Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A look at G.ho.st, a web-based OS

The biggest problem using computers is the amount of effort that goes into administering them. It isn't enough that a great deal of time and effort is required to install the OS and software, software has to be updated, virus checkers have to be kept up to data, and plug-ins have to be kept up-to-date. There is also the issue of making data available everywhere we need it.

Years ago, I used to be able to carry all the data I needed on a floppy. Today, people use thumb drives instead of floppies but there is always the problem of version control. Which copy of the document is the latest?

Recently, a new generation of hardware has come to market. There are many new names for this new generation of computing devices. Some call them Ultra Low Cost Personal Computers (ULPC). Others call them Ultra-Mobile PCs, net tops or net books. While the names of these devices are different, the purpose is the same.

More of what we do is being done on the Web. Today, we use the Eee for everything from watching videos, listening to music, reading the news, sending e-mail, social networking, shopping, planning trips, and managing photos. Many of these tasks are performed without having to have any software installed other than a browser.

Using web-based applications allows us the freedom to work from anywhere and use any device to access our data. The new generation of devices are built for a new generation of computing where everything is done using a web-connected device. Asus, introduced the Eee PC just over a year ago. The Eee PC is a very small laptop offering modest computing power and limited storage. The Eee PC became very popular, propelling Asus to the sixth largest computer company because it provided users with the minimum common denominator to access the web from a low-cost and ultra portable device.

Most Eee PCs were sold with a small version of Linux installed. While many users were able to shoehorn Microsoft Windows XP onto the Eee PC, many were happy to use Linux since the primary application they wanted access to was the browser. With a browser, users were able to access the Web and use its full power, despite the modest computing power of the Eee PC itself.

The evolution towards web-based computing is progressing towards the inevitable - that eventually, computers will boot their OS over the Web. It is quite likely that people will buy computing devices that offer little more than a browser and that they will use this as the starting point from where they will literally boot into a browser-based operating system where they will be able to access all their files and applications from anywhere.

Today, I am writing this using one of the early web-based operating systems, G.ho.st. G.ho.st uses Adobe Flash as its foundation. After creating your free account with G.ho.st, you will get 5 GB of storage and 3GB of e-mail. G.ho.st offers an additional 1 GB of storage for every new user you get to join G.ho.st.

G.ho.st takes about 30 seconds to one minute to boot once you log-in. The speed depends on your location, bandwidth and processing speed.

Once the system boots, you are presented with a desktop in your browser that looks somewhat similar to Microsoft Vista. You are able to modify the look-and-feel.

I currently use Google Docs and many other Google applications. Why then would I want to use G.ho.st? Think of G.ho.st as your online aggregator. G.ho.st provides the user with a mechanism to integrate all of the applications in one location. G.ho.st uses a mechanism called "Things" which allows you to create links to various web sites. Using G.ho.st, you have the ability to integrate your Flickr, Gmail, Yahoo, MSN and other web based sites into a single desktop. While you can do this today on your own personal computer and you can do this with Flock's browser, setting up G.ho.st now gives you universal access to all of your web based applications from a single web site.

G.ho.st also has its own set of applications. G.ho.st has its own browser and it offers Zoho Write and Calc for documents. I am using Zoho Write to create this document. One might wonder why use a browser inside a browser? The reason is that as you open up new windows and perform more tasks, you are actually using memory on Gh.os.t's server. Also, you are leaving no trail behind, you are protected from malicious web sites and you are protecting your privacy while you browse.

G.ho.st is still in Alpha so not everything works perfectly. It promises to be able to use Outlook .pst files so soon so you will be able to have online access to all of your Outlook data from anywhere. As other online OSes become available, it will be interesting to see whether or not it is possible to boot one online OS inside another.

For now, G.ho.st is a very good place to store data you need to access from anywhere and is a good place to run a browser inside a browser to protect your main system from viruses and spyware.

Michael C. Barnes is the President of NorhTec.


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