Many people have lots of different communication means: email, instant messaging (which can be gtalk, jabber, msn, icq etc.), SMS, IRC, VOIP, Skype, and probably (many) more. Some of these provide ‘presence’ information as well. Conversations might start from email or SMS, continue as IM because the presence show your peer as ‘online’ and then finally continue in a videochat.
The current situation on the desktop doesn’t really reflect the way we want to communicate. A user has multiple address-books, or ‘buddy-lists’ or whatever the program calls them. A user has to manually deal with multiple programs to exploit all the different communication means. A user has to keep track of multiple providers of presence information to see if their peer is on-line. In a corporate environment, if you stick to products from one vendor (Microsoft, Cisco or IBM) you get a little of this. But at the moment you communicate outside the corporation also their solution fails.
How can we do better?
- we need a single display of presence information, where each program can provide presence status
- we need a single address book, where all different communication means for a person are registered, and a user can choose any communication means that fit their needs at that moment (and corporate environments may provide an ldap server for that)
- we need some program interaction/integration; from your email program you should be able to start a video-chat, and your VOIP client should notify you if your peer just sent you an email.
For the desktop innovation that Gnome Shell is, it would be great if ‘communications’ become part of it. If you search in Gnome Shell for a person, you want to see if this person is on-line, you want to see the avatar, and when you click on the avatar you want to be able to start an email message, Jabber chat, MSN chat, VOIP call or whatever is available. True Unified communications in a truly innovative desktop.