The future of programs...maybe

Here's an interesting essay on web apps and where they're going:


I'd agree with that.  First example: email.  I have a gmail, but use Thunderbird for my email because I couldn't stand the speed of the web interface.  I've also started using NewsGator and their corresponding desktop software, FeedDevil, for RSS.  It's MUCH more powerful than Thunderbird (which is what I was using) and free. 

Here's another page about some related web->desktop intefaces (yes, in case you were wondering, I do program in C++):


So, the question arises: how should an OS provide better integration with the web?  I'm not talking about cloud computing over thin clients here.  The web's not fast enough for that yet.  The question is more of, how far should an OS go with providing a seamless interface to the web and web content?

(As an aside, I'd like to say that this is Web 2.0, for real.  I've read essays about how Web 2.0 is pointless, or does nothing really good, and was made to make people happy after the .com bubble burst.  Nope.  Web 2.0 is allowing the average joe to get on the web and create content.  Blogs, social networking, even things like XDrive and Google Docs is Web 2.0.  It's here, and it's not going away.)

Would you just want an OS to provide, say, something like Prism built in, or should it go farther?  Automatic syncing to Google Docs, XDrive, a CVS repository (for code)? 

Wouldn't it be awesome if whatever you did on your desktop was automatically cached on a web service somewhere?  Your project documents uploaded and synced with Google Docs, your music backed up to an XDrive, etc?  In fact, you could turn your desktop in to nothing more than a cache for your web services. 

I've thought about something like this before.  It was before we had DSL, so the web wasn't sitting front-and-center in my mind, but the concept could be carried over to the web.  The idea was that you would have this tiny gadget like, say, a PalmPilot (or an iPod touch or iPhone, but the rumors of those didn't even exist when I thought this up) that was wirelessly connected to your laptop by something fast, but not necessarily long-range (maybe 20-30 feet).  You'd have your laptop sitting in it's bag, off or in standby, but running software that let you turn on the hard drive and access data off of it via the wireless handheld gadget.  So you could play music (and have your entire music library available.  Keep in mind that this was when a 20 GB iPod was huge!), edit docs, and so on, and have the changes reflected on your laptop.  In theory, you could even harness the CPU/RAM of your laptop to do some of the heavy lifting for games, etc. 

Now imagine that for the web.  It's not necessarily easy, nor cheap.  The major flaw is that there's not ubiquitous internet available, and it's not all fast enough to make the idea realistic now.  But maybe in  10 years? 

I could even see being able to set up a ~2GB partition on an iPod or flash drive and loading your apps on that.  Then you could take it around to public computers, which could provide a base OS, with  you carrying the apps and account info on your portable drive.  Your docs would all get synced via the internet, so the public machine, in this case, is nothing more than a cache for your internet docs. 

Imagine combining that with Linux.  Voila!  Each public machine has a base Linux distro, say, Ubuntu.  On your flash drive you have a window manager, programs, etc.  So you pop your flash drive in and you get your desktop just as it usually is at home. 

And, theoretically, programs could be set up to only have a little piece of them for your flash drive and when you launch them they'd download the rest of themselves from a Web repository and cache themselves on the hard drive of the machine.  You could fit a lot more apps on your portable drive because each program would be about a meg in size.  Personal data could be synced to a web site so you could perceivably have incredibly tiny applications sitting on your flash drive.

You could, of course, carry that even farther, and provide each public computer with a default set of programs, and your flash drive would just have the necessary login and authentication information to automatically load up your account and profiles when you sit down to work.  Rare apps could be put on a flash drive.  If this were to come true, there would be a lot of life left in those 128 and 256 MB flash drives, as that's all you'd realistically need.  Taking 256 MB out of a 80 GB iPod is nothing, so as long as you had your iPod with you, you could have your desktop available at any public machine. 

Or am I just smoking crack?


Matt said...

I hope you haven't been smoking crack, but only you know for sure.

I think some of this is a good idea. I personally prefer locally installed programs over web apps. I think we need to ask ourselves what kinds of applications are made better by being online and which are just gimmicks.

I also like my computer to be "mine". I like personalization, so the idea of moving virtually everything over to the web turns me off for that reason.

Then there are the obvious security and privacy issues with moving computing online. So there is definitely a lot to consider...

Mercedes said...

Hehe Matt, at least this personality has not been smoking =]

Actually, personalization is a good reason to have an online account. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to sit down at anyone's computer and have it look and act exactly like how you set your machine up? And even for machines where all you can do is surf the web, the Lively Kernel might be an interesting solution for that. (sorry I don't have a webpage for it. It's a Sun Labs thing if that helps with google =]) Basically, it's a multitasking OS written in JavaScript running in your browser.

I intentionally ignored the privacy issues for this post; not that they aren't there, but I just wanted to think of how it could end up. But yes, privacy is a big issue with this, as is free/cheap online storage.