August 20th, 1999

iMagical Desk

by Jesse Corbeil • in The Internet
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imagicaldesk screenshotBilled as ‘a virtual desktop for Mac users,’ iMagicalDesk is a web-based personal information manager/WebTop where you can check your e-mail, keep track of your appointments, and save Mac or PC files for viewing directly in a web browser using the system’s super-cool MagicalFiles application.

The theory behind iMagicalDesk is very cool: WebTop computing takes all the information off of the home computer, and stores it on a server somewhere. The home user no longer requires a full-fledged PC, but rather a dumb terminal. This means that computers can be got on the cheap because 36 Gigabyte hard drives are no longer needed. I don’t know if anyone’s thought about the cost of the ADSL connections we’re all going to need in order to be whipping our files across the Net, but who am I to stand in the way of pie-in-the-sky optimism?

The iMagicalDesk services centre around the In Box, which is where incoming e-mail goes, to be then turned into addresses, calendar or to-do list entries, bookmarks, or MagicalFiles viewables. MagicalFiles can then be shared and/or viewed from anywhere.

Promising as the WebTop computing paradigm is, iMagicalDesk shows it still has a few kinks to be smoothed out. For example, using the MagicalFiles system requires a whole mess of steps that could easily get confusing for less technically minded users. Oh, and you’re allotted a piddling amount of storage space. Even with the optional extra 20 or 50 MB, do not try to back up that feature film you’ve been editing on your father’s PowerBook to iMagicalDesk. It ain’t gonna work.

These caveats aside, the system is pretty nice and reasonably smooth-running. The interface is an easy-to-use ‘virtual desktop’ based on the Macintosh model, with a menu bar across the top and a bunch of spiffy little icons. To see when you’ve got that appointment with Mom’s hairdresser, just click on the calendar icon. Want to check your mail? Click the In Box. There’s also an integrated link to Yahoo!,and a few more services of the ‘keep-my-butt-organised’ variety.

Obviously, iMagicalDesk is less of a standard web portal that everyone from AOL to Yahoo! is trying to become, and more of a step towards the total WebTop computing environment that is supposed to be the future of computing. Of course, last year the future of computing was the Network Computer (or NC). Remember that? Neither do Sun, Corel, or any of the other big names that stood behind the NC model a couple of years ago.

The only way I can see the WebTop model avoiding the pitfalls of the NC is if companies like Magically can re-jig their technology to make the WebTop more like the desktop. iMagicalDesk feels too much like the web-based workspace that it is. If they can find a way to implement drag and drop support and a filing system like that on the Macintosh, I can see this becoming a wild success. Especially given the ’some free, some billed’ service model that they have in place. There should also be a more comprehensive customisation scheme. Right now, iMagicalDesk allows you to pick the iMac-like flavour you want the screen accents to be, but how about customisable icons and system preferences?

Obviously, much of what would make iMagicalDesk a wild success are beyond the scope of anything that’s currently web-based. But companies like Oracle are showing the world that it is possible to really stretch online technology and do some very funky things. Let’s see how far Magically can take this.

iMagical Desk: Free registration and basic service, fee-based Premium Services (US$5 to US$10).

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