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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

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They may not be quite ready for prime time but web-based operating systems are starting to look the part.

As high-speed bandwidth becomes increasingly commonplace, more and more software is being migrated from the desktop to the Internet. Instead of being installed on each and every desktop that requires it, applications such as Google Docs and soon Microsoft Word, will be hosted on the Internet and run by users in their browser.

But, as far as hosted software goes, individual applications "in the cloud" is just a start. Now there are a growing number of operating systems - entire operating systems - that are being made available through a browser. While many of these are still in their formative stages, a couple stand out as good examples of what is possible when bandwidth is big enough to run an entire operating system remotely.

G.ho.st (http://g.ho.st)

G.ho.st, or the Globally Hosted Operating System, is a free, full-featured virtual operating system that has all of the tools most users would expect in a desktop without actually having to install the OS on their computer. With a free account G.ho.st includes basic tools such as an email client, word processor and notepad as more advanced tools such as a multimedia player. The office suite component of G.ho.st - such as a word processor and spreadsheet application - is provided by another well-known online office suites: Zoho Office and Google Docs. Users can set up their login details for these services and use them seamlessly from within G.ho.st.

Most users will feel at home with G.ho.st as it has a feel not unlike Windows even if the window decorations are slightly different. The operating system even includes a wide selection of Flash-based games to while away the boring parts of the day. Documents created can be stored in the "Ghost drive", a repository of files that can be accessed from anywhere.

A limited guest account is available to test the system but most features require an account which is free.

EyeOS (http://eyeos.info)

EyeOS, an open source project, is available in two versions: one hosted on the Internet and the other available as a download to be installed by users themselves. The quickest way to get a sense of EyeOS is to visit the eyeos.info hosted version, create an account and login.

EyeOS is very streamlined and runs suitably quickly over most Internet connections. Unlike G.ho.st, which appears to include every possible application imaginable, EyeOS is significantly stripped down and because of that is a better performer than G.ho.st. And yet, despite it's relatively sparse appearance, EyeOS still has a healthy collection of applications to choose from.

The office suite applications, EyeDocs and so on, are streamlined applications and are not full Microsoft Office replacements but are more than adequate for for creating documents and simple spreadsheets. Despite being web-based the applications are quick to respond to commands and although there is some lag on opening documents, once they are open editing is speedy and easy. EyeOS also includes support for common keyboard shortcuts which makes editing documents very quick.

Besides an Internet-hosted version, EyeOS is also available as a download which can be installed on a local webserver and shared among multiple internal users. The locally-hosted version of EyeOS is noticeably faster than the Internet-based one and is an interesting option for a company that wants to streamline application support. The download to install EyeOS is just over 3MB in size and includes all the basic applications.

EyeOS also includes a mobile edition of the desktop which can be accessed using most Internet-enabled phones. The mobile interface is streamlined even further and is designed so users can access their documents quickly.

Web-based operating systems may not yet be commonplace but G.ho.st and EyeOS are showing what is possible and what may become more common in years to come.

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