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Summary:

Blake Ross, one of the more high profile members of the Firefox team, has been quietly working on a new start up for a while. He has been successful in keep the wraps on his new startup, Parakey, but now it seems is close to revealing […]

Blake Ross, one of the more high profile members of the Firefox team, has been quietly working on a new start up for a while. He has been successful in keep the wraps on his new startup, Parakey, but now it seems is close to revealing plans for his next big idea.

Ross and Hewitt had started the company back in February 2005 with seed funding from Sequoia Capital, and since then have kept a very low profile. In an interview with IEEE Spectrum, he reveals some details about the core offering of his startup he co-founded with Joe Hewitt.

Ross describes Parakey as a WebOS that does what a traditional OS can do. It allows you to set up a site that can be shared by say all member of the family, and can be accessed from within a web browser. In order to make it work, you need to download a small application that turns your local machine into a server. You can decide which part of the Parakey site is viewable to the outside world.

Best of all, the part of Parakey that’s online communicates with the part of Parakey running on your home computer, synchronizing the contents of your Parakey pages with their latest versions on your computer. That means you can do the work of updating your site off-line, too.

The offline availability of the web applications is crucial and Ross seems to understand that. [ I wrote about this in my recent column for Business 2.0, in case you are interested. ]

“We all know ­people…who have all this content that they are not publishing stored on their computers,” he says. “We’re trying to persuade them to live their lives online.” Ross wants independent developers to create a variety of applications for Parakey. To that end, he and Hewitt have created a programming language for Parakey that they call JUL, a mashed-up acronym that stands for “Just another User interface Language.”

For rest of the details, you can read the story at the IEEE Spectrum website. via Matt

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  1. I guess the question is why? If it has to do with data being ubiquitous, there are better solutions that could work on top of everything else. It certainly can’t be a price issue, desktops are dirt cheap these days.

    So what is the true value in this? At first glance, I get the “wow, this is impressive – we might be looking at a new Microsoft” … but then I realize that there is no real need for such a product. Ubiquitous data via a WebFS will end up being the ultimate solution. Imagine a “fat client” that mounts your entire web-drive and O/S of choice (by that time, connection speeds will be 50-100mbps and data syncing will be perfected).

  2. Never mind, the “WebOS” stated in the article isn’t a true “WebOS” in the sense that we’ve come to know the term. Instead, I think Parakey is more along the lines of a self hosted social network / file sharing site for family.

    It’s a pretty interesting play considering Microsoft was betting on home servers not too long ago.

  3. I don’t get it. Why?
    I have a family web server, a family mail server with imaps for cell access, nfs and smb shares encrypted and free with easy access throughout the house, VPN access from the outside if I need data. A firewall which does behavioral analysis of network traffic so we don’t get SPAM for example among other things.
    And they want me to get back where, into 91? That was when I wrote my first web application.
    Come on.

  4. David Sheardown Wednesday, November 1, 2006

    Hey I think they sound very interesting… I mean if they got funding… I know how hard it is to get funding, trying to get some myself!!!

  5. robert, ronald… i spent some time with blake when he was getting going, and since then he has been pretty heads down. i am basing the post on what i read in the IEEE article.

    I have not spoken to him as yet, but will soon, and then get back to you with further details. i am going to hold my opinion up until that point.

    having said that, it is clear they are trying to solve the problem of “user experience.” i guess, a lot of things in the main piece lead me to believe (and agree) that a lot of stuff which are easy for us early adopters are tough for the average folk.

    lets see, more details pending :-)

  6. Oh, I’m not knocking the idea by any means! I’m sorry to say, but VPN, VNC, and SSHing are for us nerds – not average users.

    Heck, I’m sure a GUI-based operating system back in “the day” was just as pointless… I mean, why limit yourself to a GUI when you have a powerful command line that can do everything you need?

    My original thought was that this was another WebOS, like YouOS, GreenOS, BlueOS, Goowy, and osOS. I believe Blake was poorly quoted, or had a general mix-up with words. The description of the service is nothing like a web-based operating system, so I would stay far away from that term as possible.

    As for funding these days, I don’t think it’s anything special. If you throw some ads on a page and call it “Web 3.0″, you’ve got a clear winner on your hands :)

  7. I am optimistic and looking forward to more catalysts to the rebirth of the computer desktop and web applications.

  8. I like the sound of the idea, and I agree with Robert Dewey that they should stay away from the WebOS phrase.
    The project is called Parakey and the description in the article talks about defining little keys that you send to people to give them access to your content. This is the most important part for me. Basically, I can browse all my content (files) on my home PC, and then mark it as available to whoever I choose – Parakey takes care of the rest. It needs the social network aspect in order to simplify the action of making things available, i.e. it needs to know that ‘Granny’ is in my ‘family’ group so that I only have to make the content available once.
    The rest of the article was just noise.
    You have to think, though, that they are not the only ones working on a system like this. Social networks are evolving into ‘Personal publishing’ networks (Robert Young has been saying something similar for a while – as have I).
    Jabber have been defining XMPP pubsub specs that potentially does a similar thing and Google Data is not a million miles away either!
    Parakey is a great idea, but it sounds like it is a bit top-heavy – I hope ‘Open the Toy Box…word balloons, devil horns, goofy fonts’ is entirely the JUL language, otherwise I’d put money on one of the others becoming standard!

  9. uh, isn’t this already ‘really’ happening in the way of virtual application servers, and couldn’t you see vmware delivering something more robust and heading downstream to deliver to consumers on such a promise? you won’t need 50 plus megs of bandwidth to run standard apps on a remote appliance, and to be honest, citrix showed us all that we could do this a long time ago, when 54mbps dialup was hot stuff…

  10. Om,
    sorry maybe I’m just tired. I just had to write down a logic table for a behavioral CPU. Just so I can explain how we get from here to the 21th century. And while I was on it I came up with my first law of stupidity.
    “As more as we communicate as less do we think for ourselves.”
    Which puts a nice cap on Metcalfe’s law.
    And your post just rubbed me the wrong way.
    But seriously wouldn’t it be better to pack all my systems in a nice TIVO like appliance. IFF the world ever gets around to ipv6 it defiantly would give them a head start. I mean if I have a system which maintains itself with a fixed addr. which I can securely access from where ever and which securely can contact me where ever. What does another server buy me?
    Or maybe it’s just another write and flip. I never get those since I’m kind of a research kind of guy.

  11. This is not an OS.

    If this is an OS what is that thing we buy from Microsoft and Sun?

    Can my PC boot to parakey? The day that happens I will call this bird my OS.

  12. Dave,

    Tell that one to my grandma… I am going out on a limb here, but I would say at LEAST 95% of the population has no clue what VPN or Citrix are.

    I envision a world where you have ubiquitous access to your data, and the ability to share that data, no matter who is storing it – Google, Microsoft, Amazon, or your future home server.

    I don’t see a WebOS in the future (nor VPN or Citrix), I see an OS that can be hosted entirely within a remote drive, and take full advantage of whatever local machine is calling it – it’s the ultimate hybrid “WebOS” + “Fat Client” solution. I’m sure that’s at least a solid +10 years away… But one thing is for certain – the future isn’t pre-determined, so someone would have to take the initiative to do it.

    I’m sure Blake is at least heading in the right direction, and I agree with his general outlook.

  13. I don’t know, some of these comments in this post are pretty funny :)

    Ron – I agree with you. If you’re saying that people need a cheap box that does nothing by serve data across a fast connection, we’re on the same train of thought. I just extended my thought a bit further in saying that I think an OS could also be hosted on that server and accessed from any PC as a fat client (i.e. you can play Half Life 2012). Of course, that would make Microsoft obsolete, because you wouldn’t need an OS with every desktop anymore…

    Time for bed, LOL…

  14. Marcelo Calbucci Wednesday, November 1, 2006

    This post is not very clear to what the product will be. I think the “WebOS” thing is just silly, still, they way you describe it can be achieved today with Sampa (www.sampa.com) and many others.

  15. Parakey: WebOS for Mom and Pop…

    Those of you who read John Milan’s insightful article on R/WW about the coming convergence of Web apps and desktop apps, will be interested in a new development by Blake Ross – famous in the Web world for co-founding Firefox…

  16. As a representative of eyeOS (http://eyeOS.org), which is probably, the best existing Web OS today :), I’d like to say that we’re open to working with Parakey or anybody else that has a real interest in the WebOS market.

    Also, our software is GPL, and we already have a established user base of 73,000+ users, that would be delighted to see new developments in this filed ..

  17. hello,i m final year student of B.E degree in bangalore.as i was goin thro ieee spectrum magazinein search of a topic for seminar purpose i heard Parakey very interesting.so now i m fan of Blake Ross and in survey of parakey for its excellent wave in the techincal industry.thanks.

  18. Web Worker Daily » Blog Archive Izimi: Internet Publishing for the Masses « Monday, March 5, 2007

    [...] desktop install that turns your machine into a file server. These services remind me of Parakey, a web publishing tool for the masses under development by Blake Ross, one of the co-founders of [...]

  19. GigaOM Facebook buys Parakey « Thursday, July 19, 2007

    [...] Alto-Mountain View area. They are kicking it off by acquiring Sequoia Capital-backed Parakey, a company co-founded by Firefox kid Blake Ross and Joe Hewitt. Nice way for Sequoia to get piece of the Facebook action. [...]

  20. Colonel Nikolai Friday, July 20, 2007

    The idea of webservers discovering each other and connecting people behind them instead of just serving requests is a good one. I think Blake is following that idea because nobody has really done a whole lot with it. Perhaps its time has come. But then sometimes when I look at Drupal, I think that thing might end up doing that by itself.

    Keep in mind: Like anything 1.0, it’s usually underwhelming. The important thing to remember is that the team that can cycle through the most failures the fastest, wins. So Parakey might be the wrong idea, but the next one might be the next Napster: something that changes the very rules of the whole game. Blake, I wish you the best of luck, but be ready with the next idea. You can’t focus on hits alone, it really all about at-bats.

  21. Douglas McFarlane Saturday, July 21, 2007

    Facebook buys Parakey, kind of changes the dynamic doesn’t it ? Looking forward to assessing the products, as opposed to mere words. It will undoubtedly be yet another incredibly viral and addictive element of Facebook.

  22. Facebook acquires Parakey Friday, October 10, 2008

    [...] a Web-based computer user interface proposed by Firefox contributors Blake Ross and Joe Hewitt [1][2][3]. Ross describes it as "a Web operating system that can do everything an OS can do." [...]

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