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The desktop is a portal

Portals are hot. Portals are cool. But if portals are to be more than a nonce word, the vendors and analysts better calm down. Not everything is a portal. And portals aren't everything.

The world really isn't going to turn into a portal. The two primary ways we have of accessing electronic information -- desktops and web sites -- are not going to be replaced or even over-shadowed by portals.

Portals are important because they simplify life by using the most sophisticated user interface to information yet devised by humans: documents. But not all of life is simple.

For example, let's say we start out with a nice "MyJob" portal to our work environment. It pulls together the information, resources and news I need. Fabulous.

Over time, however, I begin to acquire more and more resources. As my work evolves, projects I cared about are no longer on the front burner. So, I start to have a portal with a history. In fact, as my work spreads out, I have a multi-page portal. In short, my portal becomes a web site with back end services for archiving and managing content, and all of the complexity therein.

Portals thus tend towards complexity and become indistinguishable from managed web sites. (Spare me the oxymoronic joke about "managed web sites." It *is* a possibility.)

Portals are well suited to certain types of information and, if you prefer, knowledge. But they're clearly not optimal for all types. We already have other sorts of "portals" for handling email, for example. And faxes. And images. And games. And networks.

What "portal" do we use now to manage all those different types of objects? Our desktop. No matter how much we all complain about Windows, it's highly evolved for managing the broad variety of objects with which we work. If I'm working in a portal, on the other hand, even simple operations like cutting and pasting are non-trivial.

I suppose we could say that anything on a computer that provides access to information is a portal, so desktops and web sites are portals also. That might give some flaccid software companies the illusion that they've been reinvigorated and will let the next PortalWorld conference flesh out its session schedule.

But then the term "portal" will lose its meaning, which is too bad because portals are real and are really useful, even though they are an addition to, and not a replacement for, desktops and web sites.

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