Etherpad Open Sourced and OSS Web Services

Stormy asks if oss can transition to a web services world, and uses the Etherpad open sourcing as an example. First off, I think it’s going to have to regardless if it wants it or not.

A few weeks ago my python-mako broke on my Lucid system, and I just didn’t care to fix it right then, so my gwibber was effectively broken. But I wanted to still use twitter. So I used Chrome’s app mode to embed a website called hahlo and then use that as my desktop application. In that screenshot you’ll also see my google tasks as an app, looks alot like Tasque! And I’ve already talked about alice. I already use gmail and gtalk for mail and IM, what’s another few apps?

So as I was explaining this over IM with Ryan Paul and the usual “yeah but you don’t get native widgets”, “you have to give your credentials to other sites”, “so now instead of 15 desktop apps taking all your memory you have 15 browser instances taking up all your memory”, and the usual bits. So I made the decision to try to use as many “web apps” on my desktop for as long as I could to see “how long I would last”. That was 2 weeks ago. Today I’ve determined that I’m not really going back. When Chrome does a “Create Application Shortcuts” thing it creates a .desktop file. I put these in my Ubuntu One folder. Voila, I am now “syncing” my applications across all my machines.

One by one my desktop apps are being replaced by web versions that let me get access to my data wherever I am, and I’m totally ok with that, so I think OSS apps will have to compete in this space. I know having your life in the cloud is controversial for some people, but not for me.

I generally agree with what Stormy says, it would be nice to have a one stop shop of open web services for me to have all my stuff on. I think etherpad is a bad example however, because etherpad has the potential to be very very awesome for OSS conferences and events. Currently right now for events like UDS we use a tool called Gobby, which is great but has many limitations. First off, it’s a seperate application that people need to have installed and it can be flaky. It’s not really integrated into anything we use right now so when we start a session someone asks “which gobby document?”, and then you have 16 million colors to choose from, etc. Etherpad is much easier to use, it doesn’t need anything but a browser. My ideal goal would be pad.ubuntu.com, and each one has a corresponding document that is the same as the irc and spec name so that we have pad.ubuntu.com/community/lucid/developerweek-roadmap or whatever. The service just becomes another item in the URL namespace for that project.

I would imagine that for Summit and GUADEC it would be great for people to use etherpad.gnome.org to work on their ideas, and then be able to push a button to have their notes pushed right to live.gnome.org. Heck, someone can very well just make the etherpad UI be the editing interface for Moin and we could just work in realtime editors all the time! The possibilities are definitely there; I can see organizations like GNOME, KDE, etc. having etherpad instances as a service to developers like they have IRC, wikis, and mailing lists. I think this is valuable for them because organizations want to control their data, that’s why they have their own bugtrackers and infrastructure. The opening of the code let’s them at least experiment with this. I don’t think projects will want to run a service like Sugar or something, but for a tool like this I think it would be great.

Sure, no one likes when code is just thrown over the wall, that’s not going to stop people from messing with it and forming their own communities around it. And if it doesn’t work out and the project dies then that’s a shame, but like everything else, evolution doesn’t really take sides it just drives forward and the things that adapt to that environment move on. I personally hope this one lives and thrives!

Someone in IRC asks: “Wait, so you say the desktop is obsolete, why don’t you just say that.” I leave that up to you to discuss! For me personally there are some things that need to be local, there’s no web thing that can replace Banshee for me, I wish that web apps could use my notify-osd, and a wiki just doesn’t cut it compared to Tomboy. However there was a time when I couldn’t imagine using webmail and now the thought of using a local mail client frightens me. We’ll see!