when we logged on to our “Online Desktop” we had access to an initial template desktop framework, and all sorts of good and useful plugins and addons were just a few clicks away? We already have this with tools like Flock, albeit in a browser context, or some of the flash-based online desktops such as Magix, DesktopTwo and Goowy.

Asking the Tough Questions

So the concept might look good, but some real questions need to be answered or considered for this to even begin to be useful:

Q) Will you be able to use any machine and browser that has broadband access to start and use the Online Desktop?

Q) Where will the data that you generate reside, who will back it up, and what happens if something needs to be restored?

Q) Will you have access to only the resources of the Online Desktop, or will you be able to use local machine resources too?

Q) Will there be P2V tools, or how do I get all my local data into the Online Desktop (Cloud), will there be tools or just HTTP uploads like Flickr/file attachments?

Q) Who is the real target market for the Online Desktop? Emerging Markets would seem to be one, but the very fact of it being an emerging market (low or no bandwidth available, extreme conditions, power issues, legacy or incompatible machines) makes that a tough sell.

Q) How about a disconnected mode? Does the very fact that I have a laptop and want to work on the plane or sitting in a deck chair next to the hotel pool mean that I would have a more complex arrangement than what I have now?

Q) How will apps have to be designed and to what specs must they adhere to be a part of the Online Desktop that we eventually get? Hopefully this will happen cross-vendor and cross-community, that way we get extreme interoperability, and not the impending Train Wreck that I see happening with Microsoft’s Windows Live scenario.

The REAL Question

Would you do it? Do you think the ultimate market is as a secure-protocol thin client that lets you access your corporate applications from literally any system in your or other environments? How much data (files, email, MP3’s etc.) do you treat as your “Daily Data Set” and would you ever trust a vendor or set of vendors to house that data, given that crackers/hackers will begin to try to get access to it?

Bottom Line

Is the concept of an Online Desktop the real goal, or would you rather have seamless data synchronization across all platforms and all flavors of operating systems?  Then would it really matter what you used?