Web desktop

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A web desktop or webtop is a desktop environment embedded in a web browser or similar client application. A webtop integrates web applications, web services, client-server applications, application servers, and applications on the local client into a desktop environment using the desktop metaphor. Web desktops provide an environment similar to that of Windows, Mac, or a graphical user interface on Unix and Linux systems. It is a virtual desktop running in a web browser. In a webtop the applications, data, files, configuration, settings, and access privileges reside remotely over the network. Much of the computing takes place remotely. The browser is primarily used for display and input purposes.

The terms "web desktop" and "webtop" are distinct from web operating system, a network operating system such as TinyOS or distributed operating system such as Inferno. In popular use, web desktops are sometimes referred to incorrectly as web operating systems or simply WebOS.


[edit] History

In the context of a web desktop, the term Webtop was first introduced by the Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) in 1994 for a web-based interface to their Unix operating system.[1] Andy Bovingdon and Ronald Joe Record, who both explored the concepts in different directions, are often credited as the inventors.[2] The initial SCO Webtop, developed by Record, utilized a Netscape Navigator plugin to display applications in a browser window via TightVNC.[3]

Bovingdon's three tiered architecture (TTA) concept was launched as the Tarantella Webtop. This technology originated from early commercial use of web server technology by SCO. the first OS vendor to include a commercial web server, NCSA HTTPd, and commercial web browser, NCSA Mosaic. Their X.desktop product line, obtained when they acquired IXI Limited in the UK, was the first to have icons for URLs and an HTML-based help system. Tarantella allowed real UNIX and Windows applications to be displayed within a web browser through the use of Java to form a true web based desktop or Webtop.

The first SCO Webtop releases were part of SCO Skunkware[4] before being integrated into SCO OpenServer version 5 and UnixWare 7. Tarantella was subsequently purchased by Sun Microsystems and integrated into their Sun Secure Global Desktop.[5]

Byte magazine referred to the Webtop as a NUI (Network User Interface).[6]

[edit] Webtop versus Desktop

[edit] Advantages

Convenience: A personalized desktop on every supported client device

Mobility: Access your desktop anywhere there is a supported client device

Session Management: Server-side session management allows roaming users to access restored sessions from anywhere

Software Management:

  • Ensures all users are running the same current versions of all applications
  • Updates and patches need only be applied to the server - no need to update multiple clients
  • No need for software to distribute software over the network


  • Less prone to typical attacks, viruses, worms, unpatched clients, vulnerabilities
  • Sensitive data stored on secure servers rather than scattered across multiple potentially unprotected and vulnerable clients (e.g. smart phones and laptops)
  • Encrypted transmission of all data between server and clients (e.g. https)
  • Software Management features (above) accommodate quick and easy application of security advisories on server side
  • Webtop administrator can control which applications and data each user is allowed to access

High Availability:

  • From a single device access Windows, UNIX, Linux, and Mainframe applications, all at the same time
  • Minimal hardware requirements for client devices (except for rendered technologies such as Flash/Flex/SilverLight)
  • Less downtime - robust server system more easily protected and less likely to fail than multiple client desktops
  • Fault tolerance - if a client device fails for any reason simply replace it with any other supported client device without loss of data, configuration, preferences, or application access

[edit] Drawbacks

Security: Due to the fact that all data is transferred over the internet, it might be possible for a hacker to intercept the connection and read data. Although with the use of https 256-bit encryption and access control lists, this can be easily safe-guarded.

Speed: When using a web desktop the whole code used for visualization (.js/.css files, Flash player files, etc.) needs to be transferred to the local computer, so that it can be displayed. Further, network latency or congestion can intermittently slow webtop activity.

Application Features: Some webtop delivered applications may not contain the full feature set of their traditional desktop counterparts

Network Access: Web desktops require access to a network. If the client device is misconfigured or the network is unreachable then the web desktop is unavailable.

Controlled Access: In some webtop implementations and deployments a user's access to some applications and data can be restricted. This is also considered an advantage of webtops but can be viewed as a drawback from the user's perspective.

Central Control: The normal webtop user is not able to install additional applications or update existing applications. Updates typically must be performed by an administrator on the server side. Webtop users are dependent upon the webtop administrator whereas in the traditional desktop environment the user can fix and/or break the system by installing new software or updates. This can also be seen as an advantage for webtops.

[edit] Comparison of web desktops

The following tables compare general and technical information for a number of web desktops. Please see the individual products' articles for further information and external links. This article is not all-inclusive or necessarily up-to-date.

Name Current Browser Support Developer Engine Free License 3rd party applications Graphical User Interface Downloadable to Web server
DesktopTwo IE7 Sapotek Flash Yes (Beta) Open Source AGPL OpenOffice Windows+Mac-like No
eyeOS IE7, Firefox2/3, Safari, Opera eyeOS Team PHP + AJAX Yes Open Source GNU Affero Public License Version 3 (AGPL3) From EyeOS community Mac-like, with taskbar Yes
Cloudo IE7, Firefox2/3, Safari, Opera Cloudo.com PHP + AJAX Yes Proprietary From Cloudo Team Mac-like with taskbar and Windows-like (customizable) No
Psych Desktop IE6/7, Firefox2/3, Safari, Opera Dojo Foundation PHP + AJAX Yes Open Source Academic Free License Yes Gnome-like, Customizable Yes
G.ho.st IE6+, Firefox2+, Safari. Partial: Chrome & Opera Ghost Inc ("G.ho.st") Flash + AJAX (mobile version is WAP) Yes (Alpha) Proprietary Yahoo! Zimbra, Zoho, Google Docs, ILoveIM Windows-like No
Netvibes IE7 Netvibes Team  ? + Ajax Yes Proprietary Yes Tab-based No
Online OS FF 1.5 and higher, IE7 iCUBE Network Solutions Java + Ajax Yes Proprietary Yes Windows-like No

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes and references

  1. ^ US6,104,392 (PDF version) (2000-08-15) Shaw , et al., Method of displaying an application on a variety of client devices in a client/server network.  This application was based on the provisional application entitled "The Adaptive Internet Protocol System" filed Nov. 13, 1997, serial number 60/065,521 and is the U.S. patent for the technology used in the Tarantella Webtop.
  2. ^ The Santa Cruz Operation Technical White Paper, Tarantella --The Universal Application Server, July, 1997
  3. ^ A trademark application for "SCO Webtop" was filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on November 8, 1996. In order to avoid confusion with the more complex technology incorporated into the Tarantella Webtop it was abandoned on December 24, 1997 by The Santa Cruz Operation. See uspto.gov, click on "Trademarks -> Search TM Database", and perform a Basic search for "Webtop". The only earlier occurrences in both the Patent and Trademark databases are for systems unrelated to a web desktop context.
  4. ^ SCO Skunkware Release Notes
  5. ^ "Sun Microsystems Completes Tarantella Acquisition". Associated Press. 2005-07-13. http://www.sun.com/smi/Press/sunflash/2005-07/sunflash.20050713.1.xml. Retrieved on 2008-04-04. 
  6. ^ http://www.byte.com/art/9707/sec5/art1.htm
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