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Apple patents 'net-booted' OS contraption

Mac in the sky dream

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Apple has patented a network computing setup that involves a "net-booted" operating system.

First filed in 2006, the patent describes a means of "supplying a reliable and maintainable operating system in a net-booted environment". Apple is building a $1 billion – yes, $1 billion – data center in rural North Carolina, and no one quite knows what it's intended for. So the blogosphere is putting two and two together.

But the ideas in Apple's patent date back to the previous millenium. The filing is a continuation of a patent application submitted in 1999.

Nonetheless, some are dreaming of a "cloud-based" Apple operating system. Google is building cloud operating system of its own – Chrome OS – but Apple's setup is a bit different. Whereas Google has put all applications and data inside the browser – the idea is that almost everything is stored on the net – Apple's system is a classic thin client arrangement.

One incarnation of the system includes a network computing (NC) server and several NC client, and clients are "booted to receive operating system software that is configured differently than that currently." In effect, the patent reads, the system replaces "one or more system volumes on the NC server containing the operating system software with one or more different system volumes." Users are able to bring up their particular OS profiles from different machines, and all this is managed by a network administrator using one of the NC clients.

"When an NC client boots from the network and accesses a stored copy of the operating system from an NC server, the user's preferences are dynamically merged with the system environment provided to the NC client," the patent reads. "Advantageously, since, the user's desktop preferences and other customized settings are all preserved from session to session and supplied to the NC client as it boots from the network, the user may login to any NC client on the network and have the same user experience."

Obviously, this is intended for corporate use. But it could be applied to a consumer set-up as well. Apple specifically mentions that the system is meant to work with Mac OS X, but it says the setup could be applied to other OSes as well, including Windows and Linux.

The server incarnation of Apple's OS has included a NetBoot tool since its original launch, and this too is mentioned in the patent. ®

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