Desktop Two isn’t the only company working in this arena. For example, the online desktop service Zimdesk is also designed to provide users with the familiar look and feel of a traditional desktop. Simon Martin, the company’s technical director, says that this type of system is lightweight because, once an application programmed in Flash is open in the user’s browser, it functions as any other Web page, and it doesn’t put continued pressure on the server until it is saved.
Current online desktops were preceded by a system called Tarantella, launched in the late 1990s by the Santa Cruz Operation. Doug Michels, cofounder and former CTO of the Santa Cruz Operation, says that Tarantella intended to be “a universal gateway to the Internet way of computing.” The idea didn’t really catch on with the masses, in part due to a lack of Internet penetration at the time and the dot-com crash, Michels says. “I think the market is very ready for it right now.”
Sun acquired Tarantella two years ago, and the system’s heir is now known as Sun Secure Global Desktop. Although Sun Secure Global Desktop has much in common with systems such as Desktop Two, it is marketed to companies rather than to individuals. The system requires a central server running applications that it then transmits over the Internet to individual users. It can run any application, but the streamed applications require more resources from server and client than those required by most online desktops.
Michels says that he expects the younger generation to be more willing to adopt the computer-in-the-cloud idea than people were 10 years ago because of young people’s familiarity and comfort with Web-mail systems and other forms of cloud computing currently in use. “That generation grew up with the notion that desktops don’t matter,” he says.
Although right now, the number of applications available through online desktops is limited, both Desktop Two and Zimdesk are working with developers to add applications to their systems.