David Liu, founder and CEO of gOS
With the recent release of gOS 3 Beta
, we thought it was prime time to take a closer look at the company responsible for creating the OS that powered the ill-fated Everex Cloudbook
, and the gorgeous (and Mac OS X Leopard-inspired) gOS Space
. We chewed the fat with David Liu, gOS founder and CEO, about the operating systems’ new features, potential competition from Ubuntu Netbook Remix
, the push for consumer adoption, and the future of Linux on the desktop. LAPTOP: When did gOS originally launch?
David Liu: We call it g-O-S, but a lot of people do call it “gOS” [rhymes with “loss”]. It publically launched on November 1st, 2007. That’s when we came out with the Walmart PC with our partner Everex. We had another partner called Sylvania
that did a similar unit to the Cloudbook, and now we’re working with different manufacturers in Taiwan. A lot of it is still focused on netbooks and internet appliance type of products. Does gOS have a set release schedule or do you release whenever you can add something new to the mix?
What we try to do is make something new every 3 to 4 months. Our focus is totally on the consumer. Traditionally, a Linux company has a server product line and the consumer side is a sort of way to brand it and point back to the server where they actually make their money. Our team is a little bit smaller and just focused on the consumer. Every 3 to 4 months, we try to do an update and look around during in-between times to see what’s a really good fit for the particular hardware that we’re looking at. A lot of the software that’s preloaded on lots of the distributions was created a while ago and was originally meant for workstations and standard-size computers. As we get into non-workstations and into netbooks and Internet appliances, the software needs to change and adapt to make the experience more real. We try to release more often and try to pick the best applications to fit the hardware.
The focus of gOS 3 is on Google Gadgets, but this isn’t the first time that you’ve used Google applications in your operating system.
Is gOS the future of Linux?
This time around there are two important things. The number one thing is the use of Gadgets. Google Gadgets for Linux had just launched-I think it was in June-and so when we preloaded that we were excited. A lot of the applications that we traditionally preloaded in the Cloudbook or Sylvania were too big. Even applications that we could hack to fit on the screen were still kind of clunky. If you tried to use OpenOffice on the EeePC, it’s not a great experience. OpenOffice is resource intensive. It takes a while to open even on a standard notebook.
At the end of the day, the OEM has to make the choice. We’re still trying to create a consumer Linux community, but ultimately, it’s up to the OEMs and the type of software that they need to sell product. Our motivation is to pick software that works and looks the best. Right now, Google is doing a great job in creating software for Linux. Picasa uses Wine, so the experience is like that on Windows. I think that when we as a Linux community begin to equalize the user experience, if not surpass it, that will create a dramatic shift in how people think about this. They can see the same apps on one side as they see on the other. That’s extremely powerful in the minds of the consumers. Why did you decided to implement Wine with gOS 3?
Wine is a really cool project and has gotten less attention than it deserves. Some people in the open source community feel like you’re hindering the development of Linux software by enabling the use of software that usually just runs on Windows or Mac. But I’m just in favor of great applications. Any opportunity that we can show that gOS or Linux in general can run Office, that it can run Photoshop, it’ll attract people to the scene. Or, on the other hand, it will attract more people to support Wine. I guess on a third hand, if it’s possible, it’ll make the standard in Linux a lot higher. There’s a lot of money invested in the user experience with these commercial apps and our goal is to see that in open source. Does Wine make it easier to install applications? One of the major issues with many Linux distributions is tinkering with the command line to install applications.
Wine allows you to run executable files. So if you were to go to downloads.com and download a .exe then theoretically it has a good chance of running fine. The only problem is that not every application is supported, but there are already thousands of Windows applications that just work. When you boot gOS, Wine is already running. The apps appear on the desktop as if they were a normal application. And that’s the exciting part. There are programs like VMWare that let you runa whole copy of XP or Vista and you can run applications even better in those environments, but realistically, most people won’t get a chance to use them. The kind of hardware that comes with Linux preloaded tends to be lightweight; virtualization clients don’t really fly well unless you have high-powered hardware. You have gOS and gOS Spaces- are they aimed at different market segments?
gOS Spaces was a really special launch. We were working with the MySpace developer platform and they had just launched a new Myspace Apps platform. We wanted to take gOS and create a really entertainment-focused, Myspace-generation experience, and we loaded up every possible Myspace application that we either made or just linked to to create a special experience. It was an experimental launch to see if we could put together a product that was focused on a single online community. One of the cool advantages of Linux in general is that you can do some really creative things. Everex only had a limited stock [of gOS Space-powered machines] because it was such a niche product. Hardware at the end of the day is a commodity and Linux is treated like a commodity. I think there’s a shift that’s happening where hardware manufacturers want to work on their own software. It gives hardware manufacturers a chance to compete on more than just prices, specs, and ID. It’s a very ugly business in terms of the margins and competitions, so when HP and others talk about netbooks it’s Linux that gives them the chance to differentiate their product, not just competing in an ugly price and spec war. One of the great things about Spaces was that it was beautiful out of the box. One of the complaints about Linux distros is that they can appear plain in comparison to Mac OS X and Windows. Do you think the future of Linux is to bolster up the actual OS aesthetic?
That’s part of it. A lot people talk about Apple, but what’s different about them is that they produce the whole product. Our part is making the experience great and the look and feel is a huge, huge part of that. Not just look and feel, but also how easy it is to use. What apps they can run on it. I think its still a process. There’s more than just look and feel, but that’s a very important part of it. It’s a little too early for users to get too excited about design. Linux as a business model needs to mature. Hardware manufacturers will be the driving force. Companies that want to create and sell products that stand out. gOS Space was a case study that this is possible. Do you think Ubuntu is attempting to become the Microsoft of the netbooks Space with its Netbook Remix OS?
I think the market leader, the netbook leader, ASUS, has already created its own specialized experience. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be a dominant netbook OS, but it goes to show that this whole space is still new and that there are hardware manufacturers looking to specialize. Ubuntu Netbook Remix can be a really great experience for certain people, but the market is really huge. I think its great, and I think they may get a lot of people on board because the company and team are respected. But guys like ASUS and other people will have their own ideas about what they want to see. We’re just hoping that other hardware companies will want to share our particular style. Is gOS planning on partnering with any other OEMs to have your software preloaded?
In the U.S. we’re just working with Everex and Sylvania. In Asia, we’re working with a couple that will be announced later on. The [netbook] market, thanks to ASUS, has grown quite fast. There’s a good window of opportunity for all of us. What is needed for Linux to go mainstream? Right now, it’s mostly us tech nerds who dabble in it.
There’s three things we have to work on: there’s the UI, the applications, and the drivers. We need to have cool applications. We need killer applications. We need applications that install easily and not in the terminal. The UI needs to be anti-workstation. It needs to be very hip and consumer. It’s a mental jump we have to make. Because a lot of us are geeks at heart and support open source, a lot of us mix ideology with how good something is. The consumer isn’t interested in the fact that it’s open source. They may think it’s cool, but most likely, they don’t even know. I think the mental shift is to look as Linux as a superior platform that allows us to customize and grow our community faster. But we need to focus on normal stuff; normal stuff that normal people care about. If we do that, we’ll begin to see some changes. I think things are changing-Ubuntu is a huge part of that. Firefox
is a great example of focusing on things that are important like speed and security. That’s true-it’s very easy to forget that Firefox is open source because it works so effortlessly and is quite popular.
It’s so consumer now. It still has some hardcore tech guys supporting it, but at the end of the day it’s a great product. It’s better to give consumers what they want rather than pass on our values when they really couldn’t care less. Do you forsee a time when more normal-sized notebooks will come with with Linux pre-installed?
I think there’s a bigger opportunity for that in the third world, or the green field as some people like to put it. In the US, once you give consumers an optical drive, they want to pop in a bunch of CDs and install a bunch of software. One of the most popular questions about out gPC desktop tower was “Can I install Microsoft XYZ?” When you take away the optical drive and give it a name like “netbook”, I think it automatically adjusts people’s expectations and makes Linux more viable.