gOS Screenshot DesktopThis weekend I decided to take the Linux distribution known as gOS 3.0 beta for a spin. The gOS is an Ubuntu 8.04.1 derivative that shows some promise with it’s integration of Web applications. Although they are not affilated with Google, gOS has incorporated many Google online tools into their desktop.

First Impressions:

Like it’s Ubuntu Hardy base, gOS lets you boot your system off of live CD. It took a couple minutes to get to the desktop with my 4 year old Dell Inspirion 1150 Pentium 4 notebook. This is about the same with a stock Ubuntu Hardy boot. My notebook has a slower Celeron processor and not a lot of memory, so I didn’t expect a blazing fast boot time. However, once the system booted it was pretty snappy.  gOS has swapped out the Enlightenment 17 window manager for LXDE in this version. LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment) uses the same gtk+ 2 toolkit as GNOME and it’s desktop looks very similar to the GNOME desktop on Ubuntu Hardy Herron.

Once you get to the desktop you are presented with a pleasant (in my view) varigated green theme.  You access the menu on the top left corner and you are given two virtual desktops on the top taskbar. There is a Macintosh like dock bar on the bottom of the screen with ten applications. gOS calls this bar the wbar. The wbar is rather slick looking and zooms in to give you a better view of it’s icons when moused over. There is a wbar utility located in the Applications>Accessories Menu if you want to add/remove applications to the doc bar. Firefox 3.0.1, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Documents, YouTube (button did not work) , Pidgin, Skype,  Open Office Writer, Open Office Spreadsheets, and Open Office Presenations are included in the wbar by default.  These applications on the dock bar use a program called Mozilla Prism to give them a more desktop look to them. Prism enables you to use your Web applications without using your browser so you feel like the application is on your system rather than the on the Web.

I found one problem with the top panel settings on the desktop. They have it set to 18 pixels by default. This cuts off part of the Network Manager applet so I upped it to 24 pixels to fix the problem

Another Mac-like feature is the placement minimize/maximize/close window buttons placed on the top left of your windows. This is a little frustrating for someone like me who has rarely used a Mac and used to the buttons being on the other side of the window. I couldn’t figure a way to change the placement so I guess I will have to live with it. It would be nice if this were adjustable.

Software Included:

gOS has jammed a lot of software on one CD. For office applications you have the Open Office 2.4 Suite (Presentation, Spreadsheet, Drawing, and Word Processor). For graphics editing you have both the GIMP 2.4.5 and Google’s Picassa. Mplayer is included for your multimedia and Brasero if you want to burn CDs. Skype is available for VoIP calls and Pidgin is the IM client. For image scanning they have included XSane.

Google Gadgets Added:

Now the reason I wanted to try this distribution is the addition of Google Gadgets. Gadgets add little applets to your desktop that can be shown or hidden with a simple hotkey switch so that they do not clutter the desktop. Clicking on the Google Gadgets button and selecting add gadgets will bring up the the Gadget Browser. Here they have hundreds of gadgets available. Some written by Google and others by community developers. Most of the ones I tried worked without a hitch.

What do the applets do? Well, you can add Google RSS news feeds, a Weatherbug report, memory monitors, Google Calendar, quote of the day, and many more. As a Doom player, I particularly liked the Doom memory monitor. They have a picture of Green Marine that shows him taking damage to his health as you use up more of your system memory. They got a lot of silly things like that in there. The virtual flower pot is another one. You have to water the plant by hovering your mouse over to add water to the pot. The health of the plant and if it grows depends on you remembering to water it.  The wireless signal strength meter, newsreaders, regular battery/memory/CPU monitors, and weather applets obviously have more of a practical purpose. All of these gadgets can be moved and resized to customize them to your desktop.

Adding Google Gears:

OK, so what if you are not online? Does all this Web integration do you any good? Well, with gOS you can install Google Gears as well. It available in the menu at the top left. Gears allows you to continue using Web applications offline. According to their site, “Gears was designed to be used on both Google and non-Google sites. A number of web applications currently make use of Gears, including two Google products: Google Reader and Google Docs. Additionally, Zoho and Remember the Milk have been using Gears since its original launch. If you’re running Windows Mobile on your cellphone, Picasa Web Albums also makes use of Gears.” They are working to add Google Mail and Google Calendar so that you can use these tools offline as well. This will defintely help those who don’t have a permanent connection to the Internet.

Will gOS Become Google OS?:

Personally, I would not be surprised if Google comes out with their own OS within a year. John C. Dvorak of PC Magazine and the CrankyGeeks podcast has claimed this is what they are up to. Let’s see, so far they have released Google Mail, Documents, Calendar, Picassa, Spreadsheet, Reader, Gadgets, Google Gears, and now even their own Web browser, Google Chrome. They are not missing too many components for their own OS. A free (hopefully in speech as well as beer) OS based on Linux with an ad supported revenue model, hence the necessity of taking the user into online applications.  Who knows? Maybe gOS will be it some day.

Some Hardware Issues:

Getting online was a problem with gOS. I have a Dell Insprion 1350 WLAN card in my 1150 notebook. The card needs to use a properitary driver from broadcom.  When I boot into regular Ubuntu Hardy the restricted driver manager pops up and asks me if I want to download the firmware and extract it using b43-fwcutter. Once I say yes it goes out to openwrt.org site and pulls down the firmware, extracts it, and automagically I have my wireless card working. I did not get any pop up message in gOS to do this and so the wireless card was not working.

To fix the situation I had to download b43-fwcutter myself. I went to packages.ubuntu.org and this page to get the package. I installed the .deb package and ran it. Just like in Hardy, it pulled the down the firmware from openwrt’s site and my 1350 wireless card was now working. Fortunately, for me this wireless problem  was only a minor nuisance.  Maybe it is because this is a beta release, but since this is a newbie distribution I hope they get this fixed before final release.

I had more luck with the wireless using my Hawking HWU-8DD USB network adapter. This was autodetected and loaded using the zd1211rw module which is included in the kernel gOS uses, version 2.6.24.

Including WINE 1.0:

One interesting thing I found with this distribution was the inclusion of WINE 1.0. Now that it has finally reached the 1.0 mark I hope other distributions consider it. Many users are going to have one or two “can’t live without” Windows applications on their system. With WINE being as mature as it is I think it would help move some people over to Linux if it were included in more distributions. gOS is targeted at new Linux users, people who are most likely coming from Windows, so I think the inclusion of WINE should be helpful to their transition to Linux.

Conclusion:

In conclusion I think gOS has some merits. Trying to free some of the Web applications from the browser sometimes (like in RSS newsreaders) makes sense. Adding WINE is also a plus for new Windows switchers. Having MP3 playback and Flash working out of the box is also helpful for newbies. Other than the YouTube button not working and the wireless issue noted above I didn’t have any problems running the system and I greatly prefer the theme over what Hardy has. Give this distribution a try and see what you think.

gOS Screenshot DesktopgOS Screenshot with GadgetsgOS screenshot with Firefox 3.0Open Office 2.4 Screenshot

5 Responses to “gOS 3 Google Gadgets Review”

  1. Brad says:

    I didn’t care much for the desktop but Hardy isn’t much more if any more attractive. All seemed to run pretty well but I think anyone looking for a new or first distro won’t take the appearance of gOS very seriously. I tested gOS on my rather old Dell Dimension 8100 desktop with a P4 1.4 and 768mb of Rambus memory and it worked without any need to search for drivers.

    However, as a PC tech, I rarely need to find drivers for any of my Linux systems as opposed to MS, especially on laptops, searching for drivers which is always a hassle. I personally run Debian Etch in a gnome desktop and prefer Synaptic and Kpackage to any other package manager. I recommend trying the new Opera web browser 9.5 if you haven’t yet as it runs faster than any version of Firefox (Iceweasel) and is easy to configure.

    I don’t mean to bash gOS, just think they should work on the appearance of the desktop and instead of trying to create a new desktop style, perhaps use one of the stable/proven desktops such as gnome, KDE or XFCE all of which are extremely easy to customize. Other than my personal preferences, gOS does the job and does it well.

    One last note, the inclusion of Wine may be a good idea however, Open Office and other applications work almost exaclty the same in Linux as do MS Office and I really don’t see the need to install MS software in a Linux system.

    Installing Opera is very easy to do from their website as they have it available as a “deb” file as it should be. With over 30,000,000 Linux users worldwide, it really is the responsibility of all hardware vendors and software providers. Simply choose the download for your distro and open it with “Kpackage, Gdebi etc…and it installs it and places it in your menu for you.

    Brad

  2. Boycott Novell » Links 14/09/2008: New GNU/Linux Releases, Unigine Demo says:

    [...] gOS 3 Google Gadgets Review This weekend I decided to take the Linux distribution known as gOS 3.0 beta for a spin. The gOS is an Ubuntu 8.04.1 derivative that shows some promise with it’s integration of Web applications. Although they are not affilated with Google, gOS has incorporated many Google online tools into their desktop. [...]

  3. wally says:

    I think it is a fundamental ergonomic mistake to locate controls and buttons in three different parts of the screen.
    Your suggestion that more distros include Wine by default is an excellent one!

  4. stowupland says:

    I feel this is great distro aimed at getting youngsters using Linux, it sort of feels like the Mac OS which is a good thing as Vista is horrible. Including wine was a positive step as Linux software like Gimp are not always the best available. Myself I like to be able to run exe software like Xnview and Photoshop which are far more capable of quick photo editing without having to hunt through dozens of sub menus. Picasa and GoogleEarth use wine as underpinnings! The more Linux concentrates on getting Windows software to run the more powerful a force Linux will become. gOS 3 is probably an indication of the way for Linux to go.

  5. David says:

    I am aware of the .deb package for Opera and have tried it out on my box. It is a slick browser and runs well, but I prefer Firefox for the extensions. I usually have both Firefox and Opera on my computers. With hard drives being so large now, it makes sense having more than one browser on your system. The other reason I prefer Firefox is because it is open sourced. Last I checked Opera was still closed source.

    It’s going to be interesting to see how Google Chrome works when they finish the Linux version. I listened to the Linux Basement podcast and the host Chad gave it a positive review. You can run Chrome on Ubuntu using a .deb package from the CrossOver folks. They do not charge anything for this package. They use WINE to get it working. Google has released Chrome using the BSD llcense, so you can do what you want with it pretty much.

Leave a Reply