G.ho.st and online operating systems: Much Ado About Nothing?

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.

See reviews of online operating systems here an an even larger selection here – What does G.ho.st offer that these don’t? What does G.ho.st do better that these don’t?

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.

UDPATE
As noted on Download Squad, Glide has launched an updated version of its web-based “operating system.”

“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.”

7 comments on “G.ho.st and online operating systems: Much Ado About Nothing?

  1. Anton
    June 2, 2008 at 5:24 pm #

    I respectfully disagree.

    “G.ho.st also offers just 5Gb of space” – not exactly – invite a friend and get another 1GB.

    “online operating systems add a layer to cloud computing that’s unnecessary and unwieldy.” – lets take an oversimplified example: can you attach a Google Doc to your mail sent through Gmail? Not really, and both services come from the same provider. Now think of over 3000 different Web 2.0 services/companies (check go2web20.net) that for historical reasons weren’t built to cooperate – each one has its own users, data storage, GUI, and if at all with its own APIs… Is a common layer over all that mess is so unnecessary? Is it ambitious? Yes, of course, but what’s wrong with being so?

    “Microsoft itself (in addition to others) making it terribly easy to access your computer” – Do you have a static IP address? Have you actually worked with any of these across firewalls, app security systems and using limited environments available in web kiosks and Internet cafes all over the globe?

    How many surf the web through the G.ho.st web browser (a browser in a browser?!) – unfortunately you missed the point – G.ho.st has a browser in a browser just because it keeps your cookies and preferences for many different web sites, once you log in from one computer, you’ll be logged in from others. For example – if you’re in Thai inet cafe, your Google will speak Thai and you might happen to prefer Georgian. G.ho.st browser will remember that for you.

    “The writer also fails to compare G.ho.st with dozens of other online operating systems” – can you imagine NYT printing a 10 page long detailed tech review? For that you have all that details tech reviews you have quoted.

    “fails to pass muster even when compared to the competition” – have you noticed or bothered mentioning here that G.ho.st is in Alpha?

    I could go on an on but lets stop here – I invite you to visit G.ho.st on your next visit to Israel, and I personally promise to arrange you a tour so that you could see how far you are from the truth and how precise and truthful Mrs Kraft was.

    Greetings from sunny Israel!

    Kind regards,
    Anton Bar.

  2. Sanjana Hattotuwa
    June 2, 2008 at 6:03 pm #

    Dear Anton,

    Thanks for the response. I assume you are in some way connected to G.ho.st, given the staunch defence of the idea and its implementation.

    Firstly, Microsoft’s technology doesn’t need a static IP mate – it appears that you’ve been left by the way side of evolution. Groove Virtual Office had MS folder synchronisation across multiple PCs over IP years ago, Ray Ozzie’s pathbreaking work with the new LiveMesh (http://nsmoly.wordpress.com/2008/05/12/live-mesh/) – with the soon to be launched OS X and mobile versions – show what can be done today with that blurs even further the notion of a “desktop” as being one that is anchored to the physical PC in front of a user. Having tried it (it’s still beta) it works brilliantly even over low latency, relatively narrowband connections.

    But technically I take your point, LiveMesh isn’t what G.ho.st sets out to be. But given that the big boys like Google and Microsoft are talking about platform agnostic, device independent ways to access your data – where does that place the genre of Web OS’s in general and the future of G.ho.st in particular?

    So let’s compare apples to apples. G.ho.st to Glide. Glide features run on Windows, Mac OS 10, Linux, Solaris, Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, Palm, Symbian and Windows Mobile Users. What comparable features give G.ho.st an advantage in this respect?

    And come on – language preferences on Google.com certainly don’t require you to use G.ho.st. The English Google.com is but a mouse click away from regional / country / language specific versions.

    Again, Ms. Kraft makes no mention AT ALL about comparable products. This smacks of marketing spiel than an article that pitches the pros and cons of G.ho.st against that which is already out there so that users don’t go off with the impression that this is sui generis and merits attention simply because it is vaguely anchored in Ms. Kraft’s fertile imagination to peacebuilding on the ground. I suspect she wrote this in wide-eyed wonderment of technology she doesn’t use, care to understand fully, fails to explore the limits of and is unable to compare with other similar services, which is most unfortunate.

    And I didn’t bother to mention G.ho.st is in Alpha because Ms. Kraft didn’t. Perhaps you’ve taken this up with her as well?

    Thanks for the offer of a site visit and I hope G.ho.st achieves some real success. My fear is that it and G.ho.st’s lofty goals remain as ephemeral and illusory as its monicker suggests.

    Sanjana

  3. Anton
    June 2, 2008 at 9:12 pm #

    Dear Sanjana,

    As my blog shows, I am connected to G.ho.st.

    As for Glide, it’s great to have a good competition. You can read the independent reviews, try both systems, and decide which one you like more. G.ho.st runs on most of the platforms you mentioned and also has an open source mobile client (http://code.google.com/p/pixie-os/).

    Unlike you, Ms. Kraft didn’t focus on technology, so I have nothing to take up with her.

    I would like to invite you to read this: http://antonbar.blogspot.com/2008/06/working-in-israeli-palestinian-startup.html. I wrote it mainly inspired by your critics and although you may not fully trust me, I hope it will help you to see that our beliefs and goals are real and honest.

    Kindest regards,
    Anton.

  4. Sanjana Hattotuwa
    June 2, 2008 at 9:29 pm #

    Dear Anton,

    But I repeat myself – the fact that Ms. Kraft did not focus on the technology and instead through the article made out G.ho.st to be some sort of facilitator of peacebuilding between communities is where I take most issue with the article.

    The (de)merits of G.ho.st need to be judged with other, well established web OSs. There is nothing in the background of Ms. Kraft to suggest that she is a tech writer, and there is nothing in G.ho.st save for the vague connections she draws out that suggest that peacebuilding is its raison d’etre. So the article is without direction and reads like a company Press Release regurgitated by a hack.

    Doesn’t do G.ho.st any good.

    As for Glide, I have in fact tried it and if you read the post above, it’s new features make it one of the better web OSs I’ve tried. I still dislike it and can see no reason to use it or recommend it to anyone, because I am yet to be convinced by the need for a “Web OS” and further, their usefulness in regions of limited and intermittent connectivity and mired in conflict.

    I have no desire to, and will not insult you, by questioning your beliefs. I can and will however question the goals of G.ho.st as a corporate entity portrayed by Ms. Kraft to be engaged in peacebuilding. I don’t see any proof of that, but the advantage of being a pessimist, as the adage goes, is that one is constantly proven right or is pleasantly surprised.

    Best,

    Sanjana

  5. Anton
    June 3, 2008 at 12:12 am #

    I disagree but I respect your opinion – stay tuned and you will be pleasantly surprised.

  6. jimmy
    June 20, 2008 at 2:09 pm #

    Hi,

    there exist a few other webtops (online operating systems). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_desktop for a list. Personally, I like the OOS most (http://www.oos.cc) since it offers everything you need to perform everyday tasks (task- and mail management, etc.)

    No matter what technology lies behind the webtop, I guess the advantage of these applications is obvious: Own a personalized desktop without the need to install software.

    Regards,
    Jimmy

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The demise of G.ho.st: Two years too late « ICT for Peacebuilding (ICT4Peace) - March 3, 2010

    […] 3, 2010 TechCrunch reports that G.ho.st will shut down in two weeks. I extensively reviewed G.ho.st in 2008 after fantastic claims made in the media and by its makers that the online OS was somehow so novel […]

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