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Supernova: The Future of the Desktop

Panelists: Lili Cheng (Microsoft), Tom Ngo (NextPage), Gary Benitt (Goowy), Chris Thomas (Intel), Kevin Lynch (Adobe) Panel intro by Kevin Werbach (from program): "Windows and Mac OS, the dominant computer interfaces of our time, are two decades old. And the standard office productivity software suite is not much younger.

Panelists: Lili Cheng (Microsoft), Tom Ngo (NextPage), Gary Benitt (Goowy), Chris Thomas (Intel), Kevin Lynch (Adobe)

Panel intro by Kevin Werbach (from program): "Windows and Mac OS, the dominant computer interfaces of our time, are two decades old. And the standard office productivity software suite is not much younger. Have they reached the end of their usefulness? And if so, what will replace them? It's no secret that web-based applications are encroaching on the desktop's turf, but how far will that go, and will the webtop actually deliver anything the desktop can't?"

Tom says that the webtop is being driven by the enterprise. He claims that today's infrastructure isn't designed to supported a highly connected environment. Lili Cheng from Microsoft says there are other kinds of OS apart from desktop ones like Vista - in the phone, Xbox, etc. She says it'll be interesting to see how all of these specialized OS come together. Gary from Goowy thinks the extractions or layers on top of the OS is key - data being available everywhere is where he believes the big change needs to come. Further, he thinks it's not about synchronization, but accessing the same data everywhere. Chris from Intel says there are a whole lot of mashed up, componentized services and systems in this current environment. Intel is starting to create more reliable code to cope with network connectivity. So he thinks interconnection between all the platforms is going to be key - and companies like Intel will need to be interdependent with other companies. Kevin from Adobe says web innovation is totally different from desktop apps, so he says it's interesting to look at how we can enable these web apps to act like "first class citizens" - remove the constraints (of the browser).

Kevin Werbach, the Supernova host, asks about decentralization vs centralization - which way is it going to go? Tom says we'll have devices that access the same data from the same location. But he says it won't happen for many years or even decades. The trend though is for end-user devices to become more and more powerful. Another trend is that end-users require more control of their data. Tom thinks it'll require a Star Trek-like capable system(!) to get to the optimal point in these trends. He mentions the risks involved with decentralization - multiple devices per person to manage, legal risks, etc. Kevin says the challenge is to take advantage of decentralized devices, with the centralized web services like aggregation etc. Tom says the new decentralization is about open interfaces - and it becomes a hybrid of decentralization and centralization, with rich apps and so forth. Lili talks about the identity of the end-user as being key. She thinks this will enable users to aggregate from different places (on the Web), rather than having a centralized place.

A question from the audience about the dangers of storing data in the cloud. It may be more convenient to store data on web services, but there's a loss of legal control over that data by users. So in that respect, doesn't the PC still have a very bright future? All of the panelists agree that the PC is still needed and will remain so. However Lili from Microsoft says there are advantages to the cloud - e.g. do you really want to manage all your email on your PC. So in that sense web email has a lot of advantages (over desktop email) and it's worth considering those things too, as well as the legal and other issues. Kevin Werbach asked (via the backchannel) about archiving and that's where the PC may be best utilized. Someone brought up online storage like Amazon's S3. Lili from Microsoft points out that trust is a key issue there - who do you trust to manage/store private content?

A question from the audience about whether the concept of the desktop will get taken apart by virtual and more social services. Lili from Microsoft says again that digital identity will be key to this - but "we have a lot to work out here". Users will  need to decide which companies they trust to manage their data. She says we'll have to see how this plays out because it's different from the PC era when users just logged into their machine - now users need to decide which services to trust.

Another question about simplicity vs complexity. So will the future desktop be simple/easy-to-use or complex/powerful? Kevin from Adobe says building web-powered apps in a consistent way is important. Chris from Intel says there's not one desktop, but many. So he thinks we'll start to break apart components of the desktop - e.g. the storage component will be centralized and online. Suggests for example Goowy partnering with Adobe, so that Goowy handles the data and Adobe does the delivery part. Lili says that making web apps simpler should be a case of reducing the number of concepts - rather than just removing features.