Ajax Startup Launches Web Desktop Linked To Gmail

Linspire Chairman Michael Robertson's latest venture, Ajax13, unveils ajaxWindows, a Web-based middleware platform that stores all desktop data in a user's Gmail account.
Net entrepreneur Michael Robertson, founder of and Linspire, is on a crusade to change the software industry again. This time, he's putting his energy and expertise behind a new startup that uses Ajax as a middleware platform to create a niche in the software as a service (SaaS) marketplace.

The company is Ajax13, the product is ajaxWindows, and the concept is pretty straightforward: The software platform is operating system-agnostic and based on the XML User Interface Language (XUL) to act as a Web-based desktop. Files can be moved around and opened, and applications launch with a mouse click. The interface also includes customizable wallpaper, start-up and shut down sounds, and browser bookmarks. But instead of interacting with the hardware, the user stores all desktop data, documents, and content, free of charge into a Gmail account.

"The concept here is that we didn't want to determine where our registered users keep their files," Robertson told InformationWeek. "We are launching the Gmail interface but we will let people have a choice going forward." Options include other online sites or a local storage device such as a USB thumb drive, Robertson said.

The concept of using Ajax as a client occurred to Robertson as he noticed how hard it was to keep track of all the Ajax and Web 2.0 applications in the marketplace. So he helped launch Ajax13 in early 2006 as a startup that could develop a desktop interface based on Ajax principles that would serve as a repository for other Ajax applications. "What was missing from the market was the notion of the unified experience," he said.

So far, Robertson has managed to collect a fair amount of applications including an Instant Messaging client, a VoIP telephone client based on the Gizmo Project, and even Robertson own MP3 lockers and AnywhereCD application.

The ajaxWindows software is compatible with Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers. Using IE requires a small plug-in to work with Microsoft's ActiveX features and get the XUL engine up to speed.

So if was an attempt to democratically categorize music downloads and Linspire (previously Lindows) was an attempt to free the desktop from Microsoft, who is Roberts targeting with ajaxWindows? On the consumer side, Google Pack and Microsoft's Windows Live come to mind. But if companies rally around ajaxWindows' APIs, the virtual desktop could be used in call centers, workstations and anywhere other SaaS companies like are thriving.

According to Robertson, Ajax13 will decide on a revenue model (i.e. whether it'll use subscriptions, licensing, or some combo) only after it has assessed thousands of users to see what kinds of Web services are valued.

"We've been in the labs, so we haven't lifted our heads up to see what kinds of revenue streams would work." Robertson said. "We're going to watch how people are using [ajaxWindows] first... how many will use the sync application. That is the data that will let us know where the business opportunity is."

While the company is expected to make its formal debut on September 10 with the desktop client, Robertson said Ajax13's aspirations include non-PC devices such as the Nokia N800 Internet tablet, the Nintendo Wii or even Apple's iPhone. The company also expects to eventually release a set of APIs for developers who want to build applications for ajaxWindows.

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