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A GNOME-based Desktop on Demand

By Dmitri Popov on April 16, 2008 (9:00:00 AM)

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Desktop on Demand (DOD) is the latest contender to give users a full-fledged remote desktop instead of Web-based applications to help users to stay productive when they are on the move. Similar to Ulteo (which we reviewed not long ago), DOD gives you a full-blown remote Linux-based desktop -- but that's where the similarity ends. Unlike Ulteo, which is based on the VNC protocol and runs entirely in the browser using a Java-based applet, DOD employs the NoMachine NX technology for accessing the remote desktop.

To connect to your DOD desktop you have to use dedicated client software, which is available for Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows at DOD's Web site, and requires no installation. This means that you can copy the software to a USB stick and run it on any computer. Although this approach may not seem as straightforward as using a browser, it offers a few important advantages. For starters, the NX protocol makes better use of the available bandwidth than VNC, which results in a more responsive desktop and better display quality. The client also allows you to create multiple profiles for use in different situations. For example, you could create one profile for your desktop computer, which uses a fast connection and has a big screen, and another for use on your laptop, which has a smaller screen and uses a modem connection. To create a new profile, launch the Desktop on Demand client and press the Configure button. In the Settings dialog window you can configure different settings for a new session, including connection type, the desired screen resolution, and compression type.

The DOD desktop is based on GNOME and offers a set of applications that cover all the basics, including Web browsing (Mozilla Firefox and Epiphany), email and calendaring (Evolution), instant messaging (Pidgin), word processing (OpenOffice.org and AbiWord), and image manipulation (the GIMP). Unfortunately, this decent bundle uses older versions of the key applications, such as Firefox 1.5.0.12, OpenOffice.org 2.0, and the GIMP 2.2. This can be a deal-breaker if you can't live without some Firefox or OpenOffice.org extensions, or just want to take advantage of the features available in the latest versions of the applications.

Although the remote desktop is stripped of all the system configuration tools, it does include a few control panels, which you can use to adjust the desktop to your needs. Unfortunately, not all of them work as they are supposed to. I'm a left-hander and use a Danish keyboard, and I tried without luck to adjust the mouse settings and switch the keyboard layout. Enabling the Left-handed mouse option in the Mouse control panel didn't have any effect, while adding the Danish keyboard layout resulted in an X.Org-related error. Although this might not be DOD's fault, the inability to switch to a different keyboard layout limits DOD's usefulness for international users.

When it comes to moving files and documents to and from your remote desktop, DOD offers two options. The service comes with an integrated Web-based file manager, which you can access using your browser. In other words, you don't have to use the NX client to download and upload documents and files. DOD also supports the WebDAV protocol, which allows you to mount and treat your DOD disk as a local folder.

DOD makes it easy to share files stored on your remote desktop with other DOD users. All you have to do is add the desired users to your account and enable sharing for individual files and documents.

DOD offers several subscription plans as well as a free 28-day trial. The cheapest plan at £4 (about $8) comes with 5GB of storage space, but it doesn't include Firefox and OpenOffice.org and it also lacks the ability to install plugins and third-party applications. The most expensive plan at £15 (about $30) gives you 100GB of storage space and the missing applications.

Desktop on Demand is a neat solution for those who like the idea of having a full-blown Linux desktop at their disposal anywhere they go, but its use of dated versions of the key applications is disappointing. Also, keep in mind that while DOD markets itself as an ideal solution for storing files and documents, Amazon S3-based services such as Jungle Disk offer much cheaper flexible solutions for that purpose.

Dmitri Popov is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Russian, British, US, German, and Danish computer magazines.

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A GNOME-based Desktop on Demand

Posted by: DesktopOnDemand on April 16, 2008 10:43 AM
Hi All

Just a couple of points to pick up and respond to, if I may, to this review.

Firstly, we use CentOS as the underlying basis for our platform and also user desktops and we have therefore decided to stay as close as possible to what is officially provided and maintained so as to ensure we give full focus to the stability and security of the applications we provide as part of the service.

Fwiw, off the 1000 or so people who have been trialling the service for the past month or so not one has yet come back and said that they find any particular application out of date. Well actually there was one was person who asked for Firefox 3 (which is of course still in Beta).

With regards to using DOD as a file storage system this again has been designed based on user feedback from when we had our Beta service and while not as flexible as Jungle Disk does offer a one stop solution which between all the packages and plans we offer hopefully covers most peoples needs without the complications of worrying about how much space to purchase or how much bandwidth usage might end up costing them.

One thing that is clear is that people are still finding it difficult to find their feet with Linux and while we do offer a free 28 day trial this is proving to be not long enough for a lot of people to become comfortable, particularly as it's online and not something tangible in front of them.

To this end, we will be rolling out a very cheap starter package which will provide Linux 'newbies' in particular time to get better acquainted with not only what we have to offer but what Linux can offer them in terms of usefulness and usability.

Indeed, we have already had a few devout Windows users who had never even seen a Linux based desktop come back and say how easy it all was and the fear of the unknown they had before jumping into trying DOD was unfounded and how they would be encouraging their family and friends to at least take a test drive.

All said and done, we have already shaped a lot of the service based on user feedback and will continue to do so. So to all of you out there.....keep 'em coming!

Regards

Paresh Morjaria
Defuturo Ltd (Desktop On Demand)

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Application versions

Posted by: Scott Dowdle on April 16, 2008 04:54 PM
You didn't really say what version of CentOS you were using but I'll assume the latest 5 series (currently 5.1). With the announcement of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.2 Beta (See: <a href="https://www.redhat.com/archives/rhelv5-announce/2008-March/msg00000.html">https://www.redhat.com/archives/rhelv5-announce/2008-March/msg00000.html</a>) Red Hat says that they do a "Re-base of the top Desktop applications" to include: Evolution 2.12.3, Firefox 3, OpenOffice 2.3.0, and Thunderbird 2.0. I'm wondering if they re-base any other desktop software as well as I'd really like to see GIMP 2.4.x.

Anyway, I'm guessing after the release of RHEL 5.2 and the subsequent release of CentOS 5.2, that DOD will upgrade and the versions of those applications won't be a potential issue any longer.

Just out of curiosity, do you use some form of virtualization technology to underlie DOD? How about offering KDE as well? How about development tools?

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Re: Application versions

Posted by: DesktopOnDemand on April 16, 2008 05:17 PM
Hi Scott. You've hit the nail on the head. We will indeed upgrade the apps just as soon as CentOS 5.2 is available to us.

Our desktops run using a version of NX server that we've written inhouse coupled to the open source clients we've written based on No Machines open source components.

KDE and development tools are something we are looking into...we just want to make sure we walk before we run with it :)

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A GNOME-based Desktop on Demand

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 91.11.9.239] on April 16, 2008 01:35 PM
For me the Image looks more like a Xfce Desktop, than Gnome.

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A GNOME-based Desktop on Demand

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 159.218.3.30] on April 16, 2008 02:14 PM
I did notice you don't have any Flash, Java or video players like VLC and such. That doesn't seem very usable?

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Re: A GNOME-based Desktop on Demand

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 75.39.91.112] on April 16, 2008 03:18 PM
Only a fool would try to watch videos from a remote desktop in real time.

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Re: A GNOME-based Desktop on Demand

Posted by: DesktopOnDemand on April 16, 2008 05:20 PM
Both Adobe and Sun require users to individually agree to their licensing terms before Flash and Jave can be installed, so we can't install by default.

But users can install if they are on one of the packages than allows it.

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A GNOME-based Desktop on Demand

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 75.39.91.112] on April 16, 2008 03:20 PM
Why on Earth would one pay to do something that can be done for FREE?

Nomachine offers this for FREE for ever!

FreeNX offers the same, albeit with more hassle.

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A GNOME-based Desktop on Demand

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 84.236.191.44] on April 16, 2008 03:41 PM
What are you talking about? Nomachine doesn't offer any of this at all, as far as I know? They have something called "Testdrive", but that's just meant as a demonstration of the technology. It expires after a certain amount of time, and if you try to login again after that, then a new user would be created, removing all the data from your previous user. Of course, you can run the software on your own computer, but that's not the point with DoD.

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Re: A GNOME-based Desktop on Demand

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 149.173.6.110] on April 18, 2008 09:41 PM
Nomachine and this could be a competitor in the VDI space. They need a flash based nomachine client and more admin tools. They also need something like the Citrix Web Interface. I think the technology could be useful like ICA if they extended support to replace or work with RDP so you could use this for linux and windows workstations. DOD needs to offer a local server version for organization who want to deploy apps securely. Real power could tie in backend processes like sugarcrm and a mysql database and then provide a secure desktop to interface with so the data is accessible but in a limited format.

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A GNOME-based Desktop on Demand

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 97.83.146.180] on April 20, 2008 01:11 AM
I hate it. Worse 10 dollars (USD) that i have spent. Can't install anything like it says.

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Re: A GNOME-based Desktop on Demand

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 89.31.184.14] on April 20, 2008 02:51 PM
It says you can install plugins such as flash and java. You can't, don't waste your money try ulteo if you need an online desktop.

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Re(1): A GNOME-based Desktop on Demand

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 89.31.187.5] on April 21, 2008 10:07 AM
You can install flash and java, and it works.

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A GNOME-based Desktop on Demand

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 83.67.139.79] on April 21, 2008 04:47 PM
Why listen to what others think? Try it out for yourself and see what you can and can't do with it. After all, as it's free to try, all it will cost you is a bit of your time :)

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A GNOME-based Desktop on Demand

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 219.93.152.12] on April 24, 2008 12:47 AM
I think this service is nice compare to other useless ajax desktop. This service provide you with real GNOME desktop will a bunch of desktop apps. It also use NX technology which clearly make a better use of bandwidth, you can even access it using dial-up modem.

For me this is nice but it still lack of some features like video/audio player because of streaming problem but i think when this company get bigger they will able to distribute their datacenter across the globe and provide a better service.

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