Does anyone really need a web OS or desktop environment? Richard MacManus asks that question again in a recent post about EyeOS, another attempt at creating a centralized environment that mimics much of what the operating system on your local PC provides with the implied benefit of increased accessibility. The arguments and rationale he and the purveyors of EyeOS provide miss the mark for me. Printing a document at the office written at home? A USB flash drive is a much less complicated solution. So is e-mailing the document, printing it, and then deleting it (saves server space and reduces synchronization issues).
File sharing? I don't need a web OS for that. There are plenty of services already available that allow me to share files with others.Access from any computer, anywhere, anytime? How many computers do most of us use? While I acknowledge that there are "digital nomads" who do not own a PC and generally access their "stuff" on a public computer located in a library, community center, or school, most of these folks that I know tend not to be bleeding edge adopters of the new new thing and are generally satisfied with what Yahoo! or Google provides. They tend not to be creators of complex documents and can generally get by using WordPad or even a basic text editor like NotePad for their composition requirements. Truly mobile folk tend to address their issues using laptops, Tablet PCs, palmtops, and converged devices like a Treo, Blackberry, or Windows SmartPhone. UMPCs and the new Mylo communicator are emerging as another portability/mobility solution.
File sharing? I don't need a web OS for that. There are plenty of services already available that allow me to share files with others and more dedicated solutions for this are popping up all the time - including forthcoming offerings from the big players. Yahoo!, Google, AOL, and Microsoft provide a number of ways to share files - either in real time via IM and e-mail tools or in a repository with granular privileges. Why do we need a web OS to duplicate this?
The only compelling argument in Richard's latest post is the idea that a mini-web environment that installs a runtime environment of Apache and PHP provides a disconnected web experience. Apparently EyeOS has made such an environment available and, according to an exchange in the comments to the post, they have addressed the security implications raised by running a web server locally. This is, in relative terms, an increasingly less important issue that is being solved by municipal WiFi, EVDO, the increasing proliferation of publicly accessible WiFi in commercial establishments, and the steady increase in adoption of broadband in homes and businesses.
Those trends are more pronounced (and more advanced) in the US, EU, India, and Japan than in other parts of the world to be sure. But if you map the trend lines and look at emerging economies, the rate of adoption and percentage of coverage is happening in similar fashion. We live in an increasingly connected world.
So I remain unconvinced about the need for a web OS. The migration to the cloud will not be driven by the replication of what is already provided on the PCs we currently use. That movement will be driven by collaboration, sharing of information and files in the context of collaboration (not as a standalone "service") and by linked communities that are self-organizing based on shared interests as in MySpace and Flickr. It will not be propelled by word processing, simple file transfer, and location-based printing.