In the past I've made a habit of making mention of the fact that the best shot for Linux on the desktop revolves around embracing the new role of the desktop. Namely, as the web continues to evolve into a bona-fide platform that encroaches upon functional areas typically associated with desktop computing, Linux is best suited to embracing this emerging reality. Ironically, the GNOME Online Desktop project is attempting to do just that. The project's goal is described (from its website) as "adapt[ing] the desktop to become the perfect window for online applications like GMail, Photobucket, Facebook, EBay, Wikipedia, and countless others that user and developer momentum is shifting towards." The project's objective is ambitious to say the least, but its timing and direction almost warrants an aggressive target.
Needless to say, I'm all for the effort since it raises the profile of innovation along the Linux desktop front. Integration of the standard desktop environment with expanding Web 2.0 cloud is paramount to the future of the desktop itself. A reality which the results of Microsoft's $240 million stake in Facebook may turn out to illustrate quite well. I won't hold my breath waiting for the day when all applications are hosted on the cloud and the desktop is simply a terminal, but the line separating Web stuff from desktop stuff is blurring with the emergence of SaaS and Web 2.0. Hence, the reason that the GNOME Online Desktop project so intrigues me. If the GNOME community can really put together support for the modern web it will be in prime position to potentially attract a growing class of users that have been freed from operating system lock-in by migrating to web applications.
Armed with obvious real world application and support from Red Hat, the GNOME Online Desktop project has the opportunity to overcome some initial fragmentation within its long-term focus. I want to see how/if the project will translate momentum from the continued release of the API's for popular online platforms like Facebook (MySpace and Orkut, included) as well as the swelling array of other services like Bebo and Twitter that will leverage them. While the practical, developer-centric approach embodied by efforts such as Mugshot is the way to go, I think the focus on enabling a new wave of user-generated content will pay dividends. The desktop as a gold-mine for homegrown content is a characterization worth exploring.
Admittedly, the progression of the GNOME Online Desktop project represents somewhat of a two way street. Perhaps, a web friendly open source desktop environment serves as a fertile ground for the utilization of platform services will further encourage larger cracks in other notable walled gardens. The possibilities are definitely alluring, making the GNOME Online Desktop project one to watch.