Another Online Desktop Idea

GNOME has its vision of what a online desktop should be. I have another. The idea is to find a replacement for:

  • VPN network access
  • XDMCP graphical logins
  • SSH logins
  • etc.

My idea – and I am sure I am not the only one having it is to have rather a local login to a desktop – but then be able to fetch some common settings from a central server – and maybe also some data.

I will explain a possible session:

First you have a plain desktop like a GNOME desktop. You might want to use the settings of your central account. Then you can do this by clicking on a link. You can type in your password and you will get all the settings you use. By that I mean things like IMAP account, bookmarks, Jabber account,… maybe also desktop settings loudness settings, messaging preferences – and maybe not some location specific settings like your proxy. Maybe you can register your location or rather choose it to by a dynamic location (because you use a public WLAN with some more secure settings and with different IP addresses).

On a second session  login  the settings will be downloaded and the environment of the desktop will change. Potentially this settings could be accessed from a central GCONFD which runs as root as a daemon instead of per session. Maybe this would also allow to tunnel some traffic through the server that has this GCONFD running.

So what this does NOT is:

  • It does not provide any secure connection like SSH or a real login to a server.
  • It does not provide a login to GDM through XDMCP
  • It does not provide any access to a VPN

It rather provides:

  • Information that a user has saved
  • Themes, Looks and other environment definitions
  • Maybe also acces to data if this is wanted. So if the user saves the data on a central server this desktop could offer some ways to access (via VPN, SSH, XDMCP,…). The ways that are offered could depend on the configuration of the GCONFD and on how the user defines access to his desktop.
  • It could also offer different VIEWS – so coming back to former ideas I offered here in my blog – So I as a user could define a simplified, lightweight profile for my notebook when I am on the move or for mobile devices. These views could also maybe be shared anonymized or personalized via Email, Jabber, etc. – so that they could be downloaded, installed, executed and used.
  • A way to print something from anywhere in the world to a printer of your choice.

For privacy concerns the user should be given some options to anonymize his shared views – or be warned if the connection is not encrypted or secure enough. These views could maybe also include many different desktops in one – so like you import a HOME view and a OFFICE view – and can switch between them like today with the screens in the GNOME panel. So that would be useful not only while traveling but also handling different usages. Users need different environments. One main problem people have is that their computer tend to mix all kinds of usages – so maybe somebody is working, has some private usages and also is active in an organization. Today people sort data and information by creating folders. But the number of folders is steadily growing – and often you  only need one or two folders if you want to work on one subject. The other 500 folders are useless in this moment.

All those problems are neither targeted by todays desktop nor by GNOMEs online desktop vision which really just tries to integrate big websites into your desktop. I wish some of those visions could become true. Right now all desktops are much too conservative. I think maybe Plan 9 has done the groundwork for such an idea (representing all data in folders and files)

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