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Your Desktop Anywhere? 21 Web-Based Desktops

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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        Last Updated on February 13, 2020

        What Is Speed Reading and How to Successfully Learn It

        What Is Speed Reading and How to Successfully Learn It

        Too much to read, too little time! Don’t you wish you could read faster without compromising your knowledge intake? This is where a valuable learning technique comes to the rescue: speed reading.

        Speed reading is the top skill to learn in 2020. Read on to find out all about this amazing technique!

        What Is Speed Reading?

        On average, an adult can read somewhere between 200 to 300 words per minute. With speed reading, you can read around 1500 words per minute.[1] Yes, that sounds impossible, but it is true.

        In order to understand how this skill works, you first need to know how the reading process works inside a human’s brain.

        The Reading Process

        The first step is for the eyes to look at a word. This “fixation” on every word takes around 0.25 seconds.

        Next, the eye moves on to the following word. It takes 0.1 seconds for the brain to move from one word to the next. This is called “saccade.”

        Usually, a person reads 4 to 5 words or a sentence at once. After all the fixations and saccades, the brain goes over the entire phrase again in order to process the meaning. This takes around half a second.

        All in all, this allows the average person to read 200 to 300 words in a minute.

        Speeding up the Process

        The concept of speed reading is to speed up this process at least 5 times. Since the saccade period cannot be shortened any further, speed reading emphasizes quicker fixations.

        To accomplish this, scientists recommend that the reader skips the subvocalization: when the readers actually say the word in their mind, even when reading silently.

        Basically, speed reading is the technique of only seeing the words instead of speaking them silently.

        Do not confuse this with skimming. When a reader skims through a text, they skip the parts that their brain considers to be unnecessary.

        You may skip important information in this process. Moreover, skimming does not allow the brain to retain what has been read.

        Why Speed Read?

        Speed reading is not just quick, but also effective. This skill saves a lot of of time without sacrificing information.

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        Also, it has been proven to improve memory. The brain’s performance improves during speed reading, which allows the reader to remember more information than before.

        Since speed reading stabilizes the brain, the information is processed faster and more efficiently.

        Believe it or not, this technique leads to improved focus, too. As the brain receives a lot of information during speed reading, there is far less chance of distraction. The brain focuses solely on the job at hand.

        Since the brain is, after all, a muscle, the process of speed reading acts as an exercise. Just like the rest of your muscles, your brain needs exercise to grow stronger, too.

        A focused brain means improved logical thinking. As your brain gets used to receiving and organizing so much information so quickly, your thinking process will become faster.

        As soon as a problem is thrown at you, your brain will quickly put two and two together. You will be able to retrieve stored information, figure out correlations, and come up with new solutions, all within seconds!

        Still not convinced? Read 10 Reasons Why You Should Learn Speed Reading

        Greater Benefits

        With a healthier brain, you can expect better things in other parts of your life, too. A boost in self-esteem is just one of them.

        As you begin to understand information at a faster pace, you will also begin to figure out more opportunities all around you.

        With the ability to deeply understand information in a shorter period of time, your confidence levels will quickly grow higher.

        Moreover, all the aforementioned benefits will relieve you of stress. You will manage your readings in lesser time, your brain will be healthier, and you will feel so much better about yourself.

        With all these advantages, your emotional well-being will be healthier than ever. You’ll feel less stress since your brain will learn to tackle problems efficiently. Speed reading will lead to a relaxed, tension-free lifestyle!

        How to Learn to Speed Read

        Speed reading is a superpower. Fortunately, unlike other superpowers, this one can be learned!

        There are different techniques that can be used to master this skill. Opt for the one that best suits your learning style.

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        1. The Pointer Method

        The person who is credited for popularizing speed reading, Evelyn Wood, came up with the pointer method. It is a simple technique in which the reader uses their index finger to slide across the text that they’re reading.

        As the finger moves, the brain coherently moves along with it. It is an effective technique to keep the eyes focused where the finger goes without causing any distraction.

        Readers have a tendency to back-skip. The pointer method prevents this from happening, thereby saving at least half the reading time.

        2. The Scanning Method

        In this technique, the reader’s eyes move along one part of the page only. This can be the left or right side of the text but is usually the center since that is the most convenient.

        Instead of pacing through the entire text from left to right, the vision shifts from top to bottom.

        This method involves fixation on keywords such as names, figures, or other specific terms. By doing so, the saccade time is minimized.

        3. Perceptual Expansion

        Generally, a reader focuses on one word at a time. This technique, on the other hand, encourages the brain to read a chunk of words together. In doing so, this method increases the reader’s peripheral vision.

        Here’s the thing: even though the fixation time remains the same with perceptual expansion, the number of words that the eyes fixate on increases.

        So basically, the brain receives 5 times more information within the same amount of time.

        This technique is the hardest to master and takes the most time to learn. You’ll need help from speed reading tools in order to practice the perceptual expansion method.

        However, once you master it, this technique will offer you the fastest reading pace with the maximum knowledge intake.

        The Best Speed Reading Apps

        The easiest tool to aid any process in any part of life these days is your smartphone.

        You can use mobile applications to learn speed reading on the go. It has been proven that regularly practicing speed reading is the fastest way to learn this skill. [2]

        Here are a few great options to look into:

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        1. Reedy

        If you own an Android smartphone, you can download Reedy to your mobile. Otherwise, get the chrome extension on your laptop to enjoy speed reading with Reedy.

        This app trains readers to read faster by displaying words one by one on the screen. Instead of having to go through lines or long texts, Reedy prepares the user to focus on one word at a time.

        Although this isn’t an effective method to learn speed reading long texts, it is a great way to start.

        Once your brain gets used to the idea, you can shift to another app to train speed reading sentences or longer texts.

        2. ReadMe!

        Whether you’re an android or iOS user, you can take advantage of the ReadMe! application. This app even comes with some e-book options to practice speed reading on.

        Start by choosing your desired font size, color, layout, etc. Other than that, there are different reading modes for the user to choose from.

        If you want to practice reading sentence by sentence or in short paragraphs, you can choose the focused reading mode.

        The beeline reader mode changes the color of the text to guide the eye to read from the beginning to the end at a certain pace.

        Lastly, there is the spritz mode in which the app focuses on chunks of words at once. This controls the reader’s peripheral vision. However, this mode is not fully available in the free version of the app.

        3. Spreeder

        Spreeder is available on both iOS and Android. However, users may also gain benefits from Spreeder’s website. This application lets the reader paste in any text that they would like to speed read.

        Starting off at a rather low speed, the app flashes words one by one. Gradually, as the user becomes more comfortable, the speed increases.

        Slowly, the user is trained to speed read without having to skip any words.

        This app is different from the rest because it tracks the user’s reading improvements, recording the overall reading time and speed.

        The progress and improvement are tracked in order to motivate the user to perform even better.

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        Adjustable settings, such as the speed of the text, background color, etc. are in the control of the user.

        The Controversy Surrounding Speed Reading

        Truthfully, speed reading does sound too good to be true. It’s hard to believe that it is humanly possible to attain such a fast pace in reading without compromising the quality of information you receive.

        Perhaps as a result, there are people who do not trust the process of speed reading. They believe that when you read through a text at such a high speed, you cannot comprehend the information successfully.

        According to these people, your brain is unable to process information at the speed that you’re reading, and so, they regard speed reading as problematic.

        It is true that speed reading will be of no use if you do not understand the text you’re reading, no matter how quickly you did it.

        Similarly, if you were to read slowly and still not retain or understand the information you read, that would be useless, too.

        However, there a few factors to consider here. When reading at a normal pace, there is enough time in between every step of the process for the brain to get distracted.

        Conversely, speed reading leaves behind no time for the brain to focus on something else. It is unlike skimming. No part of the text is skipped, which means that the brain receives every single bit of information.

        Conclusion

        Keeping all of this in mind, speed reading cannot be labeled a hoax or a failure. Science has backed up this technique, and numerous readers have been using this skill to improve their learning ability.

        At the end of the day, it is your decision whether or not you want to trust this process.

        However, if you decide to take advantage of the opportunities speed reading provides, you will find a world of possibilities opening up to you.

        We live in a fast-paced world. Consuming information faster will help you keep up with that pace and find further success.

        Speed Read Like a Pro!

        Featured photo credit: Blaz Photo via unsplash.com

        Reference

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