Receiving no active development since November 2006, YouOS was shut down in June 2008.

For those of you who don’t know, YouOS is a so-called “Web OS,” currently still in alpha testing, that serves as a sort of portal, except that it seeks to emulate a desktop environment of a modern operating system.

The Tour

I was able to snag an account, and after having to wait for a while because there were too many users logged it, I was finally able to log in, and was presented with a desktop with icons, and four opened programs. My initial impression was that the UI experience was a little rough around the edges: icons were pixelated, the portlets were poorly designed, and behaviours were a bit erratic (well, it is only an alpha). I would certainly expect that a finished product—if indeed it is ever finished—would have significantly more spit and polish.

I played with the sticky note app (which is just a blank text area to jot down notes or code) and then launched the shell. It is intended to mimic a *nix shell rather than DOS, but YouOS’s documentation says that instead of Perl or Python, the accepted scripting language for the YouOS shell is Javascript, a scowl-worthy datum to me. There aren’t a large number of shell commands to use, but one can browse the filesystem and monkey around with some of the basics.

Out of the box, YouOS includes an internal IM service which only communicates with other YouOS users, but while browsing the additional software list, I did catch that someone had written an MSN messenger—I can only assume that there are similar extensions for other services. Also displayed in the third screenshot is the process manager, which shows currently open applications for your userspace.

The Rich Text Editor enabled by default is a decent enough WYSIWYG application, but basically only creates HTML snippets. There are several extensions that make use of third-party services like Writely or ajaxWrite, however. I installed the Writely extension but was asked for a username and password, and never got any farther than that1.

There’s a basic tree-style file manager that allows one to browse files (if they have them); in my case, I only have an HTML snippet made in the RTE and the PDF I generated from it; supposedly, one can upload any one of a number of things2, and these would then be viewable within the file manager.

The default setup includes two different browsers—YouBrowser and BittyBrowser—which are both essentially the same thing: they open up an iframe or something like it and using my local browser to view the page within the YouOS “page.” Sure, a browser is a requisite for this sort of proof of concept, but at the same time, it’s tits on a bull.

In much the same way that the default IM system is internal, the integrated Mail app is as well. As you can see from the picture, it came with a stock message from the YouOS team. As with most other parts of this alpha, the functionality the user actually wants can be found in the user-contributed section, where I saw a Gmail watcher applet, and probably many other things as well.

Speaking of which, I’ve included a screenshot of the software installer, which offers one-click additions of novel little applications, which are then accessible from the main menu.

One of those novel little applets in an NES emulator written in Java, with a preset repository of ROMs to play. Included in a screenshot of Double Dragon III. Ironically, you can see that by the author’s own admission, the applet is a proof of concept, and one would be significantly better off downloading a real emulator and playing it locally. Ah, the fun never stops.

Last but not least, there’s the main menu, a mix of the Windows metaphor with some *nix style thrown in.

Additional Thoughts

YouOS is a novel project that still manages to fall far short of the wonderful UI experience of something like NetVibes. The ambition is there: trying to reproduce an entire desktop environment with Javascritp is a Herculean task, and the infrastructure needed to support such a project on a public scale would be enormous.

And yet, I fail to be impressed. What irritated me initially about the project was the name—YouOS, for those of you not following—is misleading: an operating system is a layer between application and hardware. YouOS is an abstraction of sorts, but it’s really just a fancy portal that tries to feel responsive like a desktop environment. We’re a long way away from “Web OS,” if such a thing could even exist in real terms. What the buzzword really means is a portal that allows for a lot more synchronization between it and external devices, and which allows the user his or her own little space in the server.

The problem comes in actually creating the infrastructure that would support the sheer number of people who want to do everything online. The Telcos have really dropped the ball in expanding their bandwidth, so the limiting factors in these ventures are going to be a) the crush of people who would flock to (hypothetically) YouOS like it was the next MySpace and b) trying to create a full-featured web application that supports all the various browsers and that isn’t so convoluted that maintaining it becomes impossible.

Interesting portal concept? Maybe. The Next Big Thing®? Hardly.

  1. I don’t have one, or care to have one[]
  2. I should note that each user has a 250MB limit for storage space[]
§1270 · July 24, 2006 · Tags: , , ·

2 Comments to “YouOS: a screenshot tour”

  1. rob says:

    This is either the best or worst idea I’ve ever seen; I’m not quite sure which.

  2. Chris says:

    This is actually not a new idea… A project called eyeOS has been around for a while. check out http://eyeos.info/ for a demo. Quite honest, I’ve tried out eyeOS, and development for this system is quite simple. We’ve talked about using it as a server administration/business management frontend.

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