There is a a product called the G.HO.ST Desktop that has been in alpha for some time. What this is, in a nutshell, is a desktop operating system (OS) that loads in the browser using Flash. It gives you 3 GB of space that are accessible not only through the GUI, but also via FTP. It includes a groupware application (Zimbra-based) that allows you to access your POP email, a Web broswer, and an IM client. It has integration with ZoHo and other tools for office-suite functionality. It can play your MP3s. It can do flickr. It can… well… make soup for you! No, not really.
Granted, it’s one of many competing projects that are out there (check Wikipedia and mashable for others), but it’s by far the most advanced and the most integrated product so far, and it bears watching for where this interesting turn in the desktop will take IT over the next few years. Coupled with the upcoming AIR from Adobe and decent application virtualization there can be some real winning opportunities here. As an alpha, it could use a performance tweak and more integration (Citrix and/or 2X client, anyone?), but for a first view, it’s great.
Another Web-desktop that I was playing with is ZK Desktop (aka Zero Kelvin Desktop). This one’s interesting because it’s locally hostable, meaning that you can load it inside your network and run it on your servers without traversing the firewall to the big-bad Internet. The demo is literally a click-to-run app that I loaded on my XP Pro machine. That said, I already had the Java SDK installed and path environment variables defined, so don’t forget to download the Java SDK if you don’t have it before you launch the demo (the readme file will tell you this!). Once it loaded up (in nine seconds), I used their browser to check my mail, do some more work, and edit a short document that became this post. Easy as pie. Still no shell though… although one could be added without much difficulty.
In the same vein is the popular EyeOS, also a locally hostable Web-desktop, and one with quite a bit of contributor support. The photo below is me, editing this blog, looking at the config page of my OpenFiler NAS/SAN box, and using SSHTerm to get into a remote linux box.
In each case, I was able to log in, work via web-apps or native apps, and maintain some decent level of productivity. For the typical knowlege worker, say a marketing or finance person, this sort of Web-desktop can be ideal provided that the right applications can be run. In fact, if I may be so bold, this may be the actual future of desktop virtualization – it will have less to do with hosting a complete desktop on a virtualized piece of hardware and more about hosting a desktop on a Web server (perhaps on a virtual guest).
Hurdles? Lots. Security, client-server apps, a Windows-Centric World, etc. Opportunities? Lots. Cross-platform application virtualization, Web-based application growth, etc.