Five Web Operating Systems You Can Take for a Spin

Is a cloud-based WebOS in your network's future? Here are five you can try out from your own servers or from public hosting.

 By Eric Geier
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Web operating systems (OSs) are basically websites that replicate the desktop environment of modern OSs, all inside a Web browser. They are installed onto Web servers and live on the Internet, thus we can access our virtual desktop from anywhere that's connected to the net. You might hear these Web OSs referred to as "webtops" or "cloud" computers as well.

After a brief discussion, we'll look at 5 different Web OSs. We'll see what they look like and what they offer. Then you might want to sign-up for one of the services or set up your own cloud server.

The computers we use to access Web OSs really only have to have a Web browser. Since most of the computing power is performed by the cloud server, the end-user computers can be more basic systems, saving us money. Plus, administrators can easily control the applications and settings of the virtual desktops. This can greatly simplify an organization's network setup, especially for smaller businesses that might not be familiar with traditional virtualization or thin client architecture.

Though Web OSs might not be sophisticated enough for organizations that require more than basic computer systems, the technology will likely grow quickly. Right now many of the projects are in alpha or beta testing phases and are working on stable and more feature-rich releases. Even Google is in the game, currently developing Google Chrome OS.

1. eyeOS

eyeOS is an open source Web OS, hosted via a public server, or it can be installed onto your own Web server. In addition to the OS and desktop environment (as you see in Figure 1) it includes over 60 applications. If you know PHP, XML, and JavaScript, you can actually create your own apps using the eyeOS Toolkit.

You'll find programs for most day-to-day tasks. The word processor is compatible with the Microsoft Word and OpenOffice.org formats and the email client supports POP3 and IMAP accounts. You can import your contacts into the address book, play your music and videos, and view and edit photos.

One of the best things about eyeOS is that if you install it on your own server, you'll basically have unlimited online storage space. The space is limited to how much you have available on your hosted server or your PC—wherever it's installed. Plus eyeOS is a solid project, with an even better version (eyeOS 2.0) in the works.

2. AirSet

Rather than trying to completely replace the traditional OS, AirSet (see Figure 2) is more like a portal where you can organize and access your data. You can sync your contacts, calendars, lists, and more between a PC, the web, and your mobile phone. In addition to individual-use, it offers models for different group types where members can easily communicate and collaborate.

AirSet's Web Publish program lets you make a public website that's available on the Internet or an Intranet website for your network of AirSet users. The messaging features let you chat, call, and conference among your AirSet network. Other features include a calendar, contact manager, list manager, photo album, and a playlist and media player.

The free service of AirSet is supported by advertisements displayed on the right of the screen. Removing the ads costs $2.95 a month and gets you 5GB of online storage space. If you want to access the service with your mobile phone, you can purchase the AirSet Mobile subscription for $3.99 a month.

3. Glide OS

Glide OS is a Flash-based Web OS, providing many of the applications you need day-to-day in a colorful, slick-looking, desktop environment, as you see in Figure 3. Though it seems like one of the most bulkiest web-based OSs, it's one of the most interesting.

This online OS is provided ad-free at no cost, via the web and mobile phones. It includes 10GB of online storage space. Plus you can create and manage up to 6 member accounts.

Glide OS includes the basic applications, such as a word processor, presentation program, email client, and calendar. They also provide a synchronization program to keep your documents synced between your PC and Glide OS.

This article was originally published on Oct 14, 2009
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