Online Operating Systems and A 3D Virtual World for the Blind

Loraine Lawson

There's a lot of buzz about Google Documents, but I've tried it, and trust me, it's got nothing on this idea: Virtual Operating Systems.


Today, Technology Review looks at two entirely Web-based operating systems. The first, Desktop Two, has bundled together open source applications to create a productivity suite, while the second, Zimdesk, operates in flash and more closely tries to replicate a traditional desktop environment.


This could be a great tool for small businesses that lack the means to support remote working or are just tired of the hassle. It's also a great idea for universities and other situations where you might have students or workers logging in from several computers at different locations.


In fact, Desktop Two, which is free for individuals, already made its debut in Mexico, where it is used by the Universidad del Valle de Mexico and the national branch of MetLife. The virtual OS boasts 175,000 customers worldwide and can scale up to 350,000 users, thanks to a recent partnership with Sun Startup Essentials.


Rajesh Ramchandani, strategic marketing manager for startups at Sun, says scalability will never be an issue, thanks to Desktop Two's lightweight design architecture.


Speaking of virtual offerings, the BBC reports today that a group of students in Ireland working for IBM's Extreme Blue research initiatives have created a way for vision-impaired users to participate in virtual online worlds. (Is "virtual online" redundant? I guess so, right now - but you never know. Give it six months and companies may all have their own locked-down virtual worlds running on corporate servers.)


Basically, the project creates an audio 3D world to give blind users a sense of space.


Obviously, though, this type of technology will have broader appeal, particularly in the gamer community. This may be the first interactive ever written that's NOT designed for gaming, which, I now believe, pretty much drives technology innovation these days.


Let's just hope this new tool doesn't lead to more of this.


The project, titled Accessibility in Virtual Worlds, is still in the proof-of-concept stage. The project now heads to Texas, a sort of "virtual nation" in it's own right and home to IBM's Human Ability and Accessibility Center. There, IBM techies will continue working on the project. Meanwhile, back in Ireland, our unnamed student heroes responsible for conceptualizing it will head back to school and one day soon, to an abrupt birthing into an inhospitable job market.

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