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Voila! Workspot Linux is instant and portable "magic"

By on January 23, 2003 (8:00:00 AM)

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- by Tina Gasperson -
Workspot is an online Linux desktop. You go there in any browser (java-enabled is better), login, and start up Red Hat Linux within that browser. It is so cool, I really want it to be something that people go for. I want it to succeed.

I'm not so sure it can - but the guy who runs things at Workspot is a believer. He's reaching out to newbies, collaborators, and "mobile people."

CEO Greg Bryant started Workspot just before the dot-com boom got big. He wanted it to be a "Hotmail-like web service" that instead of just providing email, provided a complete Linux workstation that could be accessed from any Internet-enabled computer.

Workspot got caught up in the boom and attracted the attention of investors. They began providing remotely-hosted applications "solutions," calling themselves an Open Source "applications service provider." But their heart was still with the basics - Workspot as a standalone, portable, remotedly hosted Linux workstation.

With the decline in funds that came when the boom busted, Bryant and company were forced to go back to those basics, and so now we have a production release of Workspot available for a $9.95 monthly subscription fee.

"We've spent a great deal of time and energy putting together a project that may help convert the general public to GNU/Linux on the desktop," says Bryant. "This is a serious effort, we're proud of it, we think it's magic."

Bryant says that the underlying premise with Workspot is that, if the majority of computer users had an online demo of the Linux desktop, they "would be willing to convert," and the domination of proprietary software companies would end. With a newbie market that encompasses "half a billion" people who have Internet connectivity but don't yet run Linux, Bryant says, "I hope they don't all come at once."

The newbs will like it, says Bryant, because "It's a normal user account, so someone can use it for e-mail and mobile work, and see if it's comfortable for day-to-day use."

As for collaborators, "If techie friends want to help guide someone through GNU/Linux applications, Workspot has a remote collaborative feature that lets users see each other's desktops."

Bryant shares a scenario. "Three people, working at three different companies, want to work on a small project together. They get three Workspots, and they start to show each other their current work on their desktops, while they use chat & e-mail to communicate, and webdav to transfer files. No new machines required, and they keep stuff off of their corporate hard drives. It's a GNU-ish version of what WebEx does, I suppose. And -they- have 6,000 customers."

As for the mobile users, Bryant is sure that, given the popularity of webmail, at least a segment of that market would also be interested in having an online desktop. "I know many people who 'program-on-the-side,' or who need to have an Open Office or a Gimp available to them in a pinch -- they're travelling light. Sysdmins need it so they can ssh into their work machines, no matter what PC they have at hand," he says.

Bryant says that although Workspot doesn't have any subscribers yet, the company has plans to initiate an affiliate program. "When surfers click through an affiliate site (one like, let's say, GnuCash's) and register, that site gets 25% of the registration fee. Since many of these projects are already showcased on Workspot, I think this is a sensible and useful way to generate income."

Bryant also dreams of setting up micropayments for new applications or for custom configurations, whereby he says, open source programmers would be able to earn a living. "And they'd get better feedback from users, leading to faster UI improvements," he says.

So, how does Workspot work within the confines of the GNU General Public License? "Well, I'll start with source code. We have no desire to hide code," says Bryant. "If we make changes to anything under GPL, we put it up on http://www.workspot.org.

"VNC gets distributed to users, so this is required under GPL. But if we make a change to, say, Nautilus, we'll post the changes, even though we don't have to -- we're making-believe that GPL has a 'public performance' clause, which I believe it should. Websites don't generally distribute code, so GPL is pretty weak against the privatization of GPL'd web products--unless they're used by millions, like apache.

"The source for everything else you see is available online elsewhere. The glue we've packaged it all together with wouldn't interest people yet -- but we'll divide it up usefully and distribute it under GPL later, with an added public performance clause.

"The use of our servers isn't source code distribution -- and so isn't covered by GPL. It's simply 'use of services.' Hypothetically, if someone gives out their login, against our contract, it would be a breach of contract. But that's just temporary: and unenforced. What I really want is a physical contraint -- just one VNC connection per user. We're implementing that now. Only because, if they want more connections, that means more bandwidth, and that will cost us more money, so the user should have to pay extra for it."

Bryant says that the desktop sessions are not encrypted, and admits that Workspot is not really secure, yet. But he says it is "really hard to snoop. If I was learning or evaluating GNU/Linux applications, or even using them for small jobs, I personally wouldn't care much that some powerful-super-spy-hacker could see it. It's like going for a testdrive -- a semi-public kind of thing.

"But for those moments of privacy, there are several encrypted VNC solutions we're evaluating and implementing this quarter. Once encryption is implemented, people will probably start to see it as a mobile identity. Ximian Evolution on Workspot beats the Hotmail interface -any- day!"

Bryant admits that the target market hasn't quite been convinced yet. "...Our biggest hurdle is just getting people to understand it. Techies do, but until we become a showcase for sub-stable software, which we're planning, it would be kind of a luxury for them to subscribe. Normal people, who'd like to try GNU out, or have it around occasionally, don't really get it, because it's such an unusual beast."

We tried Workspot out and found it fun and interesting. Basically, you surf to workspot.com, login and start your desktop, within the browser. There's also an option to run Workspot straight from vnc, which is supposed to enhance the responsiveness, but for most people, running it from within the browser is easiest. Just make sure you have java installed and enabled.

The GNOME desktop quickly appears, and everything is just as it normally is in the Linux desktop. I had a noticeable lag but it wasn't enough to make the system unusable or even unenjoyable. Your mileage may vary, depending on the amount of RAM and bandwidth you have available.

You get the standard apps - Gimp, OpenOffice.org, games, emacs, etc. I ran Gaim with no problem, but xchat didn't work. There's no sound, and printing is not possible at this point. Neither Evolution nor Kmail were able to connect for me through Workspot. I wouldn't recommend using mail services on Workspot anyway, since it is unsecure.

It is bizarre surfing the 'Net on a browser within a browser, but completely possible. Again, ignoring the fact that it's redundant, I wouldn't do it if it means logging in anywhere.

If you have open source software you'd like to install on your Workspot account, feel free as long as it doesn't have to be system-wide. Understandably, you don't get any root access here. Just for fun, I thought I'd see if I could get java installed and then LimeWire. Downloading java was fun - 17mb in about 4 seconds. But there were glitches in unpacking the file that I couldn't investigate because, no root access. It's just not convenient. Not to mention that java is either not installed on the system or it is just not included in the path (though a cursory look through the /usr directories didn't turn up any java). Probably not a huge deal, unless you want to run java-based applications or you visit any sites with java applets.

If you have Windows friends who want to try out this "insta-Linux" it would probably be worth it to kick down $9.95 for a month's trial. Bryant says its good for programmers too, says he finds himself often with Internet access but without his programming tools, and Workspot comes in handy for that.

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on Voila! Workspot Linux is instant and portable "magic"

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Apache isn't GPL'd

Posted by: gus3 on January 23, 2003 05:05 PM
GPL is pretty weak against the privatization of GPL'd web products [unless they're used by millions, like apache].

Apache has its own license, as seen <A HREF="http://www.apache.org/LICENSE.txt">here</a apache.org>.

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But how many advocates are out there?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 23, 2003 05:29 PM
Tons of smart people don't try Linux. Because Windows is like a bad habit. This irritates Linux people, but how many will bother to do anything? Would anyone tell their Windozing boss to try a demo like this? Or invite a VP down to see some apps? Just a few converts per hacker, with a bit of sociability, and free software would win the desktop.

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remote desktop

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 23, 2003 09:35 PM
Can I use remote desktop like this on my owm server?
I've been looking for a multi-platform remote desktop tool for my RH8.0 server, something simpler to use than the standard VNC package (that is to complicated for the average user where i work).We can access the win2000 server thorugh a webbrowser if we have win200 or XP installed. I have been looking for the same solution for linux-servers with multi platform client.

ES

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Re:remote desktop

Posted by: Consul on January 24, 2003 12:17 AM
Have you looked at the <A HREF="http://www.ltsp.org/">Linux Terminal Server Project?</a ltsp.org>

If you have, then please disregard.<nobr> <wbr></nobr>;-)

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i have it in my class

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 24, 2003 06:15 AM
since X is client/server based, you can get remote X anytime without the hassles/lag of VNC(though vnc is oh so nice when forced to use windoze!!). there are a few config files that need altering, and in fact, the XDMCP tool that comes with gnome/rh is really nice. instead of pure thin clients like ltsp.org, it is easier to install a bare bones linux install on anything P100/32MB and up. get a simple 10/100 NIC (3com, realtek, ne2k compatible, cause they work great and are like $10), then install X and configure X. personally i use rh6 on the client cuase their xconfig tool is a nice ncurses based tool. once X works on the client, all yo have to do is from the command line (Oh no!!!!!) type:<nobr> <wbr></nobr>/usr/X11R6/bin/X -query 192.168.1.1

replace 192.168.1.1 with whatever your Xserver is. oh yeah, with XDarwin, it works on my iBook too.

you need to make suree that the server will accept remote logins. it is in<nobr> <wbr></nobr>/etc/gdm/gdm-config (i think). the bonus is that you are exporting only a disply, and that work is offloaded from the server. it is dead fast, and limited only by your server. i have a P3/933 512MB with mandrake 9.0 serving 8 clients nicely. with the price of boxen nowadays, any $800-1000 dollar box will serve 3times that many great. see the story on largo florida. they have two duall 933's with 3GB ram serving 200+ clients. the key is RAM. with this setup, i figure about 30-40MB per client. (OO.org, moz, and other stuff.)

email me if you are interested:
rmandel AT hartdistrict.org

rob

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Re:remote desktop

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 24, 2003 01:06 PM
Yes, you can use a remote desktop like this on your own server. Here's how to do it on a Debian box.

As root:
apt-get install vncserver vnc-java
vncserver<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:1
(or whatever display number you desire); you'll be asked the first time to set up a password.

Then go to a machine with a java-enabled browser, and point the browser to http:/yourDebianBox:5801 (it's 5800 plus the number of the display you used). You'll be prompted for your password you entered earlier, and Bang! there you go.

See "man vncserver" for more options, like resolution, etc.

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Re:remote desktop

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 24, 2003 11:41 PM
Sounds nice. How can I include the vnc-java option in my already installed vncserver on RedHat 8.0

ES

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Re:remote desktop

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 25, 2003 03:52 AM
Sorry; don't know. I only use the One True Distribution(TM)<nobr> <wbr></nobr>;-)

Seriously, I would assume that the RH package manager has some equivalent ability to install a vnc-java package, although it might not be called that. You might use whatever RPM search utility that your system has to search for "vnc AND java".

Or you might find it at the VNC site at http://www.uk.research.att.com/vnc/

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Re:remote desktop

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 25, 2003 04:56 AM
You can run vnc out of inet (or xinet). See
http://www.dei.isep.ipp.pt/~andre/extern/ixvnc.ht<nobr>m<wbr></nobr>
You need to be running xdm (gdm, kdm)

Works much like running X server to xdm (gdm whatever)in that there is no persistent session. Client is lighter and bandwidth lower, server load is a bit higher.

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Re:remote desktop

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 27, 2003 01:42 AM
If you have VNC running on your linux server, you just have to open your web browser and point to http://<my machine addy or ip>:58xx where xx is the desktop number on the machine. Another alternative to standard VNC is TightVNC www.tightvnc.org This offers another encoding called tight (very nice) and more options on both the server and the standard client. I believe this is what is installed on RH8. Hope this is helpful. Thanks.

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Cool Concept but needs that ICA touch.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 23, 2003 09:56 PM
This is very cool and here are recommendations.

1. This should be a distro add-on like LTSP stuff is (and maybe even a a full distro like k12ltsp). When the security is figured out (and the transport is made to be a bit thinner and faster - for low bandwidth connections), then companies would use this and house their data "in-house" vs out there on untrusted servers. I could see where companies could use this for mobile and "at home" users (as for the worker that is only at the office 1-2 days per week and at home or on the road the rest of the time..., having a portable desktop like this would mean not having to haul a laptop around-could use shared desktops on rotated and shared cubicle space at common office site). Some companies that would look at doing would not like to use a public workspot (as they would not trust administrator that they did not hire, administrators who have full look and see access of sensitive internal data, but they would use a private one that they control!

2. X still needs a thinner client (even thinner than TightVNC)... Still can't beat Citrix ICA!
Citrix even has a "secure ICA".

3. Since Citrix has a ICA (15k and works very fast over even dial up modem) for Unix Server, see Citrix web site for info on this, then this Linux based Workspot concept would be an interesting feature for Citrix to "sell" directly as well. But, if Citrix would do this with Linux... then, they would run the risk of making their Microsoft "sugar daddy" mad! However, with Microsoft working with a new competitor of Citrix called "New Moon" (doing RDP based server farms, etc) then, Citrix might feel a little bit slighted, get a little upset, and look at jumping full-on into both Linux and BSD with a full on secure ICA add-on that could be a revenue source for them (it could be treated as an add-on type of application enhancement (they gotta charge real money vs the open-source... because they are a public traded company with stockholders that they must keep happy with profits. Added value = monetary value!

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Re:Cool Concept but needs that ICA touch.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 24, 2003 01:22 AM
ICA bites. Most citrix installs turn into cost overruns. Citrix consultants and resellers have burned a lot of people I know.

Stear clear of Citrix.

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GNU GPL v3

Posted by: Leandro Guimar„es Faria Corcete DUTRA on January 23, 2003 10:32 PM
> if we make a change to, say, Nautilus, we'll post the changes, even though we don't have to -- we're making-believe that GPL has a 'public performance' clause, which I believe it should. Websites don't generally distribute code, so GPL is pretty weak against the privatization of GPL'd web products


GNU GPL v3 is supposed to contain a fix for this when it finally comes thru. Meanwhile for this specific purpose the FSF has already blessed the Affero license, which is GNU GPL plus "you must share your online applications".

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Test drive?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 24, 2003 12:19 AM
Looks nice. I just wished I could try it out for 10 min's free. Then I'd know much better whether to pay...

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Re:Test drive?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 27, 2003 11:13 PM
Well, it's been open for beta testing over the last 2 years - see my post later for what I thought.

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Isn't it just a VNC session?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 24, 2003 12:49 AM
You can already do this with your own server running the VNC daemon, and accessing VNC with a java enabled browser. Am I missing something?

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Re:Isn't it just a VNC session?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 24, 2003 12:59 AM
If you want to give a Linux demo, you can do it from your own Linux box, using VNC. Or your could send them to this online demo, so they figure it out for themselves. Both are good! Show them the desktop.

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Re:Isn't it just a VNC session?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 28, 2003 12:40 AM
I would imagine its not, since a vnc session would take over the entire machine desktop.
Its more likely to be a remote X-Session
a completely different kettle of fish really

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Re:Isn't it just a VNC session?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 28, 2003 03:28 PM
You must not be aware that VNC can run inside of a java-based browser without the need for a stand-alone client.

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Nope

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 24, 2003 12:59 AM


  I read somewhere up there this was good for learning Linux. Its not.


  To really learn Linux, the shell is the way to go. Really. I mean those very simple distros some of which run on one floppy, using busybox, are the absolutely best way. A new Linux user has to know the hierarchy of directories, and the mounts, and the basic<nobr> <wbr></nobr>/bin commands. Then special dirs like proc and dev. Then all the config in<nobr> <wbr></nobr>/etc. Somewhere around here he has to compile a new kernel, which is the end of innocense for him. Quickly after that he connects to the net, discovers lynx and theres no stopping him.

Teaching via KDE/GNOME is confusing to begin with. He doesnt have a mental picture of the directories, services, daemons, permissions. Ex-MS users would try to draw a parallel with Windows NT which adds to the problem.

Come to think of it, maybe I should setup a learning shell account system, very basic accounts for free, some additions for per-monthly charges. hmmmmmmmmm

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Re:Nope

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 24, 2003 01:16 AM
To really learn Linux, you should read each line of code.

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Re:Nope

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 24, 2003 04:00 AM
My cousin and my sister don't WANT to learn Linux. Really. They are not geeks, nor do they have any desire to be. They just want a replacement for that Win box on their desk at home. The approach you advocate won't help wean them from that.

This WorkSpot idea may just be the ticket for them once the security is worked out, and the apps are beefed up a bit. We'll have to see.

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Re:Nope

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 24, 2003 05:50 AM
Another hopeless techie... You do not realize that 99.9% of the computing populace would NEVER EVER learn Linux that way. They would refuse to learn and go back to Windows, plain and simple.

There is no real reason that any normal user should *ever* have to learn a command line or a directory hierarchy if the desktops did their job properly. As the main ones (Gnome, KDE) improve with ease of use, there is less reason for normals to learn these things.

That's not to say techies like you and I wouldn't want to do these things. But we account for only about<nobr> <wbr></nobr>.1% of the computer using populace, and most of us are already using Linux or BSD.

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Similar Service with Free Demo

Posted by: Linux-Ferret on January 24, 2003 03:45 AM
This is not unlike the http://www.PersonalWebtop.com service, which does offer a free demo you can try out.

PersonalWebtop's emphasis is more on secure online storage, providing a "virtual computer" which is accessible from any internet-connected computer in the world.

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Knoppix...

Posted by: Sergio on January 24, 2003 05:15 AM
Don't waste your time, try knoppix if you can.

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Re:Knoppix...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 24, 2003 10:23 PM
http://knopper.net/knoppix/index-en.html

English Language page...

Have been reviewing lastest Knoppix 3.1 at work and home this week in fact. I love it! Boot from CD-Rom, 2 minutes later I have a fully working desktop complete with sound and network/modem.

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Very Cool

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 25, 2003 02:21 AM
But cool doesn't sell.
If you're accessing this service you are already sitting in front of a computer.

There are many "boot from cd" distros. Portable hard drives, usb memory sticks, etc. Most people can get by with these.

The people who move around often enough to REALLY need something like this already have a laptop.

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But, this will fly with PCA (read)

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 25, 2003 07:16 AM
PDA + Wireless + Bandwidth = ?
Where X = too much bandwidth<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:(
Where VNC = too much bandwidth<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:(
Where ICA = just right to run<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:)
but ICA ain't Linux =<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:(
Yep, the future is where PDA with browser will do this Wirelessly and we will see that the portable duties those laptops are doing will be replaced by PDA that will do it all instead...
and what PDA can't do locally then, it will do THAT on a remote desktop like you find TODAY
from CITRIX, (and maybe PersonalWebtop, WorkSpot or
your own version from home = (hopefully linux)!
= COOL ! (and yes this cool will sell)

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Re:Very Cool

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 27, 2003 07:18 PM
Laptop. True, but we use Windows in my company, and dual-booting on (encrypted) laptops aint allowed.
Personally, I love it!

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Having beta tested over the last 2 years...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 27, 2003 11:05 PM
I find it a shame that it's no longer free. That aside, the system itself rocked. Nice fast downloads, an nice (for its time) KDE desktop and it was pretty well implemented from a security angle as I recall. I'm going to have a play with the new release tonight and see how well it's aged. Personally I used it as an additional testing ground for code I was developing. If it's as nice now as it was then, I might even be pursuaded to part with some beer tokens.

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"demo" for $10/month? well, down from $15 at least

Posted by: netWalker on January 28, 2003 02:35 AM
it may make sense as an ASP solution, but why on earth would someone who hasn't already tried linux pay $10 a month to try this?? especially when (as others pointed out) knoppix is free and a much better way to try out linux?

on the other hand, when i saw workspot in november, they wanted to charge $15 a month. so if the _still_ have no subscribers, it's not surprising.

-rishab

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