Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Is the future the web OS?

With more capable and feature complete browsers, it becomes easy to develop newer things that were never imagined before. To the extent of building an operating system using Flash or AJAX.

Quite a few have cropped up recently. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_desktop for a list of in-development WebOSes.

So, what do I get out of a web OS?

Location independence, information is stored in a central location can can be accessed over the web from anywhere.

This is very much down the drain if you own a portable device or computer as you have all the info you need. But, there are instances where you may not be allowed to carry your portables, where as you might have access to the Internet where you can quickly pull out
the information you need.

This could be an advantage as well as a dis-advantage, the latter being, a single point of failure render non-availability / loss / leakage of your documents. But, some OSes do allow you to save your data locally as well.

Platform independence, indifference to the browsers host. It does not matter anymore if you are running Linux or Windows or the OSX. You are also freed from the nuances specific to the operating systems.

Swing did this for Java, but comes with a huge baggage (not much according to current standards) of installing the run-time on all machines to run your application.

The downside is, you have to learn to use a new OS that implements the most common features of all operating systems and introduce a few quirks or features that is unique.

Desktop persistence, where your desktop looks the same irrespective of the machine you access them from. It is the same from where you left off...

Some OSes even come out with an SDK to let the community develop new applications.

So what do web OSes in general lack:

Performance - or lack thereof. Most of implemented on top of scripting languages and are suited for business applications. Do not expect to see full fledged image editors or 3D games out of these.

Security - Some one else is managing your data. A slip would end up in loosing some or all of your data.

Reliance on connectivity - Downtime would deny access to your data.

Application range - The other day, I was looking for an application that draws the sky-chart based on your locale. Can you find such an application for a WebOS? Most of the application are
stripped down to the bare essentials as it would prove too costly to download each app over the net every time.

So, if you are looking for performance, security, alternative applications and would probably be disconnected from the net, then the WebOS is not for you. On the other hand, if you are on the move, do not have a portable device or restrict to the less esoteric features of an application, it may come in handy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_operating_system provides a brief overview of what a Web OS is.

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