I wrote a year ago that when it comes to computers, I want to be browser-based — since I’m doing most of my work in the browser, let me do nearly all my work in the browser.
Boot 2 Gecko
Mozilla agrees, and they’re working on the poorly-named B2G (“Boot 2 Gecko“) project “to pursue the goal of building a complete, standalone operating system for the open web.” Yee-haw! But it’s initially targeting smartphones, and will use the Android lower layers to boot the device. They have to start somewhere, and providing an alternative to silly app stores selling hundreds of thousands of apps that do little more than connect you to an information provider (which is what the web does!) is worthwhile. But that’s not what I had in mind as a replacement for my desktop!
I tried a couple of alternatives.
Jolicloud is a web-based desktop and app launcher, and you can also run it from a dedicated Linux distribution called Jolicloud OS. It’s OK, but the web-based part isn’t that good. For example, in its app window, if you click the (i) icon to get info about an app, you can’t use the browser’s back button to go back to the app window. Instead it stupidly adds its own [Back] button. The “apps” are actually just web sites, which in some cases is reasonable; but many of them require you to register and get a login, and Jolicloud seemingly does nothing to share a username or OpenID between them all. If I want to make a note, don’t send me to a web site, provide me some intelligent browser-based HTML code that works offline.
I downloaded BrowserLinux and ran it in VirtualBox, i.e. I simulated running it on my computer. It’s based on Puppy Linux which is a fine and lightweight Linux distribution, and it provides a working Firefox, but its handling of local files is weak. Despite the name, it doesn’t use the browser for many tasks. E.g. If you click on an image, it tries to run the mtpaint program, even though Firefox itself can preview images.
This is a common failing of Linux distros. They don’t seem to distinguish opening a file in order to look at it and opening a file to in order to edit it, the way Windows’ context menu can. The browser can view all kinds of files, but in many cases it can’t edit them. I don’t know if the XDG specifications distinguish the two operations. The programs that BrowserLinux provides — ROX filer to show files, Alsaplayer to play songs — are lightweight, but have zero consistency with each other, let alone the Firefox browser. BrowserLinux is just a lightweight Linux distro for older machines that puts the Firefox icon on its desktop without rethinking the rest of your computing activities so that you do them as much as possible in the browser, either with local HTML, remote web sites, or browser extensions.
I really want to try ChromeOS to see how Google handles things, but as I remarked earlier, Hexxeh’s ChromiumOS builds require fancy graphics.