I’ve found myself using online apps more and more lately. Whether it’s Google Reader, the Daniweb blogging tool, my online calendar or Facebook, I’m spending more time in my browser and less time using desktop applications. This got me thinking if more and more of our work is moving online, what role will the OS play in the future?

Just recently, in the continuing onslaught of announcements that come from Google, it announced the launch of Google Gears, a tool that enables you to use Google Docs (and other Google tools) offline, then sync online automatically the next time you connect. As I’ve written here before, offline access is imperative to maintain productivity during those times where you don’t have an internet connection, and it gives more credence to the idea that desktop applications as we’ve known them are taking a reduced role as online applications develop increasingly sophisticated functionality.

I’m strongly considering buying the Asus Eee, a light-weight sub-notebook that comes equipped with Linux. The fact is, however, the operating system matters little to me because my main purpose for using this elegant little machine is to access my online applications when I’m on the road. In this context, I don’t’ care if I have Windows, OSX or Linux since most of my work simply requires an internet connection.

If this is the case, as we move forward, it’s worth considering what role the OS plays in our computing lives. There are online tools like Glide Digital and Ajax13 that behave like an entire online operating environment. If we extend this a bit further, perhaps the desktop operating system becomes a simple kernel to run the hardware and present a browser and some maintenance utilities. Everything else in this in this scenario moves online, always available, always accessible with all of your files backed up in an online file storage repository.

If this seems far-fetched to you, consider the Zonbu, a machine the size of a large paper back that comes with Linux and a 4GB flash memory card. The Zonbu uses a subscription model. You pay a monthly fee and Zonbu keeps a running backup of all your files and settings online. If anything goes wrong with the machine, you return it, Zonbu replaces the box, you log in and you can access your files and settings again instantly. In this case, it uses Linux, but it’s only a short leap until you simply use the box to get online.

All that said, FrameMaker is still my go-to application for technical documentation production and I don’t see that making its way online any time soon, but I could see a time in the not-too distant future when most applications are online and the OS as we understand it today fades into history. It may not happen tomorrow, but it could be sooner than you think.

Ah, another one who's stuck in the mainframe era...
I'd NEVER trust my data to some 3rd party, especially one like Google whose sole interest in me is as a target for advertising and a place to leech money out of.
And most people agree, the entire "web application" hype is already old.

I'm not saying it's necessarily going to be Google, but having an online back up of your files makes a lot of sense to me. If you want to look at this as a mainframe model, I suppose there's some truth to that, but it's certainly the bigger than any network ever imagined in the early days of computing, that's for sure. I think it's more about convenience and having access to your applications and data wherever you go. While you raise a valid concern, I think Software as a Service vendors (Saas) have shown that the data is safe and the service has been reliable. What I'm talking about is taking the SaaS model and applying it across the spectrum of tools that we use on a daily basis and I don't think that's so far-fetched.

I don't care for an "online backup" I don't have any control over.
Give me a backup of my own instead.

Services fine, as long as my data is and remains mine and isn't tied so tightly to the software of the service provider that it is useless if that service provider decides to shut me off (or simply goes out of business).
And that's the second big risk of all those "online" applications. Not only is your data held hostage by a third party because they control your access to it, but it is in a format that you don't even know and if you do know it is such that it's useless without that "online" application.

I'd sooner go offline than submit myself to such a stranglehold scenario.

I don't think it has to be necessarily an absolute situation. It may be that many people use the internet to conduct most of their business and access most of their applications and information, but there will still be a need and a market no doubt for people like you who want to continue to have a stand-alone OS and all that entails. I just think that it's like the internet model will be dominant.

it wotn happen. i doubt the net could handle that much traffic