A 360-degree panoramic workspace on your PC's desktop sounds great, and it's free. But you'll have to put up with adverts.
Craving more elbow room on your computer screen? Then 360desktop can help. The platform replaces your traditional PC desktop with a scrollable, 360-degree panorama, in effect quadrupling - at least - your real estate. We tested an alpha version (a public beta is available now) and found it easy to use.
But the free 360desktop service will come with a price: ads on your desktop.
360desktop lets you create your own panoramic desktop image or download one created by the company or, eventually, by other users. Panoramas can display RSS feeds, web pages, and more. The alpha version we tested was limited, but included two options for creating panoramas dedicated to "work" or "play".
360desktop's WebStickers, a sort of rich-media desktop sticky note, promises to allow use of any service's widget (such as Facebook's, Google's, or Yahoo's), or your Facebook or MySpace page, for example, on the desktop. This feature was not available in our alpha version, but we could see setting up a Gmail or other mail inbox on 360desktop as a productivity booster. Sharing of community-developed WebStickers is also on tap.
Once the 360desktop panorama is displayed, you can scroll 360 degrees horizontally through the content; your main desktop application windows can be fixed or can move with you as you scroll.
The 360desktop QuickNav feature allows quick access to a space on the panorama; and a system tray application pulls up the 360Manager, a central, searchable repository for panoramas that will include those shared by other users, vendors or the 360desktop company.
360desktop will be free when released, but it will have graphical ads sprinkled about. The alpha we tested had slots for banner and button ads on QuickNav and the 360Manager. Advertisers and promoters will be able to create custom desktops for download, such as for movie releases with trailers ready to play from the desktop. (Desktop ads are hardly a brand-new idea, of course; way back in 1998, then-startup NetZero introduced a similar scheme for a free ISP service.)
The extra desktop space that 360desktop offers will be welcomed by most users, and panning through it is easy, but it's no competitor to Apple's Spaces just yet. A promised WebSticker management system would go a long way to change that, especially if it makes any widget work. However, advertising on people's desktops may prove to be a sticky issue.