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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 February 2008, 09:04 GMT
Web desktop targets 'cybernomads'
African women gathered round a PC
Many in developing world rely on computer centres
A virtual desktop aimed at users who access the web via cybercafes is attracting interest from organisations set up to bridge the digital divide

Offered by Luxembourg-based start-up Jooce, it is being billed as a way of personalising any computer.

Jooce is targeting the estimated 500 million people who log on to the internet from a cybercafe every day.

Its free web-based desktop could prove valuable for those who can't afford their own PC, said experts.

Jooce offers users the functionality they would get from their personal computer on any machine, allowing them access to files, e-mail, instant messaging, storage and other applications.

"It's a platform that will make it much easier for the world's cybernomads to manage their digital lives," said Jooce founder Stefan Surzyck.

"The one thing that has been missing is a place on the internet where these people can properly manage their online lives - their very own private space online," he said.

A public desktop - known as a Joocetop - is also available to allow friends to access and share files. A dedicated e-mail client is also in development.

Bandwidth issues

Screen shot of Jooce
Jooce offers a personal desktop on any computer

Eloisa San Mateo is a regional IT coordinator for the Philippines National Computer Centres - government-sponsored cybercafes set up to provide net access for those in remote areas.

She sees potential for Jooce as a storage device for those who use the centres but has some concerns.

"It seems to require a lot of memory and while the performance of Jooce on high-end computers is very good, when it is run on lower spec machines with poor bandwidth it takes too long," she said.

She is currently running workshops to give locals a feel for the system and is looking to install it on machines over the next six months.

Meddia Mayanja is a senior program officer of Telecentre.org, an organisation that offers advice to telecentres in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

He sees new technologies such as Jooce as crucial if publicly-funded net access centres are going to remain relevant and useful to the audience they intend to serve.

"It is one of many applications that add value to users," he said.

Jooce is also working with the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) to bolster its telecentre programme - a network of cyber kiosks across the developing world.

In India, it is partnering with charity Mission 2007 and ISP Tatatel to support their digital divide activities.

It is also seeing big interest from China.

Heavy-weight backer

Jooce is one of many companies which offer so-called web-based operating systems.

Companies such as Global Hosted Operating System (g.ho.st), desktoptwo and startforce also offer net-based desktops allowing users to access files and applications from any browser.

Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with JupiterResearch, believes the concept of a web OS is a misleading one.

"WebOS is a buzzword but it has little that technically represents an operating system and is more about aggregating functionality," he said.

"It is a crowded market but it is interesting that people are more and more looking to have their digital personas linked into online universes," he said.

Jooce has been in public beta testing for one month and in its first week of operation had 60,000 sign up for a free account.

It has a heavy-weight backer in the form of Mangrove - the venture capital firm that provided the initial funding for voice-over-IP platform Skype.

Online technology news site CNET.com has nominated Jooce as a finalist in its 2008 Webware 100 awards.



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