The Virtual OS: Ready for Web Workers Yet?

Have you ever experimented with virtualization and virtual operating systems? In a post today over on OStatic (the open source blog that I edit), Lisa Hoover covers several options for running more than one operating system on one system, including virtualization and dual-boot solutions. In addition to the products she points out there, though, there are a number of ways that web workers can gain advantages from using web-hosted virtual operating systems. In this post, I’ll cover several options and discuss what I’ve found to be the advantages and disadvantages to each.

Lisa has descriptions of how to get advantages from Bootcamp for running Windows and the Mac OS on the same machine, or, interestingly, for running Linux on your Mac. She details how to use VMWare Fusion, Parallels, and Microsoft’s Virtual PC, including how to run Linux alongside other operating systems. Most of these solutions let you flip between operating system environments with a couple of keystrokes. But what if your virtual operating system isn’t local to your machine at all?

For a long time, players have been trying to deliver virtual operating systems that will appeal to workers–where the environment you work in is hosted on the web. In addition to Judi’s post that I just linked to, I’ve written before about YouOS, EyeOS, Xcerion and my favorite virtual operating system, AjaxWindows.

AjaxWindows is a mash-up of Javascript, XML and AJAX. You can register and sign into it in less than a minute and the desktop looks exactly like a Windows desktop–deliberately so. In ajaxWindows, commonly used applications such as GoogleDocs, an image editor, an address book and more are right in front of you as soon as you log in. You can customize the environment to include, say, your favorite web e-mail engine.

EyeOS is an open source virtual operating system. It has a good calendar application and you can work with documents compatible with Microsoft Office and OpenOffice. Its interface is a little less slick than AjaxWindows, but it’s worth a look.

These virtual OS environments remind me of the pre-Windows days on PCs, when you could get any number of GUI environments designed to sit on top of DOS. They’re a lot slicker than those environments were, though, especially AjaxWindows.

The best use I’ve found for AjaxWindows is to customize my interface in it so that it’s optimized for writing. The desktop I have set up there is different from the usual one I am in, including easy ways to jump to web sites I like a lot when I write, and ways to organize my contacts and use them as I use Gmail.

My normal desktop is often cluttered with various software applications that I’m trying out, but the desktop I can use in AjaxWindows stays pristine. If you haven’t tried a virtual OS, it’s worth doing so. You can get a good sense of AjaxWindows and whether it might work for you in five minutes. Try it out, or view the online video.

Do you use any virtual operating systems?


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