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Expand your desktop space with 360desktop - DLS interview

Ever wish your PC desktop was just a little bit bigger? Need more space for program shortcuts, documents, and temporary files? There are a number of ways to virtually increase the size of your desktop by creating multiple virtual desktops. Microsoft has a free power toy that lets you toggle between up to 4 desktops. Dexpot is a freeware program that lets you have up to 20. And virtual desktops are built into many Linux distributions.

But what if you don't want a separate desktop? You just need one, but you'd like it to b wider than say, your 17-inch monitor. That's where 360desktop comes in.

360desktop launches in private beta today. The application takes a new approach toward virtual desktops., Rather than toggling between desktops, 360desktop lets you expand your existing workspace past the edge of your monitor. You can either hover your mouse near the edge of the screen or use a pull-down navigation panel, which results in much quicker and smoother scrolling.

The program takes a panoramic photo and lets you treat it as an extended background. True to 360Destkop's name, your desktop is treated as a big circle. Scroll far enough and you'll wind up right back where you started.

You can also embed web widgets in your desktop from sites like yourminis, or you can create your own widgets room any web-based content. Want to see the latest content from Download Squad without using our RSS feed? Just click a button, paste in our URL, and you'll be greeted by Download Squad as soon as you turn on your computer, before you even open a web browser.

The private starts today with just a handful of users. Over the next few weeks, 360desktop plans to open the beta up to a few hundred and then a few thousand users. By mid-October you'll probably be able to sign up for an invitation from the company's homepage. A full release is currently scheduled for the first week in November.

We recently had a chance to ask 360desktop CEO Evan Jones a few questions about the service.

Download Squad
: How would you describe 360desktop?

Evan Jones: 360Desktop extends the windows desktop as user-generated photopanoramic space and delivers a personalized web free of the browser into a virtually unlimited desktop workspace.

The windows desktop is probably the most valuable piece of real estate on the PC, but most of us use it for little more than temporary file storage or application shortcuts. And while desktop widgets are great, I know that the amount of stuff on my desktop grows but my desktop space doesn't. And all of my web widgets that I use all the time, they're only available as I sign into my Facebook page or my MySpace page and I can't remember where they are half the time.

So what 360Desktop does is expand the windows desktop space, make it personalized in terms of the backgrounds and the way that you can grab all your favorite web content, web pages, RSS feeds, videos, any part of a web page and make them available in line directly on the users' desktop.

For developers, they can create 360s with embedded web content to create 360 mashups or interactive storyboards, with the web content delivered dynamically to the desktop. And that is then a unique content distribution monetization opportunity. From the advertiser's perspective, they can reach the target audience more subtly in an entertaining way outside of the browser.

DLS: How is this different from virtual desktop applications that let you access 2, 4, or up to 20 distinct virtual desktop spaces?

EJ: Virtual desktops give you more space, which is great. But you can personalize 360s with your photopanoramic background. You can create your own from family photos, photos from MySpace. You can use 360s that amateur or professional photographers will create.

But rather than change the entire desktop and make it completely different, we've just given you a bit of extra space. So it works ostensibly the same. Looks and feels the same, except you can pad backwards and forward with extra space. Rather than changing the metaphor of the desktop, we've just changed it.

DLS: In our testing we found that scrolling is a bit jumpy, is that because this is a pre-beta release or could it be due to the hardware we're testing it on (a Windows Vista laptop with integrated graphics)?

EJ: It's probably because it's in beta, and it depends how much information you're using. We find that it scrolls pretty smooth. There are two ways to navigate, either by moving your mouse to the left or right of the screen or by using the navigation panel at the top, which is what most people use.

I think you'll find when we release it that we won't get many complaints about performance.

DLS: What are the minimum system requirements?

EJ: It was designed to run on everything from Windows 2000 up. We recommend 512MB of RAM, although a gig is better.

It is Windows right now, Mac version is in planning rather than development.

DLS: Any plans for a Linux version?

EJ: At the moment we're focusing more on Windows and possibly Mac platforms. I think Linux is pretty well served with what Sun has done with desktop Java architecture. So we're probably going to hold off on a Linux version in the short term. It depends on demand.

DLS: What are the advantages of taking the widgets out of the browser? Why not use a web-based service like NetVibes to access all your widgets in one place?

You can embed embed your NetVibes page in your 360Desktop so that it gives you an interactive window, but it's embedded in your desktop so you have the content around it.

This is not meant to kill the browser. The browser is a way of looking at volumes of documents and if I have certain pieces of information I want to refer to on top of my NetVibes page, if there's a widget for it, I can put it on my desktop.

DLS: You mentioned that businesses can upload their own 360s. Are these eseentially desktops with widgets in them?

EJ: Correct, you create a background, and then online you can embed web content into it. We also have code to make the page semi-transparent so the background is still visible.

So I can seamlessly integrate animation or graphics or anything else into the background so it doesn't just look like a block of text put on top. And for content developers and integrators, that's a nice effect.

We've got hundreds of 360s at the moment. We'll begin content creator closed beta a few weeks after the user beta begains, and we expect that November 5, when we actually release the product to the mass market, commercially open for everybody, we'd expect 5,000 to 10,000 images. And we'd expect it to grow at a reasonably significant rate. Because it is very easy to create desktops and content.

Our background is virtual tool software space. We've developed virtual tool software that we sell to 3,000 to 4,000 customers around the world. We know that space very well. And there are tens of thousands of very high quality panoramic photographers around the world that we expect will use this to show their content.

DLS: What's your business model? I've noticed in the navigation panel at the top there's a space for your own ads, and developers can embed ads in a desktop. Are you going to take a percentage?

EJ: What happens is a developer can embed an ad into their content. We don't impact their content. They can monetize it. It's like the Facebook platform. They let developers create applications and monetize it any way they want. We're taking a similar model. There's enough opportunity for us to monetize 360desktop with advertising in the navigation utility, but also within the brand channels.

An advertiser will create their own 360 with their own content, their own ads. Have a brand channel on 360desktop, so it is advertiser supported. We're not into delivering ads into user content. If you want to create your own content, we don't impact it in any way other than an ad in the navigation panel, like Messenger would do.

DLS: Obviously you get the most out of 360desktop if you have a computer with an always on internet connection. But what if you don't?

EJ: You can do the navigation around your desktop without the internet. And you can create content that's delivered with the 360. So if I've got a game, or a slideshow, you can deliver that for download with the 360.

DLS: What kind of impact does 360Desktop have on a PC?

EJ: The panoramic image itself will expand itself as a bitmap within memory. It is as if you have a single large image opening. The actual processing power for moving back and forth is verly light. But you have a potentially 1,000 by 5,000 image opening. So if that is a 20MB uncompressed image open, that will take RAM. But you shouldn't notice a major impact.

DLS: Is there a standard size for 360s?

EJ: They can be any size. The images scale. If I've uploaded a 3,000 by 800 pixel image. The image will expand or shrink to the space. If you expand too much, you'll see some pixelation. We generally recommened a 1,000 to 1,500 high image and it will scale well.

DLS: So developers can create their own channels, they'll have to pay if they want a branded channel?

EJ: Correct. And what we do there is a brand channel, and they pay an OEM or licensing fee per 360 or based on the number of downloads. There's a couple of different avenues.

DLS: How long have you been working on this?

EJ: 3 years. The technology has evolved and came from work we were doing in the virtual tool space. And then as the market developed, widget space, user-generated content space, we built a model around our desktop product.

DLS: Did it start out as a tool for expanding the size of the desktop or a way to bring the web experience to the desktop or both?

EJ: It started out as a tool to expand the size of the desktop. My wife had a normal monitor, not particularly big. And she sticks post its on her computer to remind her to do things. And she ran out of space, so she pulled a panoramic poster on the wall that was mounted on cardboard. So she pulled it down, cut out a space for the monitor and put the post its on the side of the monitor and said I wish I had more space. And so we talked ot developers, and this is where we are.

DLS: If you've got a standard sized monitor and your desktop is filled with icons and shortcuts, it's already getting pretty hard to navigate. How do you stay organized when you have even more space?

EJ: We find people organize themselves if they have a favorite 360 based on locations within the 360. So I have a city scene, and I have my application icons all organized around the church spire. And I have other icons organized around the fountain. So you can quickly go to a point on the desktop and stay organized that way.

DLS: Tell us about the beta?

EJ: For the first couple of weeks, we'll have beta testers in the tens, a few weeks after that it will be in the hundreds, after that up to a thousand. We would expect part way through to have an open beta for content. So we would select 10 or 20 images and make them available for anyone to use. So that will be an open beta for users without the content creator.

So there will be 3 phases in the beta, and a full release in the November 5th time frame. Users should be able to apply for the beta by mid-October.

Tags: 360desktop, demo, desktop, evan-jones, virtual-desktop, widgets