Interview with gOS Founder: “Linux For Human Beings (Who Shop At WAL*MART)”

My first impression of gOS is “Gee, I thought I liked Google.” To put this into perspective, on the back of my car there is a license plate frame with the words “I’m Feeling Lucky.”

This week, WalMart has begun selling a new computer called the gPC for the price of $199. Instead of using Microsoft Windows, this incredibly inexpensive Linux-based computer runs an operating system which is fittingly called “gOS”.

At first look, the systems specifications seem pretty meager, until you have a gander at the list of applications. Instead of utilizing applications on the computer locally, the gPC leverages online applications that are delivered via web browser, such as Google Docs and Spreadsheets. This is an absolutely brilliant idea. All you need is a fast internet connection (and a monitor) to use the computer.

I was able to catch up with David Liu, founder of the gOS project, and ask him some questions about his brainchild.

——————————————————-

Using Web 2.0 applications to form the core of an operating system is genius. When did you realize this it was possible?

Well, I guess a couple things happened… I got interested in Google applications, especially docs and spreadsheets, presentations; and originally, I wanted to create my idea of what a Google OS would look like.. if there were such a mythical OS. As I started looking around at all the Google applications out there, I realized that all of our “computing” could eventually be done in the Google cloud. We just needed an OS that looked really good and pointed people to Google in a really friendly, intelligent way. After seeing this, I got excited because I saw it was also commercially viable for the mainstream end user… Google makes Linux familiar.

How long has gOS been in development?

The Enlightenment windows manager plays a big part in this, and most of our team is from the Enlightenment community. That’s been going on for a long time. gOS is a little less than six months

Why build on Ubuntu, rather than another distribution natively based on Enlightenment?

I can’t comment officially on that but there is a good reason for it. Basically it has to do with the Ubuntu community and vision. I like their mantra “Linux for human beings.” I wanted to take it further.. more like “Linux for human beings who shop at Wal-Mart” (…”and who probably have never heard of Linux”) They’ve done a great job of getting the community behind this, and productively so.

How does Faqly tie into the Operating System?

Faqly is a people powered help page. In the spirit of open source, it’s a place for the gOS community can ask and answer questions for each other. For end users, they can ask about how to do certain things. For developers, they can help answer (or ask the harder questions for fellow developers, and the core team at gOS) It’s a nice place for developers to get more in touch with end users too. I think we’re attracting developers who want to see open source into the mainstream, so everything we do has a special purpose.. even a little thing like using faqly for our “F1 Help”

Similar in theory to an FAQ wiki, except much easier to use, right?

Yes, more centered around people helping people, not just a page of information co-authored by the community… essentially the same, but the interaction design and feeling of it is just more community. Faqly is still in alpha mode, and we’re the first and only group to use it yet. They’ll launch in the next month or so probably. I think faqly can hit it off with the open source community pretty well, but will be open to working with other websites too.

Why did you place Facebook on the desktop instead of another social networking site like MySpace or Orkut?

We liked the developer platform and because we just use Facebook more in our community. Everex partnered with Facebook on getting us the icon.. that helped too.

Is there a difference between what is available via download verses what ships on the gPC?

The difference is in proprietary codecs, on the gPC, you can watch DVDs, play MP3s, etc. On the downloadable version, we’ve removed those.

Was Google cooperative towards the idea?

Everex and Google had a signed agreement for us to preload the Google toolbar. I actually went to Google yesterday to demo the real gPC out of the box, literally (i took one from the line). It’s not an official “google pc” or “google os”, it is what I think one should look like though. Google knew what we were doing, we showed them screenshots mid development, etc. We’ll keep our contacts there updated as we work on the next gPC with an improved gOS.

Please don’t sell out to Microsoft.

Oh yeah… we won’t.

Thanks for you time.

Thanks also. I hope this will get more developers excited and on board with us. I think it will be a fun ride.

——————————————————-

I’d like to extend a special thanks to David Liu for interviewing with me. For those of you wishing to help out, you can find the developer section on http://www.thinkgos.com/.

Let’s take a quick look at gOS and see just exactly what it has to offer. The “Favorite Applications” that appear in the task bar along the bottom of the screen are as follows:gos.png

  1. Firefox
  2. Google Mail
  3. Google News
  4. Google Calendar
  5. Google Maps
  6. Google Docs and Spreadsheets
  7. Google Product Search
  8. Blogger
  9. YouTube
  10. Facebook
  11. Faqly
  12. Meebo
  13. Rythmbox
  14. Skype
  15. Wikipedia
  16. Xine

Other applications which are loaded include GIMP for photo editing, and the excellent OpenOffice.org 2.2 office suite. The task bar is extremely easy to use – simply click an icon and Firefox opens up the application in most cases. The Google Toolbar is bundled with Firefox as well.

If you need another reason to buy, 1 year of free 24×7 technical support comes with purchase of a gPC. That’s more than some companies offer on computers that cost hundreds of dollars more.

gpc.png

Hardware Specifications

  • 1.5GHz, VIA C7®-D Processor
  • 512MB DDR2 533MHz SDRAM
  • 80GB Hard Disk Drive
  • DVD-ROM/D-RW Optical Drive
  • VIA UniChrome Pro IGP Graphics
  • Realtek 6-Channel Audio
  • 10/100 Ethernet Port
  • DB 15-Pin VGA Port
  • Six USB 2.0 Ports
  • RJ-11 Port
  • Headphone/Line-Out Port
  • Two Microphone/Line-In Ports
  • Serial Port
  • Parallel Port
  • Keyboard
  • Mouse
  • Amplified Stereo Speakers

In the end, gOS (and by default, the gPC) is an extremely functional system that hits the sweet spot of the “online desktop” cliché with professional quality, utilizing Google Applications in a easy to use and graphically rich environment. If you’re interested in trying out Linux for the first time, I would suggest downloading gOS or checking out the gPC at Walmart.

Woohoo, I got linked by Techcrunch.

  • AirborneDude

    Me again.

    I tried gOS and it is cool. It is way slick. After configuring it a little and adding a command line icon to the menu bar on the bottom, it is nice. I am enjoying using it.

    I have it virtualized on evil Vista on my latop. It runs real fast on top of Vista (Which is amazing) and I end up using it 90% more than Vista. So I need to nuke Vista and install it on my laptop.

    gOS will become my new web server. I have gotten Apache and PHP (on my virtualized machine) to run easy.

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  • drac63

    Hi,

    In responce to the above comments.

    Firstly I’m from down under. Last Year I installed Ubuntu for 1st time it appealed to me as windows user.

    Down under with a 16″ monitor it sells for about US$450.

    The important questions does it really satisfy the users needs :-

    1. The continued relience on the net, a low income family will struggle with hi download rates per month.
    Australian Internet plans are much higher than that of the states.

    The increased Web cost will cost far greater over a 3 yr period than the cost of the Pc.

    2.It seems ideal for a family with kids doing research and web browsing.

    But at this time and in the near future will it satisfy the game junkies that can’t run their applications.

    3.Let alone any specific appliactions ie. specific business needs etc.

    So unnfornutely it will struggle against the Windows Avalanche.

    4. Is it really a cost saving. as stated above for around $350 you can have a low end pc ,Monitor & windows.

    Like most others, I look forward to the day that there is an alternataive to Microsoft. Untill developers can create patches so there software will run on linux based software, we will have to endure with what we have, a globalized Monopoly.

    Please , please developers make it happen.

    But beware “is Google the next Microsoft” or is big brother looming with all our storred data on their severs.
    Are we entering the twighlight zone????

  • AirborneDude

    I tried out gOS a lot. I gave it a chance, I guess I jumped the gun in my earlier quotes. It isn’t there yet, it needs more work.

    I did download gOS v2.0 but haven’t tried it out.

    I am not knocking gOS, I think the concept is awesome, but it does need work. Personally, I think Google should help out the gOS development crew and create a kick butt flavor of Linux. Google has the resources now and they can compete with Microsoft on several levels now, why not compete on the OS level as well?

    That is the main problem with Microsoft, they don’t have to much to worry about on the OS level. They force tons of crap on users and are driven by profit instead of quality. They released products to early because they want to make $$, then the users suffer with weird bugs and strange behaviors from the OS, until Microsoft decides to release a service pack. Why not release the product correctly the first time?

    Only thing Microsoft does very good is they carter to the developer. There development tools are the best around. You can create applications, websites, etc.. very quickly and they make it very easy to debug your code.

    I found another flavor of Linux that is worth checking out. It runs on older systems very well and comes pretty complete. It is a flavor of PCLinux, it is called TinyME.

  • Ellipsis

    First off, gOS…

    Wow… That’s just… depressing.

    >Well, the idea is nice, and $200 is cheap. But it does
    >not include a screen, which would cost about $150 (at
    >least). Look at some other Wal-mart pc’s: the same
    >computer with windows installed and including a screen
    >costs $300….
    >$300 – $150 = $150…. I would buy the windows one and
    >get refunding for windows….

    Uhhuhh. I got my monitor for $20. It’s not the best but, considering it’s sporting a 1600×1200 resolution, it’s good.

  • http://yahoo katlego

    in what programming languagewas gOS written in??

  • http://yahoo katlego

    in what programming language was gOS written in??

  • imma

    > in what programming language was gOS written in??
    not sure, but it’s a varient of linux (based on Ubuntu 7.10)
    from :
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GOS_(Linux_distribution)
    and also :
    http://www.thinkgos.com/technology.html

  • AirborneDude

    Linux is written in assembly language, C and C++…

    Operating system kernels are written in assembly, maybe parts of it are in C… that goes for Microsoft Windows, and Unix(Like Apple MAC’s OS).. When the OS has to talk to the hardware, the best way is to use assembly, but you can do that with C and C++ to.

    That is called low level programming, meaning the lowest level is machine language, 1′s and 0′s, the next level up is assembly, next level up from assembly is c, then C++… then you get into higher level languages like Visual Basic, Delphi even and C#(Sharp) can fall into a higher level language, those are Windows type compilers, for Linux it would be like Gambas, or even RapidQ Basic. Higher level languages take more overhead to compile and run than lower level.

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