We reported Thursday on the gPC going on sale at Wal-Mart, a $199 bare minimum PC that runs a Linux package by the name of gOS. Unlike some initial reports suggested, this isn’t the long fabled Google Operating System, but the folks behind it most definitely had Google on their mind.
In an interview at Fsckin, David Liu, founder of the gOS project gave some indication of what they are trying to achieve:
I got interested in Google applications, especially docs and spreadsheets, presentations; and originally, I wanted to create my idea of what a Google OS would look like.. if there were such a mythical OS. As I started looking around at all the Google applications out there, I realized that all of our “computing” could eventually be done in the Google cloud. We just needed an OS that looked really good and pointed people to Google in a really friendly, intelligent way. After seeing this, I got excited because I saw it was also commercially viable for the mainstream end user… Google makes Linux familiar.
gOS is billed as “Linux for human beings who shop at Wal-Mart” but how does it really stack up? gOS is available for download so I gave it whirl under VMWare Fusion to see if we are seeing the future of PCs.
Not your usual Linux desktop
The most obvious difference in gOS to a usual Linux install is the use of the Enlightenment windows manager as opposed to the more commonly used Gnome and KDE managers. KDE and Gnome in a standard install look and feel a little like Windows, Enlightenment looks a bit like OS X, complete with the rounded window open/ close buttons to the left of each window.
A dock bar runs across the bottom and provides links to a range of Google tools, Meebo, Skype, Wikipedia, Facebook and a couple of OS specific apps. A Google search box is embedded in the desktop in the top right corner.
A leaf icon bottom left opens up a familiar Windows style menu, complete with program short cuts and settings options. Interestingly the Live CD comes with Open Office, despite the emphasis on Google apps elsewhere.
I tested a number of Google apps and they all work, pretty much as they would on any machine. Apps are delivered via Firefox. The only drawback I found is one of aesthetics: the standard font pack in gOS doesn’t make for the nicest online experience, but many wouldn’t notice.
The dock shortcuts are handy, and will probably be more appreciated by those who aren’t highly computer literate, like those who cant save a bookmark or type in a web page…perhaps that’s a little bit harsh but most people don’t need gigantic shortcut buttons.
This isn’t a PC anyone reading this article will likely buy, the specs are low and if you’re competent enough to read blogs then you can use an operating system that isn’t gOS. It is however an interesting exercise in where computers may well be heading. In a range of areas, web apps are now the equal to their offline equivalents, or are quickly catching up. If we get to the point where we can do the majority of our activites via an online interface, the need for all-powerful operating systems and computers diminishes. gPC and gOS is a nice try, and for people out in middle America looking for a cheap second or third PC for their kids to do their homework on, or conversely to do their own work on as their kids are using the main PC for gaming, its a pretty good buy. This is very much a first generation, or perhaps even 0.1 effort, but going forward it’s an option we will see more and more of. In 10, 15 or even 20 years time, when the idea of locally installed applications may be foreign, the likes of gOS may well be the norm.