G.HO.ST, the friendly website?

We have seen the beginnings of a quite revolution in the last year or two with the dawning realisation that cheap ‘underpowered’ computers running free software are enough for the needs of many users.

That idea is now being taken even further with the thought that some users might not even need a physical computer at all. All that users will have to do is register with a web-based service that provides all of its members with their own virtual PCs.

They would log onto the site from any PC with an Internet connection and be presented with what looks for all the world like a PC desktop, with all the tools to allow them to create documents, view photos, play music, do instant messaging, and view video clips.

In short, the user would have a ‘virtual’ PC which would offer all the facilities they would normally enjoy, with the opportunity to personalise it according to their own tastes. They would have access to their own individual computing experience from wherever they could find an idle PC.

The first use of virtual PC technology that comes to mind is that it would enable large numbers of people to share few PCs, which would be especially valuable in developing environments. Another benefit is that the hard computing work and file storage takes place on central servers which would allow users to use pretty elementary machines to access the service.

On the other end of the scale, such services are likely to appeal to users who only occasionally need a computer or to highly mobile individuals who would appreciate be able to retain the same programs and files, no matter where they happen to be.

I found a couple of services along these lines and I guess there are most likely others but, if not, it probably won’t be long. The most complete offering I found is at www.g.ho.st which has integrated e-mail, with 3Gb free storage space, and a further 3Gb of space for other files.

It is quick and easy to sign up and you can get started as soon as you reply to the e-mail message which is sent to you on registration. You are then presented with a traditional-looking desktop with a number of icons which you click to access various programs like e-mail, and so on.

The G.ho.st Drive icon give you access to any files that you have stored on the system and the Go button allows you to call up any other programs you might need. There is a word processor, spreadsheet and even some games, including an engaging version of ping pong.

There is a built-in Internet browser, even though users will be accessing the virtual PC with a browser on the machine they happen to be using. The browser in the virtual PC has the value that it will retain the user’s bookmarks and browsing history when they log on through different physical PCs.

I believe that G.ho.st is probably quite usable even at this early stage, but it is definitely a work still in progress. There are some glitches and the help files are not complete which may account for some of the problems I had.

G.ho.st did work pretty slowly at times but I don’t know how much that has to do with its teething problems and how much to do with Telkom’s pitiful bandwidth. In any case, G.ho.st is still worth a look, even if only to get an idea of the way things might be going.

Another site with a virtual PC service which is not as complete, but which may still be of interest, is www.jooce.com.

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