Here’s how your computer should work, according to Mustafa Abdelhai, the co-founder and CEO of a startup called Deta. Instead of a big empty screen full of icons, your desktop should be an infinite canvas on which you can take notes or watch movies or run full apps just by drawing a rectangle on the screen. Instead of logging in to a bunch of cloud services over which you ultimately have no control, you should be able to download software like PC users did 20 years ago, and the stuff you download should be completely yours. All your apps should talk to each other, so you can move data between them or even use multiple apps’ features simultaneously. You should be able to use AI to accomplish almost anything.
And it should all happen in a browser tab.
For the last couple of years, the Berlin-based Deta has been building what it calls “the personal cloud computer.” The product Deta is launching today is called Space OS, and the way Abdelhai explains it, it’s the first step in putting the personal back in the personal computer. “Personal computing took a dive at the turn of the century,” he says, “when cloud computing became the big thing. We all moved to the cloud, moved our data, and we don’t own it anymore. It’s just somebody else’s computer.” Deta wants to give it back.
The term “personal cloud computer” sounds like an oxymoron, and to a large extent, it is. A computer you control that no one else can see or access or shut down… that runs on someone else’s servers behind a username and password. After all, Deta stores your stuff via AWS just like everybody else. In a certain light, Deta is building the exact kind of thing it’s trying to break away from — the company’s just hoping it can build a big enough platform, with user-friendly enough rules, to make it worthwhile. But also, you know, it is what it is. “It is in the cloud,” he says. “So it is managed by somebody.”
The term “personal cloud computer” sounds like an oxymoron, and to a large extent, it is
The idea of a streaming computer, where all your data lives online and you can interact with “your PC” from anything with a screen and a web connection, is not new. That’s more or less Google’s long-term vision for Chromebooks, for one thing. Companies like Shadow tried streaming entire Windows computers, only to find that it’s a wildly complicated and expensive thing to get right. (Streaming lag when you’re moving your mouse? Bad times.) In 2021, Microsoft announced the creation of the Cloud PC and predicted it might change the way we work forever. This year, we found out the company is still very committed to that idea.
That’s all good, Abdelhai says, but he thinks that “Windows on the internet” is too small a vision. “We wanted to bring personal computers to the cloud,” Abdelhai says. “That doesn’t mean we reinvented Windows; it means we really needed a new way of thinking.” Deta wants to take this shift as an opportunity to rethink apps, to change the way we approach privacy and data storage, and to turn our devices from a series of siloed apps into something more fluid and interactive.
The easiest way to describe the way Space OS works is probably just to tell you how to use it. When you first create an account, you’re dropped into what’s called Horizon, which is an infinite canvas with a dot grid. You can add all kinds of things to that grid just by drawing rectangles with your mouse. Add a text box and take notes; add icons to launch the apps you care about; embed YouTube videos or link to websites; prompt Teletype, Space OS’s built-in AI chatbot, to make you an app. Setting up Horizon is similar to setting up your phone’s homescreen, only Space OS is much more flexible. And the whole thing is made of interactive widgets.
The first place you go after that is Discovery, which is Deta’s app store. Here, you can download a bunch of the first Space OS apps: WebCrate, a simple bookmarking service; Minima, a note-taking tool; Filebox, a file-storage system; Black Hole, a photo host; Temper, a simple website builder. You click “Install App,” and Space OS adds that app to your personal cloud. But it doesn’t create an account on someone else’s server; it downloads the code and installs it in your Deta cloud so it can run even if the app eventually disappears.
Right now, you can access Space OS just by navigating to your cloud’s URL. (Every user gets an ugly-looking alphanumeric Deta URL, but there are plans to fix that.) Abdelhai says Deta is planning to make heavy use of progressive web apps in order to run apps locally and even offline, too — that’s the company’s future more than building a browser or a native app or even its own hardware. “We’re working on making it feel like your personal computer,” he says. “In the next five years, we want to move to this computer. And then just use Chromebooks or something.”
Your Deta cloud is essentially two things: an encrypted place to store your data and a series of virtual machines that spin up to run your various apps. “Every app completely runs on your personal cloud,” Abdelhai says. “Right now, if you use somebody else’s software, they will have access to your data. We ensure that these apps are running on your personal cloud.” You get the basics for free, Abdelhai says, but you’ll have to pay for more capabilities and storage.
When I asked Abdelhai why people should trust Deta instead of their other cloud services, he cited two things: the business model and the tools. “You can delete your app, you can export your data, you can delete your space as well.” All your data is encrypted, you can download all the source code of your apps, and Deta doesn’t sell ads or make money from your data. “We have a lot of incentives that protect you and deliver on our promise.” It’s a very modern conundrum, really: using the internet requires trusting somebody, so all you can do is pick the one whose incentives match your own.
Right now, everything in Space OS is extremely primitive. There are no ultra-compelling new apps, no immediate reason to throw away your computer and start living the Space life. (Though I will say, the canvas-as-homescreen idea is a terrific one.) Much of the interface looks like it was designed as a proof of concept, not a consumer product. Abdelhai agrees with all that. Deta is still early, he says, and there’s a tremendous amount of work to do. But he’s confident that the overarching idea is the right one: a personal, interoperable, AI-powered operating system is what the world needs next.
The most immediate thing for Deta to get right is the developer platform. The company is trying to make it ludicrously easy to build and sell apps, which is part of how it hopes to convince developers to jump to a new platform. Developers can integrate with the Teletype AI, build apps that just work across the web, and use Deta’s App Actions system to interoperate with everything else in Space OS. Abdelhai says 70,000 developers are already building on Deta and hopes to have many more soon.
Imagine if your Google Docs, Notion, Figma, and Slack accounts could all share data and talk to one another — that’s the Space OS dream
The first thing Abdelhai says he thinks Deta will be great for is productivity tools. Imagine, he says, if your Google Docs, Notion, Figma, and Slack accounts could all share data and talk to one another — that’s the Space OS dream. (Deta has already gotten a few well-known productivity tools running on its platform, too.) “Software is stiff,” Abdelhai says. “We like breaking down apps into smaller chunks so they can work together.” Right now, every app we use is a universe mostly unto itself; Deta wants to turn software into tools in a toolset. Once that works, he thinks it could be a gaming platform, a creative tool, and much more.
Along the way, the company has to sort out the rest of the open questions about Space OS. What’s the killer app? How do you convince users to run their whole lives from your servers when part of what people are trying to do is get away from that dynamic? What happens to users’ clouds if Deta goes down or goes out of business altogether?
Deta’s idea is both a very new one and a very old one. It harkens back to the early days of computers when you bought software in a box at a store and installed it on your computer. The cloud era, of course, made computing vastly easier and more powerful but also systematically ate away at the idea that you could control anything on your devices. It’s an interesting thought experiment, actually: if every cloud service shut down tomorrow, what would be left on your phone or your laptop? Odds are, not much. Deta’s trying to undo that a bit, to embrace the cloud and the expansive universe of apps while giving you back the feeling that your computer — and everything on it — is yours and no one else’s. Because your computer should be yours — even if it’s on somebody’s server.