Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Return of the Thick Client?

Web 2.0 is taking all sorts of unexpected directions. The latest to come to my attention are two initiatives aimed at offloading processor load from server to client.

First up, Google announced a new developer project named Native Client. With Native Client, Google aims to "give web developers access to the full power of the client's CPU while maintaining the browser neutrality, OS portability and safety that people expect from web applications." As far as I can see, it's what Java Applets were originally designed to do - and look how successful they've been. At least outside the enterprise environment (where desktop configurations tend to be strictly controlled), applets suffered from the "write once, debug everywhere" syndrome and have largely fallen out of use. It'll be interesting to see whether an Internet-savvy company like Google makes a success of this new approach.

Next, a start-up named Good OS has announced Cloud, "a browser operating system". I am trying hard to get my head around that concept. They claim that it's an environment for enhancing the user's Internet experience and that it can be co-hosted on Windows, Linux or other operating systems. If I have read the scant information available correctly, the idea is that your machine will start up already logged on to your favourite portal (Yahoo, Google, Windows Live...) and that core applications such as Skype, which are accessed from a MacOS-like object dock, run within their own dedicated browser tab on top of Cloud's integrated compressed Linux kernel. Whenever you need to, you can switch to the native OS with a single key press.

Unfortunately the "Why Cloud?" page on Good OS's web site is unfinished, so it is difficult to comprehend the vision behind the product. A clue might be that it is being bundled with the Gigabyte touch-screen Netbook models and so looks like a lower-cost alternative to Windows CE. Perhaps the company is aiming for an "Internet Appliance" niche. It made a name for itself by supplying the gOS Linux operating system for the ultra-low-cost Wal-Mart PCs.

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