As more and more full-featured web applications look to replace traditional desktop apps, the concept of a web-based operating system has gained a lot of momentum. And since Wal-Mart began selling a $199 PC running a free Linux distribution—called gOS—with a hearty dose of webapp integration, we're getting closer. If you've got an extra PC gathering dust, gOS is not only a worthy operating system for a cheap PC from Wal-Mart; it's also an excellent (and free) way to repurpose your old PC. But I'm a power-user, you say, if I'm going to run Linux it's not going to be this kiddie web crap. Be that as it may, gOS is actually running full-on Ubuntu with a paint job in the form of the Enlightenment window manager. You still get access to the rest of the wealth of Linux applications available. The main difference is the focus of gOS, and that's webapps—more specifically, Google webapps. According to the founder of gOS, It's not an official "Google PC" or "Google OS"; it is what I think one should look like, though.
Of course, gOS provides shortcuts to more than just Google applications. In all, gOS's launchbar offers up the following who's-who of web applications:
- Email: Gmail
- Chat: Meebo
- News: Google News
- Calendar: Google Calendar
- Maps: Google Maps
- Office: Google Docs and Spreadsheets
- Shopping: Google Product Search
- Social Networking: Facebook
- Online Video: YouTube
- Reference: Wikipedia
- Blogging: Blogger
Want to check your email? Just click the big Gmail icon. Watch some online video? Click YouTube. The default browser for web browsing is, naturally, Firefox, so you'll also be able to install your favourite Firefox extensions and tweak your browser to your heart's content.
gOS Is Just Ubuntu with a Paint Job
gOS is a full-fledged Linux operating system, so regular desktop apps are available as well. If you don't like Google Docs and Spreadsheets, for example, gOS comes with OpenOffice.org pre-installed (along with GIMP for image editing, Skype for VoIP, Rhythmbox for music, and Xine for video). If you're looking for an application that's not pre-installed, gOS uses the Synaptec Package Manager for dead simple installs of new applications.
gOS also includes a desktop-integrated Google search box that launches your search in the distraction-free browser WebRunner for lightning quick searches and results.
So Why Use It?
There are a few instances that gOS could come in particularly handy, especially if you're repurposing a PC (that is, it's no longer your primary PC). First, it's an excellent gateway PC for general use. After all, what do you use a general purpose home PC for other than the internet? Second, gOS offers no-brainer access to many of the most popular web sites on the internet, making it great for kids or grandparents alike getting started with their first PC. Imagine setting up a Google account for someone who's not terribly keen on computers and then handing them over to a PC with gOS. Getting started from there couldn't be easier.
It's not that gOS does something that no other operating system is capable of. But if the web is what you're most interested in using your computer for, gOS will be customised and ready to tackle the most popular webapps out of the box.
Give the Live CD a Try
Luckily you don't have to make any major commitment to try out gOS, since—like many good Linux distributions—gOS comes in the form of a bootable Live CD. So go grab the Live CD image (which should download quickly over BitTorrent) and burn it to a CD (I'd recommend using ImgBurn).
Once you've burned your Live CD, reboot your computer with the CD in the drive and gOS will automatically boot up. Now's the time to get a feel for whether or not you like the look, feel and idea behind gOS. (This is also a good time to find out if gOS supports your hardware—most configurations should work fine, but the bane of Linux is the difficulty of supporting a wide variety of hardware.) Keep in mind that gOS will run more slowly off the Live CD than it would if it were installed on your hard drive because it has to read everything from the CD, which is paint-drying slow when compared to hard drive speeds.
If you decide you want to take the plunge and install gOS, just double-click the Install icon on the desktop and follow the simple installation instructions. The installer can create a new partition for gOS when you install it, but since you're repurposing a PC that you're not getting much use from anyway, go ahead and choose the guided install on the entire disk. Once you finish the setup, gOS will start copying files and the installation should be complete in about 15 minutes or so.
Or... You Could Pay for It
In the end, perhaps the most interesting aspect of gOS is its tie-in with the $199 PC from Wal-Mart (hey, money talks). Compare that $199 to the $129 single user licence for Leopard or the $100-$260 Vistas and Wal-Mart is selling a full-fledged computer for about the cost of a Windows or Mac operating system by itself. Sounds pretty tempting to me. Still, if you're a full-fledged webapp lover or you just want a simple point of access to the web for the less computer savvy in your life—and you've got an old PC gathering dust—gOS is worth a look.