- Topics Mentioned
- Operating System(s):
- Windows 8
Microsoft recently released Windows 8 to the masses. The company also released a tablet called the Surface that currently runs a modified version of Windows 8 called Windows RT. This shows there’s still some considerable fragmentation on Microsoft’s part. There are Windows 8 devices available, Windows RT Surface tablets, as well as Windows Mobile 8 phones. Isn’t this a bit unneeded? Microsoft could in theory create one operating system that is based in the cloud and accessed through all these devices. It could even tailor to each device specifically and detect the device through the browser. However, Microsoft still seems to cling on to the idea of local storage and standalone applications running from hardware.
There is no denying Microsoft has changed gears as of late. All evidence points to the fact that Microsoft seems to be trying to unify Windows cross-platform. However, for a while yet, Microsoft will not make it purely cloud-based with SkyDrive as the storage unity. At least not for a few years. Let’s examine why this is so.
Why Cloud Operating Systems Makes Sense
A cloud operating system has many advantages. It can eliminate the need for local update installations, for instance, as all updates would be done through the company’s data center servers and the users would see changes instantly. It is also instant and requires no boot-up time since the servers running in data centers have the OS running 24/7 and on demand. It can also offer users access to all content on demand and through any hardware with online access. You don’t need to install the applications again since the OS already has it running through the cloud.
Hardware and specs are also less relevant through a pure cloud operating system and a pure cloud platform because the servers can be anything the company chooses to give to users. Hardware is very irrelevant outside of input. This, again, could be scalable depending on if a user is using a touchscreen or a mouse and keyboard combo so the interface could benefit each person rather than be a set standard.
This has been seen as a plague with Windows 8. Microsoft is forcing users to boot straight into the Metro or Modern Interface rather than allowing them to choose with a command that saves with every boot-up. A cloud operating system could detect the hardware and automatically choose the most effective method. However, the same option should apply: Users should be able to choose themselves.
Another advantage of cloud-based operating systems is that they make viruses and malware a thing of the past. The virus makers would have to attack the heavily secured and guarded computers or servers sitting in data centers rather than rely on users downloading local (standalone) software to infect a system. The data center would also have state-of-the-art anti-virus software and engineers, so even if an attack somehow managed to infect one of those systems, it would be up and running again quickly. Plus the data could offload to another server and it wouldn’t even affect the end user in any way.
Things to Keep in Mind Before Such Operating Systems Can Be Adapted Widely
Despite all the potential that running operating systems from the cloud could bring, there are also disadvantages of such operating systems. One of them is that they require constant online access for users to be able to use their computers. This may be a problem for those traveling a lot away from Wi-Fi hotspots and the fact many hotspots in the U.S. are private. Another is that online access could go down, like in a natural disaster or due to a power line failing, and the system wouldn’t boot up. Another disadvantage is related to cloud computing as a whole: privacy. Users may not want companies hosting their operating systems to know all about their activities or have access to their files.
Security could also pose a problem for some users who do not trust data center firewalls and security measures. They may want to run their own security software and not rely on a third party. This has been an issue with companies utilizing the private cloud over the public cloud. There is also the question of reliability. How reliable are data centers to host all operating systems? There have been various outages in data centers that made headlines such as the one that took out Netflix.
The Chrome OS
Google has created a cloud-based operating system with its Chromebook lineup of ultra-thin laptops. The OS running on these Chromebooks is called the Chrome OS. The OS relies on minimal local storage and on Google’s ecosystem of Docs and other cloud apps for productivity. There is still not much choice out there, but this will change when SaaS offerings increase on the market.
Google has met limited success with the Chromebook lineup of devices because of the constant need for users to be connected online in order to use the Chrome OS – this can be said about cloud in general. But Google is showing that an entire ecosystem can work from the cloud and is paving the way for devices to run this way.
These Chromebooks share a similarity with Android devices because Google outsources the Chrome OS to other manufacturers. Chromebooks are available from various manufacturers, like Samsung, and start at various prices. However, most are comparable to tablets in this regard and are quite inexpensive when compared to traditional PCs.
Although the Chromebook is showing that some users are able to migrate fully to the cloud and have online access all the time, the world in general isn’t ready for full operating systems to be based in the cloud. It will one day when online access is ubiquitous and accessible cheaply everywhere. That is when we may see companies like Microsoft offer Windows from the cloud as an option. It will be on demand Windows that can be tailored for each individual.
Jolicloud’s Joli OS is another cloud-based operating system with a user interface designed for various cloud apps and services. The user interface was created to be hardware independent. This means it is compatible with a wide range of hardware and simple to navigate.
According to the Jolicloud website’s “Joli OS” section, Joli OS is HTML5 based and runs on top of an Ubuntu Linux Kernel (possibly modified). It doesn’t need a tutorial and comes with over 1,500 free apps. It also isn’t susceptible to virus attacks, has crowd-sourced user support, and automated updates, which are to be expected from cloud-based operating systems.
It is interesting that the website never specifically calls it a cloud OS, but mainly an OS designed to give users an interface to run various cloud services and apps. It seems to be based on an efficient interface, rather than an entire OS running in data centers on servers. Again, the fact it is Linux based shows it isn’t entirely cloud-based. However, the fact it also runs off of HTML5 seems to suggest otherwise. There is probably a mix of local storage and reliance on cloud storage from providers like Dropox. The main page of the Jolicloud website lists it as a “Personal Cloud Center” that is designed to bring all of your cloud services together.
The OS is also heavily based on the usage of SaaS productivity apps like Google Apps. Some cloud services it integrates include Instapaper for reading; YouTube and Vimeo for video; Google Drive, Dropbox or SkyDrive for storage; and Instagram for images. Like, the Chrome OS, Joli OS is also open sourced. Unlike Chrome OS, however, it is free for any user and doesn’t rely on any propriety hardware to run.
The Future is Bright for the Cloud OS Concept
Cloud operating systems and cloud software in the form of SaaS should be the industry standard software one day. In the future, most computers and other gadgets will probably be judged based on browser support rather than the operating system they use. The operating systems and software will be available on a wide range of devices and accessed instantly through the cloud. However, browser compatibility will need to be high and users may have different experiences with SaaS depending on what browser they are using. So, in effect, the browsers, not operating systems, may be where competition truly lies. The interface needs to be as simple and efficient as possible and either tailored to each device or streamlined for ease of use as a whole.