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Is it time to abandon the OS? 16 November, 2006

Posted by Jay Ball in open source, software.
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There has been a raft of interesting articles and posts lately looking at alternatives to traditional desktop-based software. Some, like the people at Vitamin, are looking to reduce the cost by moving to a primarily open source solution. Others, like Sam at TechCrunch UK, are exploring the web OS approach, taking advantage of the plethora of new web-based apps that are springing up (and generally being bought by Google). And yet others are cautioning that there is a need for both desktop and web-based software.

At the moment, I struggle with the case for the purely web-based approach. As much as I like it on a philosophical level, I know that the one time I need to access a certain file will be the one time I don’t have network access. Until there is some degree of ubiquitous WiFi/WiMax option I simply would not have the confidence to go down this route.

On the desktop, there is a growing (and very welcome) trend to more stripped back, more elegant software. My own preference is for the kind of applications that do one thing very well (and which play nice with others). Applications without the 700 features that I don’t need (but with access to plug ins for additional, specific tasks I do need). And as I use multiple machines, I need them to share information easily and reliably.

At the moment this means bolting together a mish-mash of online and offline applications. I’ve struggled in vain to find a good knowledge repository (I’ve tried the MORIs, DevonThinks and a wide variety of wikis). My favourite so far, is StikiPad but, of course, there is no offline option). Social bookmarking has been a boon and I’ve started to use Flock for browsing because it integrates directly with my del.icio.us account (it is also pretty slow and a bit buggy but shows great potential). And while RSS is now built in to many browsers, I have been completely seduced by the elegance of NewsFire.

The great hope in all this for me is for applications that can work offline or offline as needed. Apps that won’t leave me stranded when I don’t have web access but which exploit all the benefits Web 2.0 offers when I do. I can certainly see why everyone is pouring praise on the forthcoming Scrybe and can’t wait to try it out.

I don’t believe we will be abandoning our operating systems anytime soon (‘soon’ being a relative term in internet time). But if Microsoft crack the online part of their Live services or Google crack the offline part of theirs or, indeed if someone like Scrybe or 37signals manages to solve the whole thing more elegantly, they could eliminate one of the major headaches knowledge workers have today. Can’t wait.

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