Practical Technology

for practical people.

The little desktop Linux that came out of the blue

When a desktop Linux distribution suddenly becomes popular before even DistroWatch starts tracking it, you know you’ve got something special. One new Ubuntu-based distribution, gOS, has managed to capture users’ attention purely by word of mouth over the Internet.

gOS was introduced by Everex, a midtier PC vendor, in its inexpensive Green gPC TC2502 computer in late October. This cheap computer is sold for $198 at Wal-Mart stores and online at walmart.com.

The operating system is based, like so many desktop Linuxes such as Mint, on Ubuntu. In gOS’ case, it’s built on top of the newly released Ubuntu 7.10 Linux. It includes the usual array of open-source software that users have learned to expect from a Linux desktop such as popular applications from Firefox, Skype and OpenOffice.org. The one difference that Linux users will notice immediately about it is that it uses the Enlightenment E17 desktop interface with a Google-centric theme instead of the far more common KDE or GNOME desktops.

Google-centric? Yes, exactly so. According to the developers, “We recommend Google for just about everything … Gmail, Gtalk, Calendar, Maps, Docs and Spreadsheets and more. We’d like to welcome you to the idea that Google already is your ‘operating system.'” Paul Kim, Everex’s director of marketing, went even further, “Our dream is to combine Linux with Google and put it into the mass market.”

While Google does not have a formal partnership with either Everex or gOS, the search giant did see gOS before it was shipped. Google then approved Everex to bundle its Google toolbar with gOS’ browser.

With this in mind, the gOS applications are set to work with Google from the get-go. For example, clicking on the e-mail icon takes you to Gmail, the news icon sends you off to Google News, and the calendar “application” is Google Calendar. Even when there’s a choice of programs, such as OpenOffice for word processing and spreadsheets, gOS defaults to using Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Most of the commonly used applications are made available to users via a Mac OS-like dock at the bottom of the screen.

This is a Linux that’s designed with several specific purposes in mind. First, it’s not just built around Google; it’s built on Web 2.0 applications and the Internet. Next, it works with low-end hardware. This may be the first PC where a high-speed Internet connection is more important to its performance than a high-speed processor.

It’s also designed to be extremely easy to use. As a reviewer at LifeHacker concisely put it, “Imagine setting up a Google account for someone who’s not terribly keen on computers and then handing them over to a PC with gOS. Getting started from there couldn’t be easier.” While all of Ubuntu’s goodies are there for those who look for them, this system could be used by someone who’d never used any computer before.

In an interview with a Linux blog, gOS founder David Liu makes it clear that ease of use was at the top of his mind when he helped create gOS. “Basically it has to do with the Ubuntu community and vision. I like their mantra ‘Linux for human beings.’ I wanted to take it further, more like ‘Linux for human beings who shop at Wal-Mart’ (… ‘and who probably have never heard of Linux’).”

At this point, however, gOS’ developers are really looking more for other developers than for users. To that end, Everex has also made the TC20502’s motherboard available for hardware hackers and Linux programmers as the gOS Dev Board. This is a micro-ATX form-factor Via “PC-1” motherboard based on a 1.5GHz Via C7 processor.

gOS is available as a CD ISO image from several BitTorrent sites. Good places to start your download include The Green Company and LinuxTracker.

A version of this story appeared in DesktopLinux.