Does the arrival of Web applications on the desktop warrant the death pronouncement of the desktop or is it just hot air?
For the past three weeks I have been in computer exile — cast out into operating system purgatory while the previously trustworthy and beloved Apple PowerBook had a hard drive replacement. I had intended to document the time spent using a machine with the lowest Vista rating possible, a sizable 1.0, and rant about the frustration created until I was blue in the face. But now I shall do no such thing.
The PowerBook was returned to my possession yesterday and what have I been spending far too much time doing since? Returning to my preferred desktop working arrangement with copious amounts of reinstallation and reconfiguration to get close to what existed previously.
What occurred when I started using Vista? If you guessed "reinstallation and reconfiguration" you would be incorrect on this occasion. For with Vista, I lived inside Firefox as much as possible — thanks to a glut of Web applications. If you can bring yourself to do it, nowadays you can pretend your machine is a thin client. I was willing to endure as I had assumed my stay to be a rather temporary one — various service departments had other ideas and reputations to maintain though.
Three weeks of living with Vista was not as terrible as anticipated because I had removed Vista from the equation — I simply had to bite down and hope that whatever pain was left would go away soon.
Perhaps it was the numbing from a office recent move to Exchange that put Vista into a better than expected light, but looking back it's as though the desktop itself paled away.
The one item that consumed all the time when moving between platforms was the browser. The ability to use "gg [query terms]" to search Google and replicate the behaviour of particular extensions is something that is taken for granted. Whether it be OS X, Vista or GNOME — this sort of functionality is expected, regardless of browser.
So it is that instead of being tied to a particular vendor's desktop environment, I am tied to my desktop environment. While items such as Exposé, multiple desktops and hardware acceleration may come and go, the overall core feel survives intact.
That doesn't mean I am about to declare desktop agnosticity any time soon — in a world of homogeneousness, the differentiator is king.
Nor should a declaration that "the desktop is dead, long live the Webtop" be issued.
While it was a nice little experiment to live without as many applications as possible, the experiment and the hairline could not be maintained simultaneously.
What I did learn from it though, was that if you happen to work in a particularly fastidious corporate environment where you do not have the ability to install applications without a higher authority, then the browser is the best weapon you have in the user vs sysadmin arms race.