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Summit Red Hat confused world+dog yesterday by dishing out two, new desktop visions, while trying to catch both projects with the same glove. So, let's try and clean up the mess.

On the visionary front, Red Hat has started discussing something called the Online Desktop. Red Hat claims that this software will rewrite the client market by creating tighter bonds between server-based applications such as Google Docs or Flickr and the operating system. While some elements of the Online Desktop will appear via contributions to Fedora 8, the OS as Red Hat envisions it won't really ship anytime soon.

By contrast, the far less ambitious Global Desktop will ship in July. This OS is just a thinned down version of Red Hat's Enterprise Linux Desktop 5, which caters to business users with workstations. Red Hat has teamed with Intel's white box army to install Global Desktop on a limited number of desktops and laptops that will be sold to small business and governments in developing countries.

So, where Ubuntu charges the broader market with force and a Dell deal, Red Hat will ship a cheap, lower-end OS/hardware pairing to a wee subset of the non-Windows market.

Red Hat likes to pitch Global Desktop as the first step toward the Online Desktop, although that's a major marketing stretch. After all, you're told that the Online Desktop will dump the "existing (client OS) paradigm" on its head, and then told that Global Desktop "is that same desktop that you're used to."

This seems to indicate that the transition from Global Desktop to the Online Desktop will take a very, very long time and likely not live up to Red Hat's billing. The software maker isn't crafting something spectacular from scratch. It's adding online appendages to Linux.

What kinds of appendages?

Well, Red Hat's blog army proves helpful enough on this front.

Let's turn to Havoc Pennington.

People

A number of services maintain online contact lists ("people I know"), including AIM, Google Talk, GMail, Facebook, MySpace and Mugshot. Ideally, we would somehow collect "people I know" from these places and have the desktop be smart about who I know and who I can interact with in various contexts - sharing a file, writing a document, sending an IM, or whatever it is.

In technical terms, we'll want to drop the Evolution contact database stuff and instead have a more free-form/aggregation-oriented/stored-online idea of who your contacts are.

Applications

Yesterday I mentioned Mugshot Applications, where we're building a social concept of the "universe of applications."

Ideally, this effectively replaces /usr/share/applications. /usr/share/applications becomes purely the launch instructions (we're using it for the Exec= line).

In technical terms, this means replacing application launching (panel menus, launchers, etc.) with a new interface, and replacing the "package tool" with Install buttons contextually available as you browse the universe of applications. Our "universe of applications" should also include web apps as first-class.

Documents

Documents are ideally kept online; this can take several forms. For documents belonging to Google Docs & Spreadsheets, they are online inherently. For more "native" documents, we might have online folders that backend to something like S3 and are available in the file manager. We might also look at the AbiWord Collaboration work that people have been doing.

The "recent documents" list should include online documents, for sure.

You can visit Havoc's blog for more details on how the Gnome Online Desktop –GOD – would handle other things such as photos, search, sharing files and APIs.

Red Hat's GOD vision clearly ships with a grandma's helping of Web 2.0 goop. That makes sense in that Red Hat has no plans of attracting stuffy, business users tied to Microsoft Word with this OS. Still, it's a bit frustrating, since many of the OS ideas seem compelling and might be better served by dialing down the hype.

Red Hat's ever-oscillating position around the consumerish Linux desktop makes us wonder how far the GOD effort will go. The company just doesn’t seem to believe that desktop Linux will appeal to a broader market anytime soon, and it's probably right.

Is this OS different enough from a traditional desktop to maybe break Red Hat's consumer reticence while also breaking consumer's dependence on traditional computing? Who knows at this point.

What's clear to us, however, is that Global Desktop and GOD just aren't as similar as Red Hat seems to think. Global Desktop rips out features so that small businesses and governments can purchase cheapish Linux-based systems. GOD goes at younger, more savvy types willing to embrace the server-based app shift with all their hearts. These two worlds just do not meet. ®

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