Those of you who read John Milan's insightful article on R/WW about the coming convergence of Web apps and desktop apps, will be interested in a new development by Blake Ross - famous in the Web world for co-founding Firefox. Blake has an intriguing new startup called Parakey, which is going to be a WebOS for the masses. In a long IEEE Spectrum article, Blake describes the product:

"As he describes it, from a user’s point of view, Parakey is “a Web operating system that can do everything an OS can do.” Translation: it makes it really easy to store your stuff and share it with the world. Most or all of Parakey will be open source, under a license similar to Firefox’s."

Readers of my ZDNet blog will be familiar with my obsession earlier this year with the WebOS. There are a lot of small, mostly European, startups building a WebOS system - a virtual desktop, if you will. Check out my WebOS market review from April, to see some of the startups in this space. None of them have made any headway into the mainstream market yet - in fact most are still building out beta versions of their products. Let's not forget also that Google (in particular) and Microsoft are very well positioned to come stampeding into this market, like a herd of.... er, elephants.

Also I should note that the WebOS startups have banded together to create a community called "WebOSApi". Right now it's a private mailing list - I tried to get in a while ago, but they wouldn't let me :-) So it'll be interesting to see what comes of that and whether Parakey is a member.

Here's another key quote from the IEEE Spectrum article:

"Today, something like e-mail can involve two completely different experiences, depending on whether or not you’re using the Web—Outlook versus Hotmail, for example. A Parakey e-mail program, on the other hand, provides a single access point for your mail, “unifying the desktop and the Web,” in Ross’s words. Parakey is intended to be a platform for tools that can manipulate just about anything on your hard drive—e-mail, photos, videos, recipes, calendars."

Also Om Malik has some details about the funding and Matt Mullenweg has a post too.

To use Parakey, you'll need to download a small app onto your computer - which essentially turns your computer into a local server, thus enabling offline access. Kind of similar to how Dave Winer's Radio Userland blogging tool works. This description could equally apply to Radio Userland:

"...everything is ultimately stored locally, your computer being synchronized with remote servers whenever you are online. “You never have to care about the uploading process,” says Ross. “That just happens transparently.”

I'm looking forward to testing Parakey out. It sounds like it has the potential to help bridge the current gap between Web and desktop applications, in an open source way. I'm also interested in the reaction of the other WebOS vendors.