Sunday, November 06, 2005

Browser OS - A Single Application Operating System

In his Observer column this week (Pitiful spectacle of an old DOS trying to do new tricks) John Naughton comments on the announcement of Microsoft Office Live:

"...a web service is technospeak for a computer function that is available via a browser rather than from a program running on your computer. A web search is an example. So are Hotmail and Google Mail, Maps, Froogle, Blogger and others.

"The idea of such services is almost as old as the web itself, but it is only with the advent of widespread broadband access that they have started to come into their own, because they can now offer levels of performance comparable to locally-running software.

" access web services, all you need is a browser - and it doesn't have to be Microsoft's own Internet Explorer. Nor does your computer have to run Windows. Firefox running on Linux or Safari running on a Mac are just as good for web mail or search as Explorer running on Windows."

Which got me thinking... What do I really need from my operating system, if I'm doing everything through a browser?

The browser would have to be quite a powerful one, of course - standards compliant, able to accept extensions, a robust (and quick) implementation of Javascript, etc.

It would also be handy if it came with a simple server that could serve text documents, like HTML, and XML, as well as multimedia files. (If Google Desktop can ship with a small browser included, I'm sure Mozilla could too).

So just looking at the browser, we'd quickly come up with quite a comprehensive list of requirements for the operating system, but hopefully less than if we had to support an open-ended number of unknown applications. (Or perhaps not - I never have taken an operating systems course...)

On the hardware side, too, there'd be a need to get all the right drievers in place. But what drivers would be shipped with our installer disk?

In my minimal, Browser Operating System (BOS), I'd only want access to the drivers I need for the system I've got.

Over the last 3 years, our home PC set-up has acquired two new external USB modems (one when we got broadband, when when I upgraded to a wireless router) and a new laser printer. It's also had to accept one new USB memory stick, a Palm docking station, a digital camera and an external music keyboard.

But those are peripherals, and I've found that most of them had obsolete or redundant drivers shipped with them, in the sense that the drivers were all available on product websites, and often in a higher version that the supplied driver.

Part of the point behind BOS is that we expect to be online most of the time, ideally with a persistent connection. Once I have the BOS customised for my hardware set-up, I don't really need a thousand and one drivers available, just in case I add a periheral, if I know I'm going to be able to install the appropriate driver from the web.

What I see for BOS, therefore, is a simple, if hefty, installation profiling client that looks at my system, works out what's there, gets the drivers I need, and bundles them for me with a single application - my heavyweight browser - in a customised BOS installer.

And that's what I install.

Just one application - the browser. Only the drivers I need. And only the supporting functions I need to get the browser to work on my particular system.

NB I do have to admit to cursing when asked for the Windows CD I don't have (this is a work's machine) when installing a new piece of hardawre, but one of the trade-off's runinng my lightweight BOS would be having to grab any future driver files I need from the net.

So although Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) is a real boon, my permanently connected machine running BOS should be able to make use of GPnP, shouldn't it? (Err, that's G for get, as in "get, Plug and Play", rather than "Gnu" or "Google"...)

And how would I know where to get the driver for my new gadget? Well, a clunky way would be to send the user to something like a TinyURL, perhaps via a path corresponding to the manufacturer and the particular product code of whatever I want to install?


Blogger Unknown said...

How is the status of this project ? Would you go public with it in the future ? It could enable old laptops and pc's with lesser processorpower and compete with the 100$ laptop projects as i dont expect it to use as much processorpower and other hardware as Mr. Gates software.

8:02 PM  
Blogger sqrlking said...

I realize this is an old post in a scarcely updated blog, but I was thinking this same exact thing. All the OS needs to do is handle drivers & a browser. I've been looking for something that handles exactly this, but unsuccessfully.

Did you ever find/build this OS? is there a linux project with these goals?

5:45 PM  

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