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TECH TALK: Rethinking the Desktop: The Building Blocks

September 12th, 2002 · No Comments

The key theme for rethinking the desktop is to build it around the notion of a Dashboard.

A dashboard may have been an oft-used term when it comes to computer interfaces. So far, it meant being able to show today appointments, to-do lists, recent emails and documents, and perhaps the latest news headlines. In the enterprise, it could also mean showing key parameters aggregated form different applications like a scoreboard (as part of a corporate portal). Even this by itself is actually much more than what we are used to seeing today. Start up the computer and most of us will see a collection of icons to choose from. The closest we ever come to a dashboard is in the car!

So, then, what is the Digital Dashboard all about? Think weblogs, RSS, publish-subscribe, outlines, open source, XML and web services, IM/SMS and some value-added aggregation. Lets start by looking first at some of the components, and then well see how these can be aggregated together to conjure desktop magic.

Weblog: Think of a weblog as a time-based categorisation of ones writings, each of which can be referenced through a web browser by a unique URL (think of it as a permanent link or permalink). We write emails, send out instant messages, create and edit documents, update appointments in a calendar, and create to-do lists. Today, much of this stays in the silos they were created in. The weblog collects all that we write so we have access to not just what we have written but also what we have read and commented on. The weblog gives our writing a context. It mirrors our thinking and builds upon our reading. The effort that we need to do is to write, to narrate, to tell the stories of our work and day. This may be easier said than done, but this is the effort that we will all individually need to make. Vannevar Bushs As You May Think might as well have been As You May Blog.

RSS: Writing is fine, but to be effective, it needs flow. This is where RSS (which stands for Rich Site Summary) comes in. RSS is a special XML format which is readable by computer programs. It has been mainly used for distributing news content. Weblogs can publish an RSS feed, while at the same time aggregating RSS feeds from other sources. An RSS Aggregator can thus pick up various feeds from different information sources and make it available in a single application for processing the way we deem fit. As we post some of the items from the RSS feeds to our blog (perhaps, enriching them with our comments), our blog itself can re-publish an RSS feed. This two-way use of RSS is what creates the flow. RSS has value much beyond just news, links and comments publishing: you could be in a hotel room using a computer, with shops around the hotel publishing RSS feeds with their offerings and specials, which could be flowing into your RSS aggregator. The combination of blogs and RSS facilitates the creation of a mass-market two-way publishing ecosystem.

Tomorrow: The Building Blocks (continued)


“Rethinking the Desktop”

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