Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I want a web desktop

It seems the web is awaking to the concept of interoperability between service providers. I read somewhere, and so true it is, that it's ironic how, in a sense service provision is returning to the 'mainframe'. The web as a platform offers so many advantages over the desktop platform, but in many regards the desktop is still the home to the user. So; how can we get the web up to speed - not to replace the desktop, but to be as comfortable, secure and integrated as the desktop? What do we need? What does the user want? What do I want?
Here's a couple of ideas... It's not an exhaustive list; It's just some ideas.
The web in the future:
  • Everything is open
  • Everything is decentralized
  • User space is shared and accessible
  • The user has control of their own information

So How do we decentralize our systems in an open manner?
Security and data integrity is a critical issue shaping the web. Decentralization and openness always comes coupled with policies and procedures. So how do we share personal and business intelligence in a fair and controlled manner? If a user has permission to view or mash information on one system, how can we securely let him reference that information from another system? (I realize this is a paragraph of questions,...)
It is becoming more frequent to perform more of our daily work functions online; The trend of remote storage and processing is undeniable. The internet computing cloud is storming. I myself do not store email, pictures, video or music on my local computer; All of these are provided by -free- online services. In my work environment 4 out of the 6 regular applications I use all reside on the intranet.
Another interesting thing to watch is the commercial adoption of social engineering (or more generally any 'Web2.0') platforms. Work environments, at least the ones I've worked in, either embrace the evolving web, or try and firewall it out. I always enjoy hearing of success stories from organisations that have embraced the evolving web; One of the examples that spring to mind is that of the micromessaging arena. Many companies now use Twitter et al to communicate within their organisation - and find it very effective. There are now many comercial micromessaging platforms that offer packages to willing corporates that want the paid support. So what - Why am I mentioning this?

I believe the web is the dominant application domain now - and if your industry doens't fit into this rather swooping statement then, I beg to argue, that it most likely will in the future. Now I can either be in the company that waits to see what happens with the web and design my business around accordingly, or I can storm ahead and be on the forefront of the evolving web platform. Gotto admit - I prefer setting trends rather than following them.
What do I want my web platform to be? As a starting point I'm just going to throw together another list. This will be a few things that I would like to see out of a web framework, and the web in general. [Some are slightly redundant, but I thought it coloured in the picture nicely]

  • I, as a user, want control.
  • As a user, when I open my browser (or log on to the internet per say), I want to have access to all my information, all the time.
  • I need a clear entry point or a mechanism to manage my online life.
  • I want a platform that will abstract (hence simplify) the communication between different flavours of the same product type.
    Example: Which Instant Messenger do you use? AIM, Gtalk, Skype, SIP, Gizmo, XMPP? What about your friends? This issue has been cordially addressed with the applicaiton of XMPP and multi-protocol clients, but this is an example of the open web and the need to find common ground between service providers.
  • I want to be able to choose where I store my personal data and for that data to be seemlessly accessible from everywhere else I go.
    Exmaple: If I'm at work, I do infact want to set my web-desktop background to that picture of my wife and kids. Sure some business policies will prohibit personal data accessability, but for those work environments that aren't so, dare I say 'old-school', as to lock down everything, I want this accessability.
  • I want clear ownership of some of my information.
    Example: I want to store my financials and budgets on my FTP server at home, but these should be as readily available to myself, as my online photo album. [And no,.. I don't want to carry around a portable FTP client on USB.] I want a web-desktop that seemlessly integrates with my online data, and my personal data at home.
  • Some people are technical,... some are not. This is a fact of life. If the system does fit a decentralized model, the take-home installer should be simple to setup.
    I want to addon to my web desktop system and code new plugins - My sister does not; She just wants to click once and install - Furthermore, my mother doesn't understand what installing is, she just wants to logon to a hosted solution.
  • My web-desktop system I host at home, the one I subscribe to online, and the one we use at work should in some manner communicate and synchronize.
  • I want to access my web-desktop from a plethora of different devices; Such as my computer, mobile phone, UMPC, or any other capable computing device.

Well some might say that these things are highly improbable. How will the world accept such infusion between all of a persons online life?

Will business's ever let me have access to my personal desktop (or portions thereof) at work?

How many end users actually understand the concept of decentralization? (Few would be my guess.) I tried to explain OpenID's to my wife once and she could not see the purpose of it.Worst case scenario,.. lets just wait for my generation to pass. I would put money on it that in ten years every site will be OpenID enabled. The problem with most users in this 'internet generation', is that even though we all know how to use a computer , unless there's a need to know, we don't want to. It seems the best time to teach a generation of users new concepts, is in their infancy. In some ways this makes me sad that the digital-experience I yearn to have will only really become a reality for the next generation.

So what do I want?
I want a desktop for the web. A platform for integrating all my online escapades into a web platform. My very own personal web desktop.
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