Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Friday, September 11, 2009

eyeSpy With My Eye My Desktop In The Sky

I've been intrigued with the idea of server-based desktops for awhile. In the past I have toyed around with Desktop Two and the recently deceased Jooce. While interesting, they all suffered from the same set of problems. They were usually:

  • slow;

  • lacking in useful applications, and;

  • had significant security problems.

The last item is significant. Despite what the folks at Google would tell you, most companies don't want to keep sensitive files on someone else's server. The most standout issue with virtual, online desktops (which, heaven help me, they are calling Cloud Desktops) is that there didn't seem to be enough need for them. Until now. I'll get to that later.

eyeOS overcomes the majority of cloud desktop problems. Written in PHP5, you can install it on your own internal server or even a web hosting server. It's open source to boot! This is important since it makes it easy (or even possible) to create your own web-based applications to run in the virtual desktops. The suite of applications that comes with eyeOS is pretty good but the ability to create your own makes it a much more useful platform for business.

Being able to install eyeOS on the server of your choice also goes a long way to removing security objections as well. IT can now control the security environment and does not have to rely on blind faith in a service provider. The same goes for performance. You can use your own magic and hardware to up performance levels to where you want them to be. Even installed on a web hosting platform, eyeOS had a decent response time, granted for a small number of users. That it worked at all in anything resembling a useful manner was pretty startling.

The big question that is still unanswered is “who cares?” That's the acid test for all products. Why should I spend any time at all, let alone money, on this product. As little as two years ago, I would have to have answered “ I don't care.” Today, the world is a different place. We now have a proliferation of small, Internet enabled devices including smartphones and netbooks. Many of these are too underpowered to have a full range of desktop applications – or do they?

This is why eyeOS really makes sense now. Virtual desktops have been primarily concerned with giving users a consistent and controlled desktop experience throughout an Enterprise network. That's fine except that it doesn't carry on to other devices. With eyeOS, you can set up your own cloud desktop service, that meets your standards for security, and make it available on anything with a browser.

With eyeOS in hand, you can outfit your sales force with cheap netbooks and still give them a full range of office and corporate applications. In other words, the whole desktop experience. For an added bonus, if users stick with cloud desktop for everything, you don't lose or expose your data even if they lose their PDA, smartphone, or netbook. It's not on those devices, it's on the server.

The best part is that they users don't have to do anything special to make this work. They sign into the eyeOS server and away they go. Users don't have to remember to copy files to encrypted drives or anything like that. They just do what they normally would do on a desktop computer. In terms of data security, this is a great leap forward. And the fact that only administrators can install applications is sure to please corporate security types. Fewer rogue applications in the corporate network is a good thing indeed.

eyeOS is not perfect by any means. Many of the critical applications, email especially, are nowhere near what a decent corporate application should be. However, it is clear from the Zoho widgets (downloaded separately) that you can integrate other online applications into eyeOS. With more and more companies going to web-enabled applications anyway, lack of sophisticated, standalone desktop applications is really not a problem.

Cloud desktops and eyeOS in particular, are not quite there yet. However, they are rapidly getting there. An organization that is committed to cloud desktops could make eyeOS into what it needed. Not out of the box of course but with a relatively small amount of effort.

The old fashioned, fat desktop will never go away. There are too many applications that will never port to a platform like this. I don't see programmers writing serious code on a cloud desktop. For the average wage slave, however, this would be an improvement and IT will love it.

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