Mobile devices have changed the way we consume information and remain connected in today’s world. While smartphones and tablets have become my primary way to consume information on the go, the fact is that I still miss my desktop and my desktop apps. I still find it very awkward to write on tablets or phones, and I miss my favorite apps – GIMP, Microsoft Office, my favorite text editor (NotePad++), my Eclipse development environment and the tons of other applications that I’m really comfortable with. All these apps are locked to my desktop or to my laptop, and are not really portable. My solution around this problem has been to remote-desktop to my home computer when I’m on the road, but connectivity and latency problems makes using remote desktop a nightmare.
A few weeks ago, I was introduced to a product called “WorldDesk”. WorldDesk has a different take on virtualization and portability – It allows you to take your files, apps and settings with you, and “boot up” your desktop on any other windows machine. The way this works is that you set up World Desk on your “home” machine, which takes all your files (everything in your My Documents folder and a few other things), your Windows settings (including your desktop background, which is a nice touch) and all your installed apps and puts it on a USB stick or an external drive.
Now you can take the USB stick which has your “virtual desktop” with you, and when you need to access your files and apps, you simply plug it into any computer or laptop running Windows. You double-click on the WorldDesk icon and your desktop boots up on the new machine, with all your apps and files. The interesting thing is that you don’t need to install anything on the guest computer, it can even be a clean install of Windows. Once you get into WorldDesk on the new machine, all your apps and files from your desktop are available, and you can work on them and launch apps just as you would on your home computer.
When I used the product, I was seriously impressed. The Apps launch really fast and are quick, which is not surprising, because the apps are running natively on the guest computer, and not through a VirtualMachine. It is almost as good as having your real desktop computer. WorldDesk works by translating all the Win32 API calls on the guest machine, which is way faster than emulating the entire hardware stack, which is what VMs like VirtualBox and VMWare Player do. The other nice thing is that after you are done with your virtual desktop and you unplug your USB stick, there is no trace of your desktop left on the guest machine. This is great, because now you can even use a Cyber Cafe machine, without having to worry about security.
Most apps that I tried to launch worked flawlessly – Skype, playing videos with VLC and even a complicated Excel sheet with tons of data and graphs – all the apps launched smoothly and were quite responsive. Videos played without any lag or stutter, which is a great achievement for a virtualized desktop.
The other cool thing that WorldDesk has implemented is that instead of storing your desktop on a USB stick, you can chose to store it in the cloud on DropBox. This brings an added level of convenience – you don’t need to carry around a USB stick, all your data and apps are always updated in the cloud, and your whole desktop becomes accessible from anywhere in the world. The only downside is that you’ll need to install dropbox on the guest machine, which may compromise some of the security aspects by leaving traces of your files on the guest machine.
Support is currently limited to Windows XP and Windows 7. The other limitation is that you need a Windows machine to launch your virtual desktop as well, because of the way the system is architected. It would be cool to see the it run on top of an Android guest or a Mac guest, but that is going to be hard. On the other hand, the upcoming Windows 8 launch has a fantastic opportunity. It would be cool to carry around my desktop on my Windows 8 phone or tablet, and while waiting at the airport, I could launch my entire desktop – with my MS Office and Photoshop – on my phone or tablet. That would be awesome.
In any case, WorldDesk is currently in beta, so it is free to use for now. Head over to their download page to learn more and give it a try.
Update: There’s currently a contest running on our sister site, studentstory.in, where you can win iPads for downloading WordDesk.