A web desktop or webtop is a desktop environment embedded in a web browser or similar client application. A webtop integrates web applications, web services, client–server applications, application servers, and applications on the local client into a desktop environment using the desktop metaphor. Web desktops provide an environment similar to that of Windows, Mac, or a graphical user interface on Unix and Linux systems. It is a virtual desktop running in a web browser. In a webtop the applications, data, files, configuration, settings, and access privileges reside remotely over the network. Much of the computing takes place remotely. The browser is primarily used for display and input purposes.
The terms "web desktop" and "webtop" are distinct from web operating system, a network operating system such as TinyOS or distributed operating system such as Inferno. In popular use, web desktops are sometimes referred to incorrectly as web operating systems or simply WebOS.
In the context of a web desktop, the term Webtop was first introduced by the Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) in 1994 for a web-based interface to their Unix operating system. This application was based on the provisional application entitled "The Adaptive Internet Protocol System" filed Nov. 13, 1997, serial number 60/065,521 and is the U.S. patent for the technology used in the Tarantella Webtop. Andy Bovingdon  and Ronald Joe Record, who both explored the concepts in different directions, are often credited as the inventors. The initial SCO Webtop, developed by Record, utilized a Netscape Navigator plugin to display applications in a browser window via TightVNC. A trademark application for "SCO Webtop" was filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on November 8, 1996. In order to avoid confusion with the more complex technology incorporated into the Tarantella Webtop it was abandoned on December 24, 1997 by The Santa Cruz Operation.
The first SCO Webtop releases were part of SCO Skunkware before being integrated into SCO OpenServer version 5 and UnixWare 7. Tarantella was subsequently purchased by Sun Microsystems and integrated into their Sun Secure Global Desktop.
Byte magazine referred to the Webtop as a NUI (Network User Interface).
Comparison of web desktops
The following tables compare general and technical information for a number of web desktops.
|Name||Browser support||Developer||Engine||Free||License||3rd party applications||Productivity Suite||Graphical user interface||Downloadable to Web server||Still Active|
|appFlower||IE6/7/8, Firefox3/4/5, Safari, Opera, Chrome||AppFlower ApS||appFlower based on PHP + AJAX||No||Open Source: GPLv3||Yes||Yes||Customizable||Yes||Yes
|eyeOS||IE7/8, Firefox3, Safari, Opera, Chrome||eyeOS Team||PHP + AJAX||No||Proprietary||Yes||Yes||Customizable||Yes||No|
|FullyOS||Firefox, Chrome, Safari, IE7+||Pradac Informatica||HTML5, PHP, MongoDB||No||Proprietary||Yes||Microsoft Office Web apps, Zoho||Windows-like||No||Yes|
|G.ho.st||IE6+, Firefox2+, Safari. Partial: Chrome & Opera||Ghost Inc ("G.ho.st")||Flash + AJAX (mobile version is WAP)||No||Proprietary||Yes||Yahoo! Zimbra, Zoho, Google Docs, ILoveIM||Windows-like||No||No|
|Glide OS||IE7, Firefox 3, Safari, Chrome||TransMedia||HTML5||Yes (30 GB limit)||Proprietary||From Glide Community||Glide Write, Glide Presenter, Glide Crunch, Photo Editor, Email||Mac+Windows-like||No||Yes|
|Nivio||IE7, IE8, Google Chrome, FF 4||Sachin Dev Duggal, Saurabh Dhoot||In development||No||Proprietary||Yes||Yes||Windows||No||No|
|Online OS||FF 1.5 and higher, IE7||iCUBE Network Solutions||Java, Ajax||Yes||Proprietary||Yes||Yes||Windows-like||No||No|
|SkyDesktop||Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, IE||InfoStreet||Python, Ajax||Yes||Proprietary||Yes||StreetSmart, Google Apps||Customizable||No||Yes|
|Oracle Secure Global Desktop||Any browser with a JRE||Oracle||AIP||No||Proprietary||Yes||Yes||Customizable||No|
|VMware View||IE, Firefox, Safari, Opera, Chrome||VMware||PCoIP, RDP, HTML5||No||Proprietary||Yes||Yes||Customizable||No||Yes|
- US patent 6,104,392, Shaw , et al., "Method of displaying an application on a variety of client devices in a client/server network", issued 2000-08-15
- Andrew J Bovingdon presented a Human Computer Interaction poster on the subject of Webtops at WWW2 in Chicago, 1994 entitled "Adding a new dimension to the desktop", http://web.archive.org/web/20041231084638/http://archive.ncsa.uiuc.edu/SDG/IT94/Agenda/Posters-received.html
- The Santa Cruz Operation Technical White Paper, Tarantella --The Universal Application Server, July, 1997
- See uspto.gov, click on "Trademarks -> Search TM Database", and perform a Basic search for "Webtop". The only earlier occurrences in both the Patent and Trademark databases are for systems unrelated to a web desktop context.
- SCO Skunkware Release Notes
- "Sun Microsystems Completes Tarantella Acquisition". Associated Press. 2005-07-13. Retrieved 2008-04-04.
- [dead link]
- SCO Tarantella Offers New Twist On an Old Thin-Client Dance, "Network Computing Magazine", Mark Andrew Seltzer, January 24, 2000
- Ditch That Desktop for a Webtop, PC World, October 16, 2000
- SCO Company History, Operating System Documentation Project
- SCO revamps UnixWare with Linux features, CNET News.com, February 23, 1999
- SCO Showcases Latest In Network Computing for Real-World Environments, Network Computing News, April 29, 1997