Mandrake Linux Founder now Ulteo Chairman and CTO Gaël Duval today announced a new beta release of the Ulteo Online Desktop a hosted desktop solution built from open source technology. The Ulteo product suite includes the following:
- Ulteo Online Desktop (Ulteo OD, version 1): UOD lets users store their documents online, and open them with a choice of applications that run within their web-browser (Firefox, IE and others).
- Ulteo Application System (Ulteo AS, beta1): is an installable version of Ulteo, for a PC
- Storage: Ulteo offers up to one gigabyte of storage for Ulteo desktop users
There is a free access beta and Ulteo will supply additional service levels for a price. There isn’t a lot of information on the Ulteo website but I took the online version for a spin. I thought this was interesting because back in 2000 I was an executive at a firm that did the exact same thing. My experience at the time was that the applications available at the time didn’t have good enough interoperability with Windows standard applications to be practical. With Microsoft and other moving toward supporting an XML document standard
Ulteo: Thin Client Computing
The Ulteo Online desktop is a Linux desktop using KDE that redisplays to a Java enabled browser. You can choose to run a full desktop or individual office applications from the OpenOffice.org Suite. The redisplay technology used to display the UOD is VNC. My experience was not great with performance or screen refreshes running on Mac OS X. You can see the cursor trails on the screenshots below.
The Ulteo site warns that you need the Sun JRE and to run the UOD and so Ubuntu users who haven’t installed it make sure to do so. The one criticism that I have is in the choice of redisplay technologies. It looks like Ulteo has chosen to use VNC protocol to redisplay the desktop. Using RealVNC or TightVNC performance might help but can be less than optimal for productivity applications. My preference for Linux and open source friendly redisplay would be NoMachine which performs well in low bandwidth and latent network environments.
Here’s some screenshots of Ulteo in action though they aren’t that telling. It’s simply a themed KDE Linux desktop environment.
Ulteo Bootup Screen
Ulteo Running OpenOffice.org
This is simply a beta so I am reserving judgment on Ulteo’s first product offering. Normally, I would say this idea has come and past. For core productivity applications the market has skipped over personal thin client computing to rich Internet applications like Google Docs,Instant Messaging (Meebo), and web mail. However, for people to move completely to a web-based online desktop you either need to have all your applications available from a web browser. Here are some of the Ulteo challenges and opportunities.
- Legacy Application Migration – The opportunity for Ulteo could be migrating legacy applications running on DOS (yep there are still many point of sale and other applications out there) to run on DOSEmu
- Community Powered – Here’s why I think that Ulteo is noteworthy. Ulteo founder, Gaël Duval at one point had driven Mandrake to be one of the most active Linux and open source communities on the web. The forums at Ulteo already show good activity even before the product has launched and there’s also a significant team participating in the project:
- Thierry Koehrlen – CEO, VP Product Development
- Gaël Duval – Chairman, CTO
- Alain Revah – Advisor
- Daniel Zumino – Angel
- Daniele Favara aka nomed – Lead Engineer
- Gauvain Pocentek – Developer
- Arnau Vàzquez Palma – Developer
- Julien Langlois – Developer
- Laurent Clouet – Developer
- Sandaruwan Gunathilake – Web developer
- Jérémie Corbet – Developer
- Antoine Walter aka anw – Web Engineer
- Jeremy Desvages aka Jejem – Web Engineer
For now the jury is out. I am not clear if Ulteo will be a viable commercial company or simply and interesting application of open source technologies. I will post as their product matures and goes live.