If you travel, use more than one computer for work, or depend on a smartphone for business, you might find it difficult to keep all your files in sync and up-to-date. But with a Web-based virtual computer, you can ensure that your data remains synced and organized across all 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 the 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 OS. In most cases the menus and icons of a Web OS look similar to those of Windows, complete with a taskbar, a desktop with customizable wallpaper, a file browser, and productivity and communications apps. But because a Web OS doesn't reside on your local computer, you can access the same desktop--along with all your apps, files, and personal settings--on almost any device that has a Web browser.
Prominent examples of Web OSs include G.ho.st, Glide OS, and Icloud. For a comparison of these and other Web OS services, see Ian Paul's "9 Web-Based Office Productivity Suites." Because G.ho.st is my personal favorite, I'll be using it for most of this tutorial. The truth, however, is that no clear leader has arisen in the Webtops arena, and personal taste is an even greater factor in selecting the best Web OS for you than it is in choosing a favorite desktop OS.
Why Go With the Web?
For users who have only one computer, or who seldom need to share files between a work PC and a home PC, adding a Web OS into the mix will likely prove needlessly complicated. But if you move between multiple PCs often 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 multiple platforms.
In the process of writing this article, 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 because I used G.ho.st, at any time I could easily move to a different PC, boot it up, log in, and pick up where I had left off. All of my icons were in the same place, and all of the apps and menus were the same. And because all of that 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 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 transferring files back and forth, so be sure you have a reliable broadband service or you'll experience sluggish response times from your cloud-based apps.