I was forwarded a recent New York Times article on G.ho.st by Patrick Meier. Perhaps Patrick thought I would be interested in this because of the references to peacebuilding in the Israeli-Palestinian context. .
Even before I clicked on G.ho.st I knew what I was in for when I read this quote by Zvi Schreiber, the creator of the online operating system:
“I felt the ultimate goal was to offer every human being a computing environment which is free, and which is not tied to any physical hardware but exists on the Web,” he said. The idea, he said, was to create a home for all of a user’s online files and storage in the form of a virtual PC.
The notion that cloud computing / online web services are not tied to any physical hardware is sadly given undue credence by articles such as this. The semantic confusion here lies in making services and online products run on any (local) OS versus being tied down to run on any one of them. The solution to the bane of the latter can be achieved even on local operating systems using Java, Air, Flash or open source tools. Ubuntu’s growing adoption lies in its ability to give a Windows like user experience at a fraction of the cost associated with Microsoft latest desktop operating avatar, Vista. The potential of the web to transform organisational transactions (within and between organisations) however is not, in any way, linked to online operating systems. While the point is made and true to a degree that cloud services lack a certain standard look at feel (in terms of their UI) that local operating systems have, in terms of market capitalisation I don’t see that’s been a problem for the most successful cloud computing platforms and services to date – Facebook and Myspace, two social networking platforms wholly different to each other probably get more users still in a day that I think G.ho.st would have signed up since its inception!
The writer also fails to compare G.ho.st with dozens of other online operating systems. The impression given here seems to be that G.ho.st is worth highlighting because, inter alia,
- it has some peripheral connection to an Israeli peacemaker’s family (quote added for good optics)
- there is a peripheral interest in peacebuilding through the business (no concrete evidence is provided save for some passing anecdotal intent).
- that it is located in one of the world’s most troubled regions, with the romanticised Israel – Palestine people to people contact (“at a rundown coffee shop on a desert road frequented by camels and Bedouin shepherds near Jericho”) as some vague marker of its potential to foster communal reconciliation
This is at best disingenuous writing and closer to being downright dishonest. A serious writer would have weighed the pros and cons of G.ho.st for what it is – an online operating system – a breed of cloud computing platforms that’s seen a growth spurt over the past 2 years (largely in the US) but which have largely failed to gain market traction because we are all still dependent on the local operating systems that run our desktop PCs, which are the repositories of every single byte of information we upload to YouTube, to Facebook Photos, to Flickr and to podcasts on iTunes.
G.ho.st also offers just 5Gb of space. That’s about the size of Microsoft’s SkyDrive. And with new services and technologies from Microsoft itself (in addition to others) making it terribly easy to access your computer / computers from anywhere (and in the future, even from mobiles) the future for G.ho.st & Co. seems very bleak. (This does not even take into account devices such as the XO laptop, Intel’s Classmate and Microsoft’s Flexgo intiative, that with all their failings are based on the essential idea that the importance of local operating systems and local storage will not diminish even with the growth and reach of the web).
I did spend some time on the rather garish looking guest login to G.ho.st. It’s nowhere near as polished as some of the other online operating systems out there, so in this respect, fails to pass muster even when compared to the competition. However, the most egregious oversight is in opening, by default, a document on Zoho written by Zvi Schreiber in November 2006. There are some real tragi-comic assertions in it:
- The real threat to Windows is that the very concept of a Personal Computer and of a local operating system is being subtly eroded. Microsoft Windows installed locally on the PC is not being beaten by competition but it has started down inevitable path to irrelevance.
- Over the next two years, find partners to create hosted version of every single Windows program and help users migrate their data to the new world.
- In the meantime you can use G.ho.st for those services which you must be able to access from everywhere or where the hostered (sic) services are superior, while still using Windows for software which is unavailable or inferior online. Starting in 2 years time you can consider retiring Windows and performing all your computing activities on the Web via G.ho.st.
- In the West, Windows is affordable but still an annoyance to a young generation who are used to getting e-mail, instant messengers, social networking, news and so much more for free. In the developing world, the price of Windows is a real barrier to the adoption of computing. With the Global Hosted Operating SysTem, the price of an operating system becomes, like the price of looking through shop windows, zero, as it should be.
Windows may be on the “path to irrelevance” but to prophesise its imminent demise even two years after this article was written still puts one in the category of thinkers dealing with substance abuse. Given that it’s nearly two years ago Zvi wrote this, I wonder how far G.ho.st has gone in creating hosted versions of “every single Windows programme”. Sadly the NY Times doesn’t also ask how users are able to migrate their data to the “new world” (smacks of some Biblical Garden of Eden for information in the clouds) with only 5Gb on offer.
It’s unnecessary to belabour the point. G.ho.st simply tries too hard to be taken seriously. Ms. Kraft should know and write better, given her experience in the region’s vexing challenges. It is not as if the region is in the information dark ages – a World Bank report released in January 2008 suggests that comparisons between other countries in the region put the West Bank and Gaza ahead of or on par with usage / ownership / access of PC’s, ICTs and mobiles. So clearly, there’s opportunities to use ICTs to address peacebuilding in this region.
There’s already a lot happening. Blogging’s already hugely influential and growing apace. (How many use, would need to use, know of or would care to use G.ho.st?) The growth of online real time translation (text plus those afforded by services such as vernacular Skype conversations and Skypecasts) suggest very real possibilities for inter and intra communal engagements on issues related to peacebuilding even when they can’t or won’t be seen together. (e.g. هل تتكلم العربيه؟)
Simple questions, amongst others, that should have been asked and observations made – the NY Times has a photo of the G.ho.st office with some laptops. How many do you think store all their data on G.ho.st? How may rely on G.ho.st for their email or just go directly to the online email service provider of their choice? How many surf the web through the G.ho.st web browser (a browser in a browser?!) How many can print a Zoho document created through and hosted on G.ho.st to their local printer?
These aside, there is in this article a criminal oversight of just how difficult peacebuilding can be, with or without ICTs. The fact that everything is hunky-dory in the offices of G.ho.st is possibly because this is a business tethered to making profit with few unlike-minded individuals in it and where coding takes precedence over conflicting histories. This is Ms. Kraft’s fault. G.ho.st’s own is that it fails to see that online operating systems add a layer to cloud computing that’s unnecessary and unwieldy.
I don’t go to and use the cloud to replicate or replace my desktop. I go to it, use it and leverage it to complement what I do with my desktop and to strengthen my advocacy by using services / products / tools / platforms that are hard for repressive regimes to track down, disrupt and shut down. Particularly in the context of unreliable and costly connectivity and dealing with hundreds of megabytes of information generation and dissemination a day, online operating systems just don’t cut it for me and anyone else in a similar context.
G.ho.st may well turn out to be the blanket monicker for the genre for online operating systems still born in to a graveyard of good intentions.
“Like its predecessors, Glide OS 3.0 provides users with a desktop-like space within a browser window. You can use Glide’s web-based applications to create Word documents, spreadsheets, or presentations. You can also play music, manage photos and videos, and send and receive email. In other words, you can do many of the same things you’d do with a desktop operating system, but in a web browser.
What sets Glide apart from many of its competitors is that Glide offers a suite of tools that let you synchronize your files with a Windows, Mac, Linux, or Solaris machine. There’s also Glide Sync software for a number of mobile phone models. Free account holders get up to 5GB of web space, and if you need more, you can shell out a few bucks a month for additional storage.
One of the new features in Glide OS 3 is a Glide Group tool that adds social networking features. You can communicate with other Glide users by sending messages or sharing media files.”