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HandWiki. Web Desktop. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 25 June 2024).
HandWiki. Web Desktop. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed June 25, 2024.
HandWiki. "Web Desktop" Encyclopedia, (accessed June 25, 2024).
HandWiki. (2022, December 01). Web Desktop. In Encyclopedia.
HandWiki. "Web Desktop." Encyclopedia. Web. 01 December, 2022.
Web Desktop

A web desktop or webtop is a desktop environment embedded in a web browser or similar client application. A webtop integrates web applications, web services, client–server applications, application servers, and applications on the local client into a desktop environment using the desktop metaphor. Web desktops provide an environment similar to that of Windows, Mac, or a graphical user interface on Unix and Linux systems. It is a virtual desktop running in a web browser. In a webtop the applications, data, files, configuration, settings, and access privileges reside remotely over the network. Much of the computing takes place remotely. The browser is primarily used for display and input purposes. In popular use, web desktops are sometimes referred to incorrectly as a web operating system or simply a Web OS.

graphical user interface web browser webtop

1. History of Web Desktops

In the context of a web desktop, the term Webtop was first introduced by the Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) in 1994 for a web-based interface to their Unix operating system. This application was based on the provisional application entitled "The Adaptive Internet Protocol System" filed Nov. 13, 1997, serial number 60/065,521 and is the U.S. patent for the technology used in the Tarantella Webtop.[1] Andy Bovingdon[2] and Ronald Joe Record, who both explored the concepts in different directions, are often credited as the inventors.[3] The initial SCO Webtop, developed by Record, utilized a Netscape Navigator plugin to display applications in a browser window via TightVNC. A trademark application for "SCO Webtop" was filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on November 8, 1996. In order to avoid confusion with the more complex technology incorporated into the Tarantella Webtop it was abandoned on December 24, 1997 by The Santa Cruz Operation.[4]

Bovingdon's three tiered architecture (TTA) concept was launched as the Tarantella Webtop. This technology originated from early commercial use of web server technology by SCO. the first OS vendor to include a commercial web server, NCSA HTTPd, and commercial web browser, NCSA Mosaic. Their X.desktop product line, obtained when they acquired IXI Limited in the UK, was the first to have icons for URLs (controlled via the Deskshell scripting language) and an HTML-based help system, called DeskHelp, which extended the NCSA Mosaic web browser to include APIs and scripting linked to the X.desktop product for interactive control. The IXI Limited scripting language based on Python was later replaced with JavaScript. Tarantella allowed real UNIX and Windows applications to be displayed within a web browser through the use of Java to form a true web based desktop or Webtop.

The first SCO Webtop releases were part of SCO Skunkware[5] before being integrated into SCO OpenServer version 5 and UnixWare 7. Tarantella was subsequently purchased by Sun Microsystems and integrated into their Sun Secure Global Desktop.[6]

Byte magazine referred to the Webtop as a NUI (Network User Interface).[7]

More recently, Google released a cloud operating system for web connection called Chrome OS and several 11-12" netbooks from Acer and Samsung have implemented the system into their products.

2. Comparison of Web Desktops

The following two tables compare general and technical information for a number of active and inactive web desktops.

2.1. A List of Active Web Desktops

Name Browser support Developer/s Web Engine Free (gratis) License Third party applications Productivity Suite Graphical user interface (GUI) Downloadable to a Web server Chrome, Chromium, Firefox, IceWeasel, Safari, Edge, IE, Opera Lloyd Hardy Enterprises HTML5, Javascript, PHP7, CSS3, XML No Free Software: AGPL v3 Yes Yes Windows-like Yes
OnlineStor Almost any HTML5-based web browser OnlineStor team HTML5, JavaScript, AJAX, PHP Yes Creative Commons From OnlineStor Community Zoho Docs, Office Viewer, oOffice FlatSky No
WebTop IE8, 9, 10, Edge, Firefox, Safari, Opera, Chrome Inovamatic JavaScript + PHP + WebSocket + AJAX No Proprietary Yes Yes Customizable Unknown
Orbios IE8, 9, 10, Edge, Firefox, Safari, Opera, Chrome Orbios Ltd. JavaScript + PHP Yes Proprietary No Orbios Spreadsheet Customizable No
Ancyradesktop IE 8/9, Firefox v12.0+, Chrome, Safari, Microsoft Edge Bayersoft, Inc HTML5, JavaScript, AJAX + C# Yes Proprietary Yes Yes Windows-like Yes
AstraNOS IE8, 9, 10, Edge, Firefox, Safari, Opera, Chrome AstraNOS JavaScript + PHP + WebSocket + WebRTC + AJAX Yes Proprietary Yes Yes Customizable No
eyeOS Chrome, IE, Firefox, Safari, Opera AstraNOS team (later bought by Telefónica) PHP, Node.js + AJAX No Proprietary Yes Yes Windows-like Only below version 2.5
ZeroPC IE 8/9, Firefox v12.0+, Chrome, Safari ZeroDesktop, Inc. HTML / HTML5, JavaScript, Java Applet, AJAX Yes Proprietary No Thinkfree Office, Cloud Storage Mashup, IM Windows-like No
OS.js IE10+, Edge, Firefox, Safari, Opera, Chrome OS.js JavaScript, Node.js or PHP (alternative) Yes Open Source: Simplified BSD License Yes Yes Customizable / GNOME-Like Yes
AaronOS Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc Aaron Adams HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, PHP Yes Open Source Yes In development Customizable No
System Edge, Safari,

Chrome (recommended)

System HTML5,



simple.js (like JQuery)

Yes None Yes No Windows 10-like No
ULAPPH Cloud Desktop Opera, Chrome, Firefox ULAPPH Opensource Golang, JavaScript, HTML5, CSS, Google App Engine, Firebase Yes Open Source Yes Yes Windows/Mac-like No

2.2. A List of Inactive Web Desktops

Name Browser support Developer Web Engine Free (gratis) License 3rd party applications Productivity Suite Graphical user interface (GUI) Downloadable to Web server IE6+, Firefox ver. 2+, Safari. Partial: Chrome & Opera Ghost Inc ("") Flash + AJAX (mobile version is WAP) No Proprietary Yes Yahoo! Zimbra, Zoho, Google Docs, ILoveIM Windows-like No
Glide OS IE7, Firefox 3, Safari, Chrome TransMedia HTML5 Yes (30 GB limit) Proprietary From Glide Community Glide Write, Glide Presenter, Glide Crunch, Photo Editor, Email Mac+Windows-like No
Nivio IE7, IE8, Google Chrome, FF 4 Sachin Dev Duggal, Saurabh Dhoot In development No Proprietary Yes Yes Windows No
Online OS FF 1.5 and higher, IE7 iCUBE Network Solutions Java, Ajax Yes Proprietary Yes Yes Windows-like No
xOS Webtop FF 5.0+, Chrome 12+, Safari XProduct HTML5, PHP, JavaScript Yes Open Source: GPLv3 Yes Yes Mac-like No
Symbiose Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, IE10+ Symbiose HTML5, PHP, JavaScript Yes Open Source: MIT license Yes Yes Customizable (default: Elementary OS, available: GNOME Shell, GNOME Panel, Windows 7-like, CLI) Yes


  1. US patent 6,104,392, Shaw , et al., "Method of displaying an application on a variety of client devices in a client/server network", issued 2000-08-15,104,392
  2. Andrew J Bovingdon presented a Human Computer Interaction poster on the subject of Webtops at WWW2 in Chicago, 1994 entitled "Adding a new dimension to the desktop",
  3. The Santa Cruz Operation Technical White Paper, Tarantella --The Universal Application Server, July, 1997
  4. See, click on "Trademarks -> Search TM Database", and perform a Basic search for "Webtop". The only earlier occurrences in both the Patent and Trademark databases are for systems unrelated to a web desktop context.
  5. SCO Skunkware Release Notes
  6. "Sun Microsystems Completes Tarantella Acquisition". Associated Press. 2005-07-13. Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
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