The recent posts by ZDNet blogger George Ou on the topic of desktop Linux made me wonder whether there is a Web-based Linux service? For people like me who are - let me be totally frank - terrified of doing a Linux install, but curious about what Linux offers. My search uncovered a number of 'virtual desktops' in the Linux flavor, but one particular Web-based Linux service caught my eye. Called Workspot, it's a non-profit project that promises "a private, instant Linux desktop... through a browser."
The blurb states:
"The magic is a Java applet, an AES encrypted, graphical connection to a Linux desktop. It works through every Java-enabled browser, and through most corporate firewalls. It works through fast native clients too, available on Linux, Unix, Windows & Macs. Transfer files easily to your Workspot, with the secure WebDAV protocol, available on all platforms.
You get a full graphical desktop."
OK, sounds great. But let's take a step back and ask: why would anyone want a Web version of a desktop OS? According to this Slashdot article about Workspot back in 2000, one reason is it allows anyone to run Linux-compatible software on their computer. The other main advantage is it "lets people 'try' Linux without installing anything on their actual computers." Those are pretty good reasons because (as I mentioned above) I'm curious to see if Linux software has any advantages for me over Windows or Apple software.
Another defining feature of a Web-based Linux system is it can be used for collaboration. Workspot offers "the ability to make one desktop available to multiple users simultaenously, for collaboration over the web." There are more uses listed on this page on the Workspot website. They also have some interesting screenshots, showing examples of using OpenOffice on the service and using applications like The Gimp.
Of course there are other virtual desktop systems that offer the same benefits. This page on librenix.com has a good list of offerings. Perhaps it's just as well there's a good selection out there, because Workspot currently has this message in red font on its homepage:
"Please note: we are not taking more subscribers, because we are experiencing equipment failures at a high rate. If you are in the position to donate rackspace, or new servers, please contact us."
Yikes! The perils of Web-based desktops.