Monday, December 25, 2006

Good Referential Ten 10 online operating systems

As we we’re waiting for Google to launch its own Google OS (if the rumours are true, of course), I’ve checked out 10 web operating systems and what they can do. Not many of them feel like finished and fully usable products, but there are some true gems among them.
Admit it: you didn’t think there were that many WebOSes around, did you?

Neither did I. You can find month or two old articles on the web which talk about a WebOS as a recently forged concept, yet to be realized. YouOS was practically the only one that had media coverage, so when I began the research for this article, I hoped to find five usable WebOS applications at best.

I was wrong. There are over 10 fully functional WebOS applications out there, and a couple more that are announced or in closed betas.

But what is a WebOS (not to be confused with another definition of the term, see here), or a Webtop , anyway ? Here’s a simple definition: WebOS is a virtual operating system that runs in your web browser . More precisely, it’s a set of applications running in a web browser that together mimic, replace or largely supplement a desktop OS environment. It’s a tough field to start in for a Web 2.0 entrepreneur, because to be successful you need to create several applications that are at least as good as other competitors, and you need to connect them all into a usable bundle. What’s also expected by most users is that all this looks decent, operates similarly to a “real” OS and behaves as a real “OS” would, and is relatively bug-free. Simply put, to gain real everyday users, your WebOS has to be damn good . We’ll see how these newcomers fare in the following months and when (and if) some big giant like Google decides to create their own WebOS.

So, without further ado, let’s see what the 10 WebOS services I’ve gathered here (in alphabetical order) today can offer to the user. Bear in mind that not many of these services are mature enough to receive a proper, thorough review; this is more of a ‘first look’ kind of thing than a full-featured review.

1. Craythur

craythur.jpgCraythur is a completely new WebOS that puts big emphasis on looks, and it does that part really well, with a well chosen desktop background and transparent window borders similar to those Vista’s Aero. However, the apps themselves are more alpha than beta. For one thing, they’re mostly not translated from Spanish. They work, but nothing more than that; none of them can hold their own against any decent comparative application, web-based or otherwise. Since this is obviously an application at its very early stages, let’s just leave it at good-looking and come back in a few months to see the progress.

2. Desktoptwo

desktoptwo.jpgIf there’s such things as “serious WebOS players”, Desktoptwo is one of them. It’s a Flash based fully featured WebOS which requires registration to try, immediately giving you your own mini-site and your own Desktoptwo email address to use. Desktoptwo is Flash-based, and while I’m not thrilled about Flash Web 2.0 applications, most of the OSes from this list work in Flash, and I must admit that some do it pretty well. Desktoptwo’s apps can be slow, and a certain amount of bugs are present (when i clicked on Message Board preferences, everything got garbled up), but not so much to ruin your experience with the service. One more thing: Desktoptwo opens in a popup, which is sure to annoy some users.

Feature-wise, Desktoptwo delivers and then some. You’ve got search, clock and sysinfo widget, a dock, MP3 player, RSS reader, Instant messenger, OpenOffice, HTML editor, notepad, and several others. Unfortunately, several of these open in popups, which somehow makes you remember you’re in Windows. Furthermore, if you close the Desktoptwo window and log in again, some of your settings are forgotten. However, your content, for example, the files you save to the desktop, or the RSS feeds you add in the very functional RSS reader are remembered over sessions, which is good. Overall, Desktoptwo does many things well, but it needs to iron out a few usability/UI issues to become a really usable WebOS.

3. EyeOS

eyeos.jpgTaking a bit of a different approach than other sites in this bunch, EyeOS offers you to download the EyeOS server files and install them on your on web server to use as you please. You can also try out a demo which is hosted on the free public server, which also provides free accounts of eyeOS to everyone who wants to use it without owning a private server. The public server is funded through donations, and there’s still quite a way to go, so if you like EyeOS, go ahead and help them.

EyeOS itself is functional, not too buggy, but a bit slow and a bit bland. You have your standard calendar, calculator, address book, RSS reader, simple word processor, file uploader and a few others, but they have pretty limited functionality, and they all look more like test apps than something you’d really use in day to day work. Furthermore, some of the options simply do not work, for example changing the wallpaper.

Although EyeOS seems to be an ambitious project, it doesn’t offer much more than, for example, Craythur. It looks nice, it works, but its apps aren’t interesting enough to actually use it for any serious work.

4. Glide

glide.jpgThis text was actually postponed because Glide registration was closed until 19th of December, and I wanted to squeeze it into this list. And lo and behold; they’ve gotten real serious after the relaunch. So serious that besides free registration, they offer things like family standard and family premium plans (for the last one the fee is $149.95 yearly). For registration. they also require verification via an SMS message. This got me interested, as it is the only WebOS around that thinks of itself highly enough to actually start charging for the service.

And, to some extent, Glide delivers. It’s Flash-based, and it’s not really trying to mimic Windows or any similar desktop environment, choosing a unique GUI of its own instead. It lets you upload and store up to 1 GB of files, read RSS feeds, manage bookmarks, appointments, chat, create documents, view picturess. It’s also designed pretty well - at least at first sight. However, it’s somewhat similar to DesktopTwo in some areas, sharing a number of negative traits with it. First of all, some apps open in a popup, for which I really can’t see a good reason. Furthermore, some of the applications don’t seem to be as polished graphically as the rest of the interface. Some of the apps are just plain buggy - the Calendar simply did not work, reporting an error as soon as I clicked it.

These are mostly minor errors, but they add up. For me, an additional problem was the interface itself which is pretty confusing. It took time figuring out how to do simple tasks like reading RSS feeds, and once I closed certain areas of the Webtop, it was pretty hard to find them again. Like many other services in this list, you can definitely see that a lot of effort has been put into Glide, and some of its parts are done well, however it still has a long way to go (especially if you pay for it).

5. Goowy

goowy.jpgGoowy is also Flash-based, but I don’t feel any of the usual negative traits that Flash can bring. It has lots of well-written and usable applications, it’s not lightning fast but it’s not too slow either, and it all works within the same window with the standard desktop-OS-like toolbar. The apps…well, the apps are great. They open in windows you can move around your webtop using a pretty precise grid, which makes organization really easy. You’ve got your standard file-uploader, mail application, RSS reader, instant messenger, bookmarks, calendar and contacts. All of these apps are very well made; for example, the RSS reading functionality is almost as good as in my online reader of choice - Netvibes. I wouldn’t exchange Netvibes for it just yet, but if weren’t able to use Netvibes anymore, Goowy would do just fine. Same goes for other applications, which makes Goowy by far the most usable WebOS in this list.

As far as settings go, you’ve got a lot to choose from. Actually, Goowy is so advanced that I almost feel bad giving it a short rundown instead of a full-featured review it deserves, and I will probably make up for it sometime. Let’s just mention it has a spell checker and a spam filter, which shows the devotion to detail in this product.

Although this text is not a contest, if I had to pick just one WebOS to use, Goowy would be it - and by a big margin. The learning curve is very short; it looks sexy, it has a solid number of well-written applications, and it’s all pretty-much bug free. Great job.

6. Orca

orca.jpgWebOS is a pretty complex application and there’s no two ways about it. So when I see things like “Muly” as one choice for the month of birth or when the “create account” button is missing altogether, I think “sloppy”. And that’s exactly how Orca turned out to be in the end.

I will utter three little words and 70% of readers will skip to the next item in the list: no Firefox support. And they’re right: you simply cannot create an application meant primarily for tech-aware users and not have support for the tech-savvy browser of choice. But even in IE, Orca is simply an unfinished, early alpha, hey-i-can-now-invite-a-few-friends-to-test-this product. Best of luck to the developers, but at this stage Orca is not worth your time.

7. Purefect

purefect.jpgPurefect is also at an early stage of development, but it’s at least showing some promise. It tries to mimic the Windows environment completely, down to the icons, which is in my opinion the wrong path to choose. There are just a few apps, like file explorer, memory game and calculator, and as far as settings go you can set the display preferences. It’s functional, but pretty buggy (you can access other users’ files in the file explorer), and there simply isn’t much to do. Like Craythur, it might be interesting to check it out again in a couple of months to see if there’s any progress, but for now it’s just not usable.


ssoe.jpgSSOE seems to be a project that’s looking far ahead. The author is the first to admit that the kernel of the OS is perhaps 10% written at this point and it gives you a choice of a relatively stable and a newer, unstable version to choose from.

And it’s all true. SSOE looks is more a technology demo than something you would even consider to use, regardless of which version you choose. But even at this early stage of development, I will feel free to give the author a pointer: those huge icons, and badly done brushed metal windows, are ugly. Noone is going to use them if they look like that. Other than that I can’t say much about SSOE because 80% of stuff I’ve tried to click on did not work. Best of luck in the future, next please.

9. XinDESK

xindesk.jpgXinDESK is the only one out of the 10 WebOS apps listed here that I didn’t actually try out, because they don’t have a demo or an alpha version yet. However, browsing through the author’s blog one can find some interesting facts about the service. Here’s a couple of quotes:

“The core of Xindesk is a WebOS featuring application that opens and saves the standard office formats. Xindesk is the first web operating system that works easily, even for people without deep computer knowledge. The WebOS is an open platform, just like Windows and Mac OS. This enables anyone to develop new applications.”

“Every Xindesk application you develop can also be installed on all versions of windows.”

All in all, it doesn’t sound too shoddy, and I look forward to checking out this service again when it’s available to the public. You can check out a couple of screenshots over at XinDESK blog.

10. YouOS

youos.jpgBefore I’ve started writing this piece, the only OS I’ve heard something about in the news was YouOS. And you can see that a fair amount of serious development went into the product, as there are quite a number of useful applications here, including a very good chat client, IM software, file browser, RSS reader and a couple of others. The applications can be moved accross the desktop, look pretty much like standard desktop apps and respond well with some minor issues (for example, the resizing of the RSS reader window did not go too smoothly). You can browse through your open applications using a toolbar similar to the Windows taskbar, which also works as intended.

Unfortunately, YouOS is a bit lacking in the design department. It’s windows and applications are usable, but they’re certainly not beautiful. It does not impede the functionality, but it does somewhat diminish the overall experience.

As far as the general usability applications go, I’d say YouOS takes a second place to Goowy. Its apps are fully functional, but lack a few details, be it in the design or functionality department, that would keep me from using YouOS on a daily basis. However, YouOS is definitely a very serious contender in the WebOS field, and it might turn into a force to be reckoned with.


So, there we go - a short scan of 10 web operating systems shows us that this neck of the woods is promising, but still young and suffering from many a beginner’s disease. I’d say that YouOS, Goowy and DesktopTwo are the names you should watch now and in the near future, while the others *might* turn into promising products, but we’ll have to wait a month or two for that to happen. Also, keep in mind that while it’s relatively easy to judge who has the best functionality, it’s much harder to see who has the best code, or the most solid framework to build upon, so it’s safe to say that we can expect a few surprises to happen here.