Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Cloud OS & The Future of the Operating System

Some exiting developments in the world of cloud operating systems today. Yes I know, operating environments aren't usually associated with the adjective "exciting", but this news is different.

Good OS has introduced a new operating system for cloud computing appropriately called "Cloud," which is the successor to company's Linux-based gOS.

Unlike gOS, Cloud does not open up onto a desktop. Instead, it boots directly into a web browser; after booting up, you are greeted with a full screen browser page which looks like a traditional OS including shortcuts to cloud applications like Google Docs and Calendar as well as Blogger and YouTube. Cloud's so called "proprietary application framework" is said to allow you to run client applications, such as Skype or Media Player, opening them in new tabs just like in Windows or Linux. They don't really give any indication of how this actually is accomplished. Fear not, I have an email to them, I'll let you know as I find out more.

Back to why this is exciting, Cloud is one of the first OS's to embrace the hybrid cloud OS model. A model that combines the best of both worlds, the use of a local CPU for performance with the scale and infinite opportunities of the cloud. Together this creates an unique opportunity to take on the traditional OS's of the world.

You can also think of Cloud OS as being similar to that of the Apple Iphone, where certain applications are loaded directly on the phone (CPU) and where other application components remain on a server some where in the cloud (Internet). This hybrid model seems particularly well suited to emerging economies (Think India, China, etc), where software licensing can be prohibitively expensive. The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project comes to mind. (One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is a non-profit association dedicated to research to develop a low-cost, connected laptop, a technology that could revolutionize how we educate the world's children.)

While I'm on that theme, I find this hybrid model particular interesting for "virtual deskop" deployments, where a user maybe given a netbook or thin client that contains a users core identity, favorites etc while the majority of the functionality is loaded via the cloud (aka the Internet). I will also say, this also sounds an awful like Microsoft's new Software + Services philosophy. A combination of local software and Internet services interacting with one another.

We seem to be quickly moving toward future where the operating system acts more like a portal and less like a traditional application stack. In the case of Good OS's Cloud, unlike other cloud frameworks such as Googles' Chrome, Cloud is its own operating system that runs along side an existing OS such as Windows or linux while securely accessing the CPU. From what I can tell it currently cannot replace the main operating system, but in the future this may very well become the case.

ThinkGOS describes it this way: "Cloud uniquely integrates a web browser with a compressed Linux operating system kernel for immediate access to Internet, integration of browser and rich client applications, and full control of the computer from inside the browser."

They go on to say "Cloud features a beautifully designed browser with an icon dock for shortcuts to favorite apps, tabs for multi-tasking between web and rich client apps, and icons to switch to Windows, power off, and perform other necessary system functions. Users power on their computers, quickly boot into Cloud for Internet and basic applications, and then just power off or boot into Windows for more powerful desktop applications."

In some ways I think they're missing some key opportunities. Rather then switch to Windows for key applications such as Office, or even gaming. I think the opportunity may be to stream the applications "on demand" using remote desktop technologies. So if you'd like to use a more traditional app, then you can do so directly within the browser based OS but in a fully quarantined VM or VNC connection. Another option would be use a technology such as Wine which is an Open Source implementation of the Windows API on top of X, OpenGL, and Unix. (That's a whole other post)

Currently the Cloud operating space is in its infancy, but with companies like Microsoft entering with its Azure framework, it would seem that the future of the OS lies in the cloud.

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