So far, however, few projects seem to be considering that modern netbooks no longer have minimal memory, and are being used at least part of the time for normal computing. To some extent, developers are still designing for the last generation of netbooks.
Still another issue is whether netbook desktops are a separate code base or not. KDE has solved this problem by making the Plasma Netbook simply one of several interfaces possible in KDE 4. In many cases, though, netbook desktops seem to be different enough that they need to be maintained separately -- and inefficiently -- from the standard desktops they are based upon.
Today, developers can no longer assume that the desktop or even the laptop is the main computers that users interact with. Instead, user's main computers are likely to be music players, phones, or other mobile devices.
With their small screens, interfaces for mobile devices have restrictions that do not apply even on a netbook. Yet the question remains: if mobile devices are what people are most familiar with, to what extent should their other computers borrow from mobile interfaces?
So far, the most favored answer is that netbooks should borrow heavily from mobile devices, and other computers shouldn't. However, some mobile-like features do seem to be creeping into some interfaces, such as the live links in Amarok that you can drop a track on to perform an action.
Even more importantly, the upcoming GNOME 3 seems to change entire screens in a way that is more reminiscent of a mobile device than a traditional workstation.
It may be that the influence of mobile devices will continue, and that the workstation of the near future will include a desktop that looks far more like that of a phone than like the desktops we are using now.
Chrome OS, Google's upcoming operating system, presumably started as an effort to integrate the desktop with Google's online applications. However, it was quickly followed by similar efforts, such as the Jolicloud distribution.
So far, distributions that rely on applications that are not installed locally are a minority, and people are investigating them because of their novelty as much as for their usefulness. When you are using free software, cloud-based computing is less compelling, because you can install what you need on any computer without worrying about licensing -- and you may be disinclined to use online apps that do not have a free license.
Still, the possibility remains that cloud computing will become an increasingly important part of the free desktop.
Alternatively, instead of merging the desktop with the browser, perhaps other free desktops will go the route of KDE, and scatter online resources through the desktop. If so, the outcome may be a hybrid of local and online services.
More than any other free desktop, KDE is trying to anticipate new ways that users might want to use the desktop. The KDE 4 series includes a number of special effects, some of them eye-candy, but many practical aids for convenience or accessibility. It also includes hot spots on the edges of the screen, and the remote sharing of widgets. At the same time, it has added geo-location to file attributes, and widgets for the social desktop that add easy access to online resources directly to the desktop.