Re: Documents on the Online Desktop

I also like the easy collaboration of web apps. Their ease of use, on the other hand, is really just a matter of design; Google's web designers seem to be some of very few sensible interface designers on this planet.

The thing I do not like about web apps is the centralization of service away from my own machine and the abstraction of the actual data being bumped around. In one sense (the search thing), that high abstraction is great, but in terms of me having real access to my own content, I think something is missing. Look at the absurdity of all these web-based photo managers. This is like having a hundred photo managers on the same local desktop, and is really no different, except for one thing: Collaboration. To collaborate, you must have an account with that particular online photo manager service, and nobody seems to agree on one, so people end up uploading junk to many at once (often assisted by local software that they had to install in addition to the signups). I do have two photo managers on my local desktop, but I have them set to read content from the same place. Before I noticed that setting, I had one program's Pictures directory symlinked to the other one's. Ea sy!

There is also, unfortunately, that the web has not really been designed for interactive applications. That could be fixed, but right now, for example, desktop integration is practically nonexistent, (yes, I exaggerate). For something like the GNOME project, which is really unparalleled with some of its universal access tools, (many of which come from GTK, such as completely configurable font sizes), that is a bit problematic.
A web application usually does not work like a regular desktop application. Unless the browser has been set up to override a site's style, we have different fonts, the wrong colours and a user interface that does not feel like anything else on the desktop. Instead of a smooth, consistent interface with drag-and-drop capabilities and an instantly recognizable set of widgets, there is a completely different interface that behaves however /the browser/ defines, which is rarely how the desktop wants.

So, what is it that makes these web apps so appealing, then? In my opinion:
- Ease of installation. That is, there is no installation! Running Python scripts from the web, in some kind of a sand box, would be similar.
- Integration. Google is always integrating their services in handy ways. Generally it seems trivial, and could happen anywhere, but I think one of the reasons it is easy for them is because they can definitely expect certain software to be available. With a desktop app that tried that stunt, of integrating /only/ with Google software, I would be pretty annoyed; I would expect it to integrate with anything even reasonably similar! Since it would be running locally, I would completely expect it to be able to work with everything I have on my local machine.
- As I said, they are simple, because Google knows what they are doing. (Not that it can't do much; check out Xinha for an example of a wysiwyg web based html editor that does an incredible amount of stuff). Google could have one single "Google STUFF" service, but they don't; they split their services up into bite-sized chunks and have lots of room to integrate them smoothly. This is much like the Gnome way of building applications (and, of course, like GNU/Linux applications from the "good old days"), and I think they do it in a really interesting manner. Most web apps that I find are not like this, since fancy integration between web sites using the tools available is quite complicated. (Thus, the problem with photo managers).
- Cross-platform compatibility. It is said that web applications are very portable. I disagree with this, actually. To get those applications working on a platform requires a native browser, with _javascript_ support (and maybe even Flash). In that same effort, one could port Python and have one of the many UI abstraction libraries working natively on the platform.

My biased way automatically attacked my points there, but there you go: Four things that could (and can) be done better in a desktop environment, possibly resulting in excellent things.
I had written a very bloated, poorly thought out spaghetti-like ramble about how I think web browsers should be, but I will leave that alone, since I have gone on for long enough.

About the collaboration thing, I wonder if it is possible for an OS to provide an easy way for the average home user to share content over the Internet and a local network via a simple, secure and easy server. I guess the biggest problem is security, so maybe a networking site could provide a means to set who can access your shared data, where an attempt to connect to your PC is first channelled through another secure service and eventually ends up a peer-to-peer deal. Files shared could end up heavily abstracted, but no more than the abstraction seen in any web service. The actual implementation of such a thing would probably be a horrifying monstrosity, but there is one way to get collaborative content without needing to upload it to an irrelevant service in the centre.

It would be great if we could easily (in one step) use our own preferred tools that are already there on the desktop, instead of adding on a detached web service to do a single extra task. Local applications can already do most of this new-fangled web application stuff, and the exceptions are things that should be addressed by improving the existing infrastructure -- Not by stretching the already stretched web infrastructure.

Bye (and I hope that wasn't too rambly),
-Dylan McCall

On 8/28/07, Havoc Pennington <hp redhat com > wrote:

On 8/28/07, Steven Garrity < stevelist silverorange com> wrote:
> 2. Organization - rather than a fixed desktop metaphor with a set of
> folders (which I had been quite satisfied with until now), Google Docs
> organizes your documents more like email (or Gmail, I suppose) with the
> most recently edited/created docs at the top of the list.

Yes! Interestingly, this is similar to the "journal" idea that One
Laptop Per Child uses. It's so much better than screwing with folders.
(I noticed that I use my desktop background as a lame "journal," since
saved files accumulate in order.)

> If I was to take anything from this, it would be that I don't want the
> wall to exist between my "desktop documents" that I have created and
> edited on my own PC (with OpenOffice, Inkscape, etc.) to be completely
> segregated from any docs I create with an online service. I'm not sure
> how, but it seems that a document I create on my desktop should show up
> in my google docs and vice-versa.

Yes again! I have looked at this in fact. There are two approaches
that both don't work. Approach one would be to get the feed of
documents from Google, and merge them with local docs and display all
of the documents locally or at your account.

Fatal flaw in approach one is that Google has no API to get the
documents, only to get the spreadsheets.

Approach two would be to upload documents to google, and the fatal
flaw is they have no API for that.

We can't fix this since the google stuff isn't open source, but maybe
they will address one or both issues eventually.

For me if I could get PDFs merged with my google docs that would
pretty much cover it, I don't have anything else ever.

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