/// The Future of the Desktop — Rendering the Operating System Irrelevant?
Xerox Star There are few more enduring manifestations of user interface technology than that of the Graphical User Interface Desktop. Pioneered by engineers at Xerox PARC, refined by Steve Jobs and Apple and brought to masses and ingrained into our daily lives by Microsoft Windows, it is almost the first thing that comes to mind when we think of using a computer. The natural feel of choosing icons with a gesture, as opposed to memorizing command lines, somewhat demystified computers. This made them accessible to a whole new group of users, and did away with the need for intensive training and education. The desktop is perhaps the single most important development in productivity in the history of computing. Whether you use Windows, OSX, or perhaps one of the several flavors of Linux, the same basic principles apply. Point and click; or more frequently now, touch and tap — what you see is what you get. But despite their similarity in appearance, underneath it all, each of these operating systems is inherently different. Applications that run across all are few and far between, and as soon as one goes beyond the most basic of features, a great deal of learning has to take place before one can get the most out of all the features available to them across the operating system environments. Personal computing has seldom been in a more fragmented state. The rise of the mobile device has seen the operating system landscape become even more disjointed, and the longer lifespan of non-mobile devices means that even with Windows devices there are four separate versions currently supported by Microsoft. No one could possibly be expected to know all of the shortcuts and features of every iteration of every different operating system that they may encounter in their professional and personal lives. This lack of consistency and familiarity could impede the productivity that the desktop is trying to promote. One thing that is consistent across most modern operating systems is the ability to run a sophisticated Internet browser. HTML5 is fast becoming the standard for delivering Web applications and the possibilities it gives for Web development are endless. Web applications are something that most of us are familiar with, and perhaps their greatest asset is being able to deliver a consistent user experience regardless of what device or operating system you happen to be using it on. With more and more of our essential applications, files and data being hosted online, a Web-based desktop is the next logical progression from this. A SaaS-delivered GUI with quick access to HTML5 applications and data that can be accessed from any browser for the first time removes the desktop from the OS for the average user. Regardless of what device the user logs onto the Web desktop with, it will be instantly familiar to them. Different screen sizes and touch controls as opposed to using a mouse may make slight differences, but the same features and functions will be available to all users
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