Web Operating Systems versus Remote Desktop

I’m trying to keep abreast of what is happening in the world of Web Applications (vs. Desktop) and this includes Ajax, Web Application Frameworks and Web Languages, Web Operating Systems and all things Web 2.0. My main interest here is to have Surfulater or a subset thereof, running over the Net in your Web Browser, one day.

Stan Schroeder has recently put together a very good overview of 10 on-line operating systems which is well worth a read, if you are interested in Web applications. The articles comments provide very good feedback and mention a number of Web OS’s that Stan hadn’t included.

I tried a few of the WebOS’s and was suitably impressed, but not to the point where I’ll be using one any time soon. Most are Flash based and look pretty good, but their functionality is limited. And of course if you don’t happen to have an Internet connection, they aren’t much use.

I uploaded a file to one WebOS to see how its file system worked and was completely locked out from doing anything until the upload finished, which took around 10 minutes. I have no idea if this is a design flaw in their WebOS or a limitation of Flash, but it is a productivity killer.

One commenter mentioned Nivio which lets you use common Windows applications in your Web Browser. I haven’t tried their offering and the site leaves you a little in the dark as to what is behind the scenes (Tell Me More takes you to a Partners page!) but I assume they are running MS Windows and using Remote Desktop via. the ActiveX Control.

Remote Desktop enables you to access a Windows PC from any LAN or Internet connected PC anywhere on the planet and use all of your applications, just the same as if you were sitting in front of the PC. Remote Desktop uses RDP to connect to a computer running Microsoft Terminal Services, which includes Windows XP Pro, Media Center, Vista etc. Unfortunately Win XP Home PC’s cannot be accessed. The remote PC can running any version of Windows or you can use a Web Browser. Remote Desktop Clients are also available for Mac’s, Linux, FreeBSD etc.

Remote Desktop is easy to setup and instructions can be found here. If you are using a Router to connect to the Net and want to access your PC from outside then you need to set up the PC with a fixed IP address instead of DHCP and setup port forwarding in the Router. Some helpful info on this can be found here. You need to know the IP address your ISP has provided in order to connect remotely. Better still create a Domain Name from one of the free or low cost Dynamic DNS providers. If your IP address is continually changing you need to run some software that informs the Dynamic DNS host whenever it changes. Routers commonly provide this capability and this is the best solution. Otherwise there is plenty of free software available to do this for you.

I’ve been using Remote Desktop for some time now and would be lost without it. I use it whenever I’m out of the office to check my e-mail, and run various applications. I also use it a lot within the office, for example from my Notebook PC to access my Desktop PC. In fact I’m using it to write this.

Remote Desktop really does simplify the way I work, and I know that wherever I am I have complete access to everything on my Desktop PC, as well as access to other PC’s in the office. I might be in an Internet Cafe in some far away land, or away for a few days with my Notebook PC and a dial-up Internet connection.

If you have PC capable of running the Remote Desktop server and ever have the need to access it remotely, you should definitely give this a try. If not, maybe Nivio offers a usable solution.

I really can’t see that I’d have a use for a WebOS as long as I have Remote Desktop and the remote PC has a reliable Internet connection and power.

Here’s a final tip. Run Surfulater on your Home or Work PC and access it from anywhere using Remote Desktop. Works a treat.

5 Replies to “Web Operating Systems versus Remote Desktop”

  1. Enough of this! The webtop is not meant to fill the same need as a desktop on the pc. The similarities in appearance are decieving, so it’s partly our own fault, but there should be an element of common sense coming into play at some point.

    Xindesk is NOT meant to be the equivalence of a pc/desktop or remote desktop, it’s supposed to resolve a web application development issue.

    When you develop an application like an email app, you will hit a certain point when it’s more logical to spawn a completely new app, rather than further litter the interface with more functions that stray more and more away from the core functionality, and therefor confusing the apps primary focus.

    Like a calendar or whatever.

    It would be nice if I could open this new app from the said email app, since it’s spawned from it, and if these two apps could interact seamlessly with eachother, exchanging their data back and forth, without much of an effort from me as a developer.

    The user also might want to toggle the two apps in a way that I haven’t predicted..but that’s ok.
    They are infact free to custimize their workflow any way they please becasue of this shared enviroment, without causing me too much of a headache as a developer.

    This is the whole point of ‘windows’ anyway.
    That’s why window systems relying on iframes totally blows.

    In this shared enviroment, I can perform this party-trick over and over, making the enviroment a pleasently unified experience – albeit being completely webcentric, focusing on tasks not related to what one would associate with a local pc.

    Please, couldn’t someone just kill the “webos” tag already, it’s long overdue, and it’s not the point of the new generation of web software anyway.
    This time, they appeared because there is a real problem in the background that’s being adressed.

    The funny part is that the user might not immidiatly benefit from this, they will just get this cool but partly pointless desktop, it’s the development behind that actually benefits, but in the longer term, that will pay of for the user getting better apps for a cheaper price.

    This is an evolvment responding not so much to the user, but to what the guys behind need to respond to the user.

  2. You may compare this to Microsofts office suit.
    In a sense, it’s a single app, broken upp in smaller units.
    The so called “webos” is a similar type of beast, but for a more ‘agnostic’ purpose.

    But in a sense, it’s the exact same damn thing!

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  4. “Yeah, why? Your typical Mac comes with all the Unix goodies and goodness you could ever need”

    It’s not very webcentric though, is it?
    If you think the web is good for anything at all, it’s worth evolving, and when this happens, the issues adressed comes into play.

  5. Hello Neville,

    I noticed that you had written on Nivio.com so thought you may be interested to know that Nivio is running a private beta of new features prior to full launch.

    Beta registration is at:


    If you register and let me know the user ID you select i’ll get you activated on the beta.

    Best regards

    Allan Edwards
    Chameleon PR.

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