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.