Friday, February 19, 2010

The Cloud Desktop

This was originally posted in the blog.

We live in a browser these days. E-mail, word-processing, spreadsheets, chat, are all occupying a browser window in front of me. Maybe not for everyone yet, but the trend is clear, and has been clear for quite some time now. This is a good thing. The Web of today bears little similarity to the Web of the millennium. It's fast, it's powerful and it's ubiquitous. A consequence of that evolution is the simplicity with which I can continue my work when leaving my Linux workstation at work and sit in front of my Mac at home. Since my applications are web-based, they are OS- and browser-agnostic. More importantly, my data are always there when I need them. Readily accessible from my desktop, laptop or mobile phone. I may keep local backups for archival purposes, but my master copies are always online.

Assuming this trend is indeed inescapable, one can't help but wonder: what are the applications that have not migrated to the cloud, yet? What kind of things would I like to do online, seamlessly, from every device I own? What are the barriers that make our current online experience less powerful than the desktop one?

One thing that we noticed was missing from the online desktop, was the... desktop! Yes, my spreadsheets are online. Sure, my pictures are online. Yes, I can upload arbitrary files in various storage services. But, I couldn't find a way to use a familiar file manager interface to work with my data in the cloud, as I do on my computer. This was the need we decided to fulfill with MyNetworkFolders.

MyNetworkFolders attempts to provide an answer to the question: how would my desktop look in the cloud? And even though we are nowhere near done yet, the results so far are exciting and very promising.

MyNetworkFolders offers a familiar file manager interface for my cloud storage needs, with advanced functionality and ease of use. Documents can be viewed, modified, searched or sent to the trash. They can be shared with other users or among the members of a group using flexible ACLs, or even be publicly accessible from the whole internet. They can be versioned for tracking changes more effectively. The service can be accessed from a variety of ways, including a web browser, a desktop client, a WebDAV network share or (really soon) a mobile phone. But most importantly, there is no vendor lock-in. There is a REST-like API available, battle-tested from all the above client implementations, giving everyone the opportunity to access his data in his own particular way. Or even get them out of our service altogether.

Oh, and one other thing. It's all based on open-source software. The core infrastructure, the various clients we have built, even API helpers in various programming languages, are all available for anyone and everyone to see, use and modify. Or maybe used to setup and run YourNetworkFolders, if you feel really ambitious.

If however you just want a true desktop environment, with unparalleled flexibility, and maybe also see how far the cloud desktop rabbit-hole goes, then come along. It's going to be an exciting ride.

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