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Your Desktop Anywhere? 21 Web-Based Desktops

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Your Desktop Anywhere? 21 Web-Based Desktops
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The last couple of years have seen the release of a slew of new online desktop applications. Commonly called “WebOS”, “webtops”, or “web desktops”, these applications use Flash, Ajax, or other web technologies to mimic a regular, PC-based desktop. In theory, this means that wherever you went, you’d be able to access your work through a common interface and set of tools. All with a single login, too.

In practice, it’s not quite so simple. Even making allowances for the varying states of development web desktops are in at the moment, none of them offer a compelling experience for web-based workers. I have looked at and played with almost two dozen of these applications, and so far haven’t found any that I could integrate very well into my daily routine.

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But there’s promise. Some of these apps are well worth watching, especially as they begin to interconnect with other services like Zoho Writer and Google Docs for document editing, Box.net’s OpenBox service for file storage, and other third-party services and plugins. I’ve highlighted three of the most promising webtop services below, followed by all the rest.

The three most developed and usable web-based desktops are, in my humble estimation (and in alphabetical order):

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  • ajaxwindows
       
      ajaxWindows: By far the most developed and useful of the online desktops I tried, AjaxWindows offers a variety of productivity apps, integrating ajax13’s own apps (ajaxWrite, ajaxSketch, and ajaxPresent) as well as Google Docs and Zoho for creating and editing documents, PikNik for editing images, Google Calendar, and several other services. You can even use a Gmail account for file storage (although this service is not functioning at the moment — they say it will be back soon). The interface is super-slick and very Windows-like, meaning it’s easy to figure out how to do things. 

      Unfortunately, ajaxWindows doesn’t work well with Internet Explorer — you need to install some plugins and even then performance is not great.  Which wouldn’t be a problem (I almost never use IE) except it has crashed FireFox every single time I’ve logged in. When they get that problem worked out, I’ll definitely be back — ajaxWindows comes the closest to being a usable web-based desktop at the moment.

    • ghost

        g.ho.st:
        The “Globally Hosted Operating SysTem” offers a fairly usable desktop, using Amazon’s W3 service for file storage (a generous 3 GB for files and an additional 3 GB for email).  Your account comes with a username@g.ho.st email address and — this is the kicker! — FTP access so you can bulk upload files straight from your desktop. G.ho.st is the most stable of the web desktops I’ve used, running quickly in Flash. However, while g.ho.st offers email, IM, and applets for last.fm and YouTube, there are as of now no productivity apps.  They say more apps are in the works, and have an open API for third-party developers to create apps and services with, so I expect more useful features in the near future.
         
      • startforce

          StartForce:
          Like ajaxDesktop and g.ho.st, StartForce has a familiar, Windows-like interface (opting for the XP look rather than Vista, though) so it’s easy to get started. It comes with a full host of productivity applications from Zoho, each of which launches from the Start menu in it’s own window. It also includes a file uploader for bulk uploading, which is handy. You can install a range of other apps, like Microsoft Earth Viewer and Google Mars, and hopefully more are coming.

          StartForce is definitely the most usable out-of-the-box web desktop; ajaxDesktop has more applications but is buggy, g.ho.st is slightly slicker and better put-together, but has no useful applications. My only real quibble with StartForce is that double-clicking files in the file browser starts the process to download the file to your desktop, instead of opening the file in the program that created it. I could almost use StartForce regularly, and I’ll be giving it a more thorough workout to see if a little more familiarity improves its usability.

        The rest of the list (also in alphabetical order) are services that, for one reason or another, don’t stand up to regular use. Some of them are incredibly slick, while others are absolutely bare-bones. Some are brand new projects, still in experimental, pre-Alpha state, others have been around for a while and are in full working order. Any one of them could suddenly take off with a sudden effort, so I’m not quite ready to count them out entirely; at the moment, though, none of them is in any state to do any serious work, no matter how “lickable”.

        • DesktopTwo: DesktopTwo is a Flash-based desktop with several productivity apps and a gorgeous, slick user interface. At least, that’s what I get from the screenshots — I was never able to log in.
        • DesktopOnDemand: This might well be the service to beat, with 1GB storage in the free plan (with more costing 2p — about 4 cents — per GB per week), document and graphic editing (using GIMP, apparently), WebDAV support (meaning you can drag files on your desktop into your DOD folder and they are uploaded automatically), and more. Alas, they are not accepting new accounts at the moment, so I couldn’t log in and test it out.
        • eyeOS: Slick and well-established, eyeOS has a very Mac-like feel. There is a word processor (and no other productivity apps) but it saves in .eyedoc format, which as far as I know only works in eyeOS.
        • GCOE X: GCOE X focuses on cross-browser compatibility — it runs on Opera, Safari, even iPhones. At the moment, there is only a demonstration, with no applications or services. There’s very little information about what’s coming, but it’s one to keep an eye on.
        • Glide: Another one focusing on cross-browser compatibility, especially smartphone browsers, Glide breaks the traditional desktop mold with its almost iPhone-esque interface — large glossy buttons fill its desktop offering access to apps, including a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation app. Their GlideSync application can be downloaded to your desktop to synchronize files between Glide and your base PC, a nice touch. Glide also offers collaboration features — the free account allows up to 4 users and 2 GB of storage; paid accounts allow more users and more storage. Work in Glide can also be shared publicly with their “Publish” application. My big beef with Glide is that applications open in new tabs, which seems unnecessary.
        • Goowy: Technically Goowy is not a web desktop but a web-based widget platform. It is quite stable and absolutely beautiful, the epitome of “lickable” interfaces. While none of the widgets do anything all that productive, it is easily imaginable that some savvy developer will put together a Google Docs or Zoho Widget, which would make it quite a compelling tool. Since Goowy widgets can run on your desktop, too, this could be an easy way to tie your local PC with your web-based experience.
        • Jooce: Jooce is still in private beta, so I haven’t been able to play with it at all, but their screenshots look pretty cool. No indication of whether any serious productivity apps will be available or not.
        • iCube Online Operating System: iCube mimics Windows almost exactly, down to the icons and menus. It offers a pretty full complement of applications (though no spreadsheet or presentation app), but I could only figure out how to save documents in the native “OOS Documents” format.
        • MyGoya: MyGoya is based in Germany, which becomes apparent when you come across apps, menus, or help documents that haven’t been translated into English yet. It’s Flash-based interface is slick, though, whatever language it’s in. Their “ShareBase” allows you to set up sharing policies for collaboration, and they offer several ways to publish material — photos, blogs, documents — to the Web. Document creation and editing is handled by Zoho. though I couldn’t get it to create a new document to test. This is obviously a pretty big problem, but one I assume they’ll fix. The other issue I have is the stingy 512 MB storage — I know, it’s free, why should I complain, but free storage is becoming common — at least let us interface with other storage services if you don’t want, or can’t afford, the expense of supporting adequate storage locally.
        • Mylgd: Perhaps the strangest of the online desktops, mylgd is an actual Gnome desktop, online. It’s in very early development — v0.1, they say — and there’s not much you can do with it, but imagine it down the road with OpenOffice and TuxRacer!
        • Nivio: Nivio is another one that’s in private beta right now, so I haven’t played with it. This is a paid service, or at least it will be. But listen: it’s Windows XP, on the web.  With MS Office, Adobe Reader, RealPlayer, and other familiar applications! Definitely one to watch.
        • oDesktop: Yet another that’s “coming soon”, oDesktop will be hosted by you, on your domain, meaning you can use whatever storage your host or server has available. Not a free application, and no productivity apps, at least not in their current plans.
        • Pytagor: I’m actually not sure what this does.  It appears to be an online file manager; as far as I can tell, there are no applications at all, but you can store and share photos, RSS feeds, contacts, and documents. Everything you upload is indexed and searchable. Maybe out of place in this list, but where else would I put it?
        • Schmedley: Schmedley does exactly the same thing as Goowy, and it’s every bit as much fun to say. Like Goowy, it’s not exactly a web desktop but rather is a platform for hosted widgets. But if I included Goowy, I had to include Schmedley, since they do exactly the same thing. Fair’s fair, after all.
        • SSOE: Don’t let the “1.0a” designation fool you — the Flash-based SSOE is in very early development and doesn’t do anything at the moment. At the moment, you can choose to launch the “unstable version” or the “semi-stable version”. But I assume it is meant to do something, someday, and I do so love a good mystery…
        • Xcerion: Hope you’re not getting tired of closed betas, because here’s another one. When it’s done, Xcerion promises a full-fledged web-based operating system, with access to hundreds of open source applications. We’ll have to wait and see on this one.
        • Xindesk: This one isn’t a private beta, at least — it’s a private alpha. Again, it will be a Vista-like environment with tons of apps.  When it gets here.
        • YouOS: Finally, one you can use.  YouOS got a lot of people really excited last year.  It offers a bare-bones word processor and a browser that’s called “WhereWolf”, which is pretty cool. It hasn’t changed much in a long time, though — there’s not a whole lot you can do with it. But it’s stable — if they added some applications, it might well be one of the top contenders.

        I’m sure I’ve missed a few, maybe even some really good ones, so let me (and our readers) know if there’s something that should be on this list.  What I really want to know, though, is if anyone is actually using any of these services on a day-to-day basis, to do real work.  What do you use, and for what? How is it working for you?

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        8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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        8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

        How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

        Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

        When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

        Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

        What Makes People Poor Listeners?

        Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

        1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

        Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

        Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

        It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

        2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

        This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

        Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

        3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

        It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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        I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

        If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

        4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

        While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

        To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

        My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

        Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

        Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

        How To Be a Better Listener

        For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

        1. Pay Attention

        A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

        According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

        As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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        I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

        2. Use Positive Body Language

        You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

        A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

        People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

        But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

        According to Alan Gurney,[2]

        “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

        Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

        3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

        I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

        Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

        Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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        Be polite and wait your turn!

        4. Ask Questions

        Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

        5. Just Listen

        This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

        I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

        I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

        6. Remember and Follow Up

        Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

        For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

        According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

        It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

        7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

        If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

        Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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        Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

        Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

        NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

        1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
        2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

        8. Maintain Eye Contact

        When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

        Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

        By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

        Final Thoughts

        Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

        You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

        And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

        More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

        Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

        Reference

        [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
        [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
        [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
        [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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