Can G.ho.st scare Microsoft?

Hosted OS company plays David to Windows' Goliath

Somehow, the fact that startup G.ho.st has its headquarters in Jerusalem is fitting. After all, it wasn't far from the ancient city that the biblical hero David squared off against Goliath. And, in a sense, that is the tiny company and its G.ho.st (Global Hosted Operating System), is intent on doing with the giant of the operating system business: Microsoft.

The G.ho.st virtual computer platform is a browser-based hosted alternative to desktop client systems like Microsoft's Windows and Apple's OS X. With Gh.o.st, all users need to do is log on to the Internet and they can use Web-based applications like Google Docs or the ThinkFree office application suite, said Zvi Schreiber, CEO of G.ho.st.

"The idea of having the whole computing environment on the Web has been a great idea for a while, but the [applications] haven't been there," Schreiber said.

That's changing, however, as companies like Zoho and Google rolling out Web-based word processors, spreadsheets, and calendars, Schreiber said. "The intention [of G.ho.st] is people are doing more and more of their work on the Web and less and less on the local [client]," said Schreiber.

Launched in an alpha version in April, the Web-based operating system is being hosted by Amazon Web Services data centers, Schreiber said. A fully functional service is planned for this summer.

G.ho.st uses Linux technologies along with freshly architected pieces in such areas as client-to-server connectivity.

"We give you a single file system to keep track of all the different files you've got online," Schreiber said.

Schreiber says his operating system can't compete with client operating systems like Windows -- and isn't necessarily trying to. Instead, G.ho.st is targeted at three groups: people who do not have a laptop, people in developing countries who cannot afford a PC or Internet connection, and people not permitted to install their own files on their at-work computers.

Possible growth opportunities include mobile workers, who could use it to access a personal desktop remotely.

For now, G.ho.st is free for users. The company is hoping to generate revenues through affiliation with service providers like Amazon.com. But most of the company's backing comes from Schreiber himself and from monies earned from the sale of two previous startups: Tradeum, a B2B commerce company, and metadata technology vendor Unicorn.

The rise of Web-based applications and operating systems has many technologists wondering if enterprises aren't readying themselves to abandon desktop computers altogether, coming full circle to a world of mainframe systems and "dumb terminals" that most companies left behind in the 1980s. The fate of G.ho.st and other endeavors like it in the coming months may help answer that question.

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