Take Your Work Into the Cloud With a Web OS

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With the help of a Web-based virtual machine, you can work on projects from any device without having to carry files with you.

IF YOUR JOB involves frequent travel, if you use more than one computer for your work, or if you depend on a smartphone for conducting business, you might find it difficult to keep your files in sync and up-to-date. But with the assistance of a Web based virtual computer, you can ensure that your data remains synced and organized across all of your devices while using a single, consistent interface on every computer you work from. In this article I’ll explain what a Web OS is, what its primary benefits are, and how you can put one to work.


What’s a Web OS?
A Web OS, sometimes called a Webtop or a cloud computer, is a virtual machine that lives online—but when you’re logged in to one, it can be nearly indistinguishable from a regular desktop operating system. In most cases the menus and icons of a Web OS look similar to those of Windows, complete with a taskbar, a file browser, a desktop with customizable wallpaper, and productivity and communications apps. But because a Web OS doesn’t reside on your local PC, you can access the same desktop—along with all your apps, files, and settings—on almost any device that provides a Web browser. Prominent examples of Web Oss include G.ho.st (g.ho.st), Glide OS (glideos.com), and Icloud (icloud.com). For a comparison of these and other Web OS services, see Ian Paul’s “9 Web-Based Office Productivity Suites” at fi nd.pcworld.com/63606. Because G.ho.st is my personal favorite, I’ll use it for most of this tutorial. The truth is, however, that no clear leader has arisen in the Webtop sarena, and personal taste will be an even greater factor in selecting the best Web OS for you than it is in choosing your favorite desktop OS.


Why Go With the Web?
For users who have only one computer, or who seldom need to share their files between a work PC and a home system, adding a Web OS into the mix will likely prove needlessly complicated. But if you move between multiple machines oft en and you don’t want to fret about syncing files all over the place, a Web OS can be even better than a thumb drive for storing everything and providing a consistent experience across platforms. In the course of writing this article, for instance, I sat in front of at least three different computers running two different operating systems. (And not just to prove a point about Web OSs, either.) But at any time—because I used G.ho.st—I could easily move to a different PC, boot it up, log in to my desktop, and pick up where I had left off . All of my icons were in the same place, and all of the applications and menus were the same, too. And because everything sits on a remote Web server, I didn’t have to worry about forgetting my thumb drive when I moved from my home office to my office. In addition to its persistent browser-based interface, G.ho.st comes in a mobile version that lets you download your files from a smartphone in a pinch. One big advantage of a Web OS is that its performance doesn’t depend much on the speed of your computer. This makes such a setup great for use on an aging laptop or an underpowered netbook. Web OS performance will, however, depend a great deal on the speed of your Internet connection, especially if you’re regularly transferring files back and forth; so be sure that you have a reliable broadband service, or you will experience sluggish re - sponse times from your cloud-based applications.


Get Started
You don’t need much to start using a Web OS right now. Once you’ve chosen a service, just visit its Web site from any Internet-connected desktop or laptop computer, and then sign up for a free account. After completing a quick registration, you’ll be staring at your new virtual desktop for the first time. While the interfaces for different Web OS services vary slightly, they tend to follow the basic desktop layout that Windows popularized.
In G.ho.st, the taskbar runs across the bottom of the screen just as it does in Windows, and a Go button is located where the Start button would be. You’ll also find a Quick Launch bar just to the right of the Go button, and a system tray to the far right of the taskbar. The G.ho.st desktop gives you rapid access to a few of the most important features of your virtual machine, including a link to all of your applications, the control panel, your e-mail program, and an instant messenger application that supports AIM, Google Talk, ICQ, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger. Want to get started with a text document or spreadsheet right away? Launch Zoho Writer or Zoho Sheets directly from the desktop and start typing. You might also take a look at the ‘Take the Tour’ link on the desktop, which will get you oriented quickly.


File Management
Assuming that you don’t plan on using your new Web OS as your primary computing environment all the time, you’ll want to start managing your files intelligently from the moment you log on. While you certainly can just upload files from your local computer to the Web OS one by one, or even in batches, the better ap - proach is to take advantage of the Web OS’s built-in synchronization features to manage files on all of your systems automatically. In G.ho.st, you’ll find the appropriately named Sync utility, available in both Windows and Mac versions on the Ghost Services menu. Select the version for the computer you happen to be using, and then download and run the installer. Afterward, enter your log-in info and set the utility’s options as you see fit. The best choice is to sync in both directions and set conflict resolution to keep the newest version of each file. You can also choose simply to append ‘~deleted’ to the file names of old versions, which will help you avoid losing important data if something goes wrong.


Mobile Access
Though not all Webtops provide a mobile version of their services, G.ho.st does. However, not all of the service’s features will work in all mobile browsers. Be sure that your phone supports JavaScript and that the feature is enabled; otherwise you won’t be able to download your files to the device. To work with the documents once you have downloaded them, you will need an editing program and/or a viewing application installed on your mobile device.

Source of Information : PC World November 2009

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