Web-based OS Desktops

The web-community has been abuzz with the future of Web2.0 (and some Web3.0 references). Where is the future of online sites and applications? Computer users have heard about "online operating systems" for quite awhile (referring to the modern web as an operating system, not your client/server technologies of yester-year).

Bandwidth is finally getting to a useable amount such that large User Interfaces can be piped across the magic wires with latency akin to using a slightly sluggish machine (aka Windows). Furthermore, browsers have begun settling down and supporting some standards and pretty cool technologies. Web applications can not be built on XHTML, Javascript, PHP, Python and not in ActiveX.

The result has been impressive sets of applications, and even the birth of interesting "Operating Systems" - though perhaps "Operating Enviroment" is a better term. The following sections review the 3 web-based OS's that have popped up on my radar. They're all very young and immature, so this review isn't conclusive. Some are in very active development, with support and functionality changing montly.

However, it is a very interesting arena, and starting out at this point, they have the ability to shape and formulate the future of web applications.


eyeOS ScreenshotEyeOS is the most intense user interface, as the designers have a fascination with neon colors. Perhaps candy on steroids is an apt description. EyeOS has several major features, one of which is the ability to download and install your own copy of EyeOS. While this requires a user to have and understand how to run a server (or webhost service), the user also has more control over their OS and their data and not reliant on the service remaining for them to get to their data.

Another incredible feature is the ability for users to develop and install third-party applications. EyeOS is written in PHP and supports install, uninstall of application bundles, as well as open to developers modifying the code or their own applications. EyeApp is a new website that showcases available applications for installing on your EyeOS.

EyeOS is a GPL product and seems to have an active development community.


Porcupine OS ScreenshotPorcupine is the Linux User Interface of the web-based OS in this review. Check out the list of features. Most seem like application or demonstration of Innoscript's new technologies.

Porcupine is also in active development. They released a new version November 20 with an enhanced interface and more Ajax support (yay bandwagon). The OS is written with Python Servlets and XUL for an interface definition.

The demo version had a tendency to lock-up for me during login. Also, there are no applications or toys to play with in the demo. Perhaps Porcupine is too young to have a large community, but there is plenty of documentation and interface ability provided by Innoscripts for developing plugins and applications.

Porcupine is released under the LGPL


GoGUI ScreenshotGoGUI looks like a Windows 98-style desktop (not the best UI), but is decently quick and easy to use. There are no additional applications or availability of plugins. GoGUI seems to be primarily a file storage and note interface. It appears to be written in ASP (Microsoft's version of PHP) and the user can only use the provided service location.GoGUI also offers Silver membership (default is perhaps Bronze?) which has additional support for groups, families, and corporations.

GoGUI is currently free for its simple interface, but there is not information on the future of the service or company.


As I mentioned, these Operating Systems (environments) are all very young, with just the faintest outline of the full-figured beauties they may one day become. I don't feel any of them is ready for prime-time usage, although EyeOS comes the closest to actually supporting a fully-usable environment.

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About the Author

Andrew Turner is an advocate of open standards and open data. He is actively involved in many organizations developing and supporting open standards, including OpenStreetMap, Open Geospatial Consortium, Open Web Foundation, OSGeo, and the World Wide Web Consortium. He co-founded CrisisCommons, a community of volunteers that, in coordination with government agencies and disaster response groups, build technology tools to help people in need during and after a crisis such as an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, hurricane, flood, or wildfire.