Google OS gOS - if at first you don't succeed...
...fail, fail again
Fail and You gOS, the brain trust behind the failed $200 Linux-based “gPC” at WalMart, has seen fit to throw the dice one more time, introducing an operating system called Cloud that lets your computer boot into a browser. I, for one, welcome this innovation. I've always been a fan of neutering the most versatile machine in human history, restricting its use to only a small subset of the intended functionality. Yeah, this one's a winner from the start.
Last year, this company partnered with PC manufacturer Everex to sell a low-cost computer that ran Linux instead of Windows, the theory under examination being, “if we try to mask extra shitty hardware with an operating system that looks sort of good, will people buy it, even though it's incompatible with 99% of retail software?” The answer, a resounding “no”, came as WalMart - their only distribution channel - neglected to renew the order after about six months, citing “tepid customer response.”
Some of us had learned this lesson from the first Silicon Valley Technology Orgy. If a PC doesn't come with Windows, customers aren't going to buy it, no matter how cheap it is. (The exception to this rule seems to be Apple, where a small but profitable fraction of customers buy a machine that's an order of magnitude more expensive than a PC but doesn't come with Windows. Call it the Divine Touch of Steve Jobs). Still, this doesn't stop some asshat from re-introducing a Linux PC every couple of years, hoping that the price point has become a more powerful motivator than, oh, I don't know, functionality.
Alright, so you strike out the first time. Most people do. Maybe customers don't want a desktop with Linux, but they'll tolerate a laptop - no, a netbook. Many of these little-engine-that-couldn't computers already ship with Linux, so why not gOS Cloud? It's a curious proposition, considering that Cloud can do significantly less than existing netbook operating systems already do, being restricted to the browser. Gigabyte has agreed to ship Cloud in its touchscreen netbooks, so if gOS is as good at software usability as it is at suckering hardware manufacturers into partnerships, this thing might have a shot.
Let's have a look at Cloud's extensive feature list, to see what sets it apart from the competition and find out why users are just going to love it. This is what gOS lists on the Cloud 'Features" page. I shit you not:
- "Web Browser with Icon Dock Inside": You have to wonder if software development environments nowadays ship with an assistant that pops up, “I see you're shamelessly and poorly imitating Apple. Do you want to either A) kill yourself or B) give up this line of work and start a new career as a degenerate alcoholic?”. Evidently, they don't, because products like Cloud still exist.
- "Network Manager": A program that lets you easily configure the computer's network connections? You don't say. Fuck me, what a hotbed of innovation.
- "Power Button": Knuth said that premature optimization is the root of all evil, but I sure hope they ignored him and optimized the hell out of the “turn off” code path. That's going to save people the most time.
- "Boot to Windows XP/Vista or Linux": Hey! Finally something useful. At least they've provided users with a ready answer to the question “What the fuck is this? Where's Windows?”
- "Battery Life Indicator": This feature has been included in every operating system that runs on a portable device since the dawn of time, mostly just because of tradition. It's nice to see that gOS isn't stepping too far out of the norm here.
- "Volume Controls": Oh, good. My speakers are controllable just like they have been since the invention of speakers. I was questioning whether Cloud would include this ability, but now I know because they've explicitly enumerated it. Crisis avoided!
- "My Files & Viewers": You mean my computer isn't just a dumb terminal to the internet? I can actually save files and shit on it? Ha, madness. Next, you're going to be telling me that not every program I ever need to use is available via a web browser. Crazy shit, man.
And there you have it. gOS Cloud's sales pitch. Wow. Just uninstall your C compilers. It works out best for everyone that way. These guys are spewing so much fail into the atmosphere that US President Elect Obama is drafting legislation to put them under the watchful eye of the Environmental Protection Agency because they're a hazard to the public health.
I suppose the only semblance of hope this company has is piggybacking on Google's name. gOS is technically shorthand for “Good OS,” and there is even a disclaimer on the bottom of their page that they are in no way affiliated with Google or their partners. Said disclaimer is in small text that is very close to the background in color, just the type of thing that will shut the lawyers up. But the rest of their website screams 'THIS IS A GOOGLE PRODUCT."
Google.com is the web page shown in the screenshot of Cloud, along with Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Spreadsheet, YouTube, and Blogger in the dock. The homepage has a slideshow presentation hosted on Google Docs. There's a Google custom search bar at the bottom of every page. The company blog is hosted on Blogspot.com, just as Google's official blogs are. There's a page advertising "gOS 3 Gadgets" which runs Google Gadgets on your Linux desktop. The company uses Google Groups to run their support forums.
But no, this software product is distributed by Good OS, LLC, and they want you to be very clear on that. So clear, in fact, that they put screenshots of the OS displaying Yahoo and MSN Search in their slideshow - behind the Google screenshot, of course.
You can't blame them for trying (though you can blame them for failing). I had previously talked trash on using the browser as an “OS” from a technical perspective on my personal blog because the application stack sucks. These guys heeded my words and slimmed the stack down quite a bit. In fact, they even pillaged the images that I spent countless hours creating in their slideshow:
A browser-based OS is a shitty idea from every perspective: technical, usability, and business. Fortunately, the justice of fail is swift. ®
Ted Dziuba is a co-founder at Milo.com You can read his regular Reg column, Fail and You, every other Monday.