Thursday, 29 October 2009

Farewell, desktop? My current status

I mentioned in the previous post what applications I currently use the desktop for - web browsing, email, documents, spreadsheets, news feeds, digital music - but there's actually quite a few other smaller bits of software I use that are valuable parts of the desktop without really being 'applications': contacts, bookmarks, the collection of cookies and passwords I need to access websites or that speed up the process of filling in forms. It would be better to have a centralised version of these too.
  1. email: I decided straightaway that, as I was using Google Mail anyway, I might as well go completely over to that and not install an email program on the EEE. As all my emails come in via my domain name anyway, they are stored there and this can serve as a backup
  2. news feeds: here, there is no 'data' at all (well, not my data anyway). I was using a reader on my PC, but here too, it's an obvious move to use Google Reader and not bother installing one on the EEE. The only thing to backup is the list of feeds I subscribe to
  3. documents and spreadsheets: I have also been experimenting with Google Docs for quite some time, so my current project is to move all my documents there and not install any office software on the EEE either. I have a large number of old docs and quite a few spreadsheets lurking around, so it could take me quite a while. Backup for the moment is the PC, but longer-term I might debate setting up some program that every so often automatically syncs with, say, humyo. I'm also not sure whether I will need some way to input whilst offline, though I'll try out Gears or HTML5 storage; in any case, there's always a text editor! Some of the documents are produced on behalf of various orgs I belong to, and here using an online data store has the big advantage over the desktop of being sharable with the other members of the org concerned
  4. music: the webtops claim that you can store all your music on their sites, but to me this makes little sense: if you only want to listen to a file once, then fine, by all means online. But downloading something every time you listen to it seems like a large waste of bandwidth to me. So, music files will continue to be stored at home, and copied over to other devices if needed. Backup on USB stick(s). I still have a host of old CDs and even a large collection of vinyl I need to copy over, but it's a question of finding time to do that. Now that you can download tracks from places like Amazon for a pound or two, it may be simpler to just get rid of the old stuff and go with a new copy

There are a couple of other areas that I am thinking of maybe digitising some time soon (when I have time, mañana, mañana). Like music, they would be stored at home, with USB stick backup:
  • books: I have literally thousands of books. Some of these, such as travel guides, can probably already be replaced by online versions. Others, like novels, can probably soon be replaced by a portable reader of some sort
  • photos: at one time I was quite a keen photographer, and have large numbers of slides lying around in cupboards. I will probably digitise the best of these, and dump the rest

This leaves the question of what to do with the other desktop utilities. KDE has a good integrated system, with Konqueror providing an all-singing all-dancing browser/file manager/file viewer/bookmark manager/cookie manager/password controller/etc/etc. Indeed, for me Konqueror has always been KDE's killer app, but its browser element always lags behind other browsers, so I'm finding increasingly that I use Chrome (for speed, particularly with AJAX apps) or Firefox (for Firebug and general javascript debugging) instead. They aren't coordinated with KDE's desktop system, so I end up with 3 separate bookmark/cookie/history/password mgrs which don't match up. A centralised version somewhere that could be used from everywhere would be good, so I've been experimenting with storing bookmarks on Yahoo. This is however not very satisfactory, and I'll be interested to see whether KDE comes up with some solution to this. I might even end up writing something myself and storing it on my website.

Cookies and especially password managers are more problematic because of the obvious security issues. A centralised version of these would certainly be convenient, but the more convenient it is for me, the more convenient it is for anyone who hacks into any centralised store on the web, or steals my EEE. Encryption might solve at least some of that, but would also slow things down. No solution to this so far.

So, I'm now essentially just running KDE without any 'applications' as such, just a browser/file mgr/viewer, text editor, simple music player. This occupies some 2GB of my SSD, the web development side taking another 500MB or so, leaving some 13GB for music/books/whatever else I want to have with me when I go wandering with EEE in hand.

I'll post periodic updates on my progress with this little project.

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