Spotlight on the Winners: WorkSpot

VNC (Virtual Network Computing) is a seriously cool enabling technology for working in multi-platform environments. On Linux, we're spoiled by being able to run X Window System applications across the network, and we think nothing of being able to run an application on one system from another.

But users of legacy GUI environments such as Microsoft Windows aren't so lucky. Fortunately, The Olivetti Research Laboratory, now owned by AT&T, developed a cross-platform tool called VNC that lets you work on a Linux, Windows or UNIX desktop environment from a Linux, Windows or UNIX client. VNC is fast, small, and available under the GPL.

One fun use of VNC is to install a VNC server on your Windows box and a VNC client on your Linux box, that makes it easy to pop up a Windows desktop on Linux if you need to use a Windows application. You can run multiple sessions from a Linux or UNIX VNC server, but only one session per Windows server. If you're a sysadmin and still have some Windows servers, setting up VNC might be a good productivity investment.

Although VNC is a secret weapon for multi-platform hobbyists and system administrators, it hasn't been a part of anybody's business model until now. The Application Service Provider (ASP) craze is here in a big way -- count the ASP sessions and booths at Comdex if you have any doubt -- but the big question is: Is there an ASP that can actually deliver applications over the Net, or just spew nonsense about future vaporware?

Which brings us to WorkSpot. They are a surprisingly vaporware-free ASP, based on fast, simple, real technology and offer a working Linux desktop as a free-of-charge demo. You can log in from anywhere with VNC (or with a slower, browser-based Java client) and use Linux applications running on WorkSpot's servers. "Due to high demand", they're not taking new users for their Linux desktop, however.

WorkSpot has already, impressively, signed up Wolfram Research's Mathematica and Sonics Inc.'s Socworks as clients for its "AppSpot" ASP service. And because their service is based on a free, reliable technology, they're starting the ASP race with a built-in advantage over any company that's waiting for future proprietary stuff to materialize. And, remember, VNC is cross-platform, so don't worry about having to put up with Draconian licensing terms for the clients. Run whatever makes sense.

If you have an application that you want to offer on an ASP basis, don't sit around waiting for Microsoft's ".NET", whatever that's going to be. Hit the ground running with something that's working now.

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