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Browser swallows OS
Dec. 01, 2008

The idea that Web browsers could eventually replace computer operating systems caused Bill Gates to completely freak out, somewhere around 1994, leading to the "browser wars" with Netscape. Now, a newly announced "Cloud" OS aims to replace netbook operating systems with a simple fast-booting browser-based environment.

The company is Good OS, or gOS, which announced its "Cloud" quick-boot environment for netbooks today at a Netbook expo in Paris. The product appears to be available now for licensing by netbook designers. It follows the release earlier this year of gOS 3.0, Good's widget-enabled distro for netbooks.

Good says gOS Cloud can boot in seconds, into a barebones browser-based environment not unlike the locked-down "kiosk" set-ups at libraries and cafes everywhere. Yet, here, the browser has taken on OS-like features, such as the familiar Mac OS X-like application dock shown in the screenshot below.

Browser swallows OS

In fairness, Cloud is not meant to actually replace operating systems. Rather, it is designed to be the environment most users will use most often. It would be installed in parallel with another OS -- Linux or Windows XP -- typically on low-powered "netbook" or "nettop" hardware. Users needing to run legacy applications could boot into "that other OS" when they really need to.

Really, it's a lot like having a second steering wheel used only to park a car. Windows and increasingly Linux (in its full-blown GNOME/KDE dress, anyway) both seem to be rapidly outrunning the computing resources available on modern hardware, especially the new breed of low-cost hardware being offered for these modern times.

Yet, quick-boot environments such as Cloud may result in Linux outshipping Windows next year, one industry watcher has suggested. Given that most people do most things in a browser these days, it only makes sense to feature the browser front-and-center. If nothing else, it will save users the "challenge" of having to learn Linux.

And who knows. Maybe Steve Ballmer will freak out and either fix Windows' ridiculously long boot-up time (five minutes plus for Vista on dual-core AMD x2 systems? Puh-leeze) or else maybe create a similar fast-boot environment based on Windows and IE.

Let the browser-as-OS wars begin!

-- Henry Kingman

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