Could a startup beat Microsoft and Google to market with a 'cloud OS'?

Could a startup beat Microsoft and Google to market with a 'cloud OS'?

Summary: A Swedish, venture-backed startup believes it can beat both Microsoft and Google in bringing a "cloud OS" product to market. Xcerion has won over some impressive backers, including former NT architect Lou Perazzoli and former Microsoft CFO John Connors.

SHARE:
20

A Swedish, venture-backed startup believes it can beat both Microsoft and Google in bringing a "cloud OS" product to market.

A "Cloud OS" is what Microsoft officials have described as the back-end infrastructure that will power its growing family of Live services. And -- in spite of repeated public denials that it also is working on a "Google OS" -- Google is believed to be in the throes of building its own version of a cloud OS that is being developed by former Plan 9 engineers who are now on staff at Google, I hear).

So what chance does an unknown, 15-employee startup, with a self-described mission of "empowering the world with free software," have against these kinds of software and services powerhouses?

I was more than a little skeptical when I first sat down this week with Xcerion CEO Daniel Arthursson and advisory board member Lou Perazzoli.

(A big part of the reason I agreed to meet with the company was because of Perazzoli. Microsoft historians will remember that he was a former distinguished engineer with Microsoft and one of the key architects of Windows NT. When I heard former Microsoft Chief Financial Officer John Connors also was an investor in Xcerion, that sealed the deal.)

Xcerion has developed a layer that can sit on top of a variety of browsers running on a host of different operating systems -- everything from Internet Explorer, Mozilla and (soon) Safari running on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. (Right now, the company refers to this layer as Xcerion, but officials are looking for a shorter, easier name.)

This layer -- which Perazzoli described as being more like Windows for Workgroups, which used to reside on top of MS-DOS, than a full-fledged OS in its own right -- is a 2 MB XML-based downloadable. Once customers have downloaded this layer, plus one or more even smaller applets (word processing, spreadsheet, presentation system, etc.) developed by Xcerion and/or various third parties, they are ready to roll.

The customers' data, all of which will be stored as XML files, will reside in Xcerion's "virtual safe," which can be anything from a USB key, a hosted storage back-end, or even a storage system hosted by a corporation for its own employees' usage. Xcerion already has set up a fleet of datacenter servers (running Ubuntu Linux) that will be able to host the data, Arthursson said. Because these servers will host only the compressed XML files containing customers' information -- as opposed to entire hosted versions of Word, Excel and other programs -- they don't need as many servers as Microsoft or Google are racing to provide.

Xcerion is targeting with its offering the 90 percent of users who don’t want or need all the whiz-bang features that are in products like Microsoft Office and StarOffice, said Arthurrson. The sweet spot is the group of consumers, small businesses and enterprise users who don't want to be power users. Users will have a choice of a free, ad-supported version of its product, or one that is available for a nominal (and as-yet-undetermined) monthly subscription fee.

To me, the weakest link in Xcerion's model is the development piece. The company is providing for free as part of its offering rapid-development tools that are geared toward nonprofessional programmers. Xcerion staffers are using these tools to build an initial set of ten applets (word processor, spreadsheet, calendar, etc.). But the company is relying on third parties to provide the rest of the applets that will run in the cloud. To spur development, Xcerion is promising to provide developers with a secure, online marketplace where they will be able to sell their apps. (Xcerion has developed its own micropayments, subscription and transaction engines to support all these functions.)

The goal: Make available for download 200 to 300 free and paid applets within two years. Xcerion is planning to start private beta tests of its applets in another month.

The company is planning to launch by the end of the third quarter its entire platform.

Companies like Microsoft and Google have hundreds, if not thousands, of developers trying to build a solution like Xcerion's. They're spending millions to do so. Could an unknown startup beat them to the punch?

Topic: Operating Systems

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

20 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Sounds interesting.

    I just signed up. Anything to support Microsoft competitors!
    nomorems
    • Congrats!

      By signing up, you just doubled their customer base!
      John Zern
      • lol

        that was funny.
        xuniL_z
  • Website is SLOW... NO thanks

    If it works like the website you can forget it!!!

    ha ha
    Linux User 1
  • Really don't get it

    So I download a new operating system on top of the one I have.

    Wow - a great step forward.

    It's a browser, not a base for an OS.

    If 90% of the world is using Windows, you've got a snowball's chance in hell at high noon on midsummer's day of them downloading another OS.

    Cloud OS = Castles in the air.
    TonyMcS
    • I don't know

      If it offered something worth while that Windows didn't do then maybe but other that I'd have to agree with you.
      voska
  • *Yawn*

    This has been done only a few dozen times before. My personal favorite was MyWebOS which had some big names backing it for a while making their own applications. It's gone, and this will be too.
    Yensi717
  • Short answer 'No'

    What is it with moving everything to the web?
    All the web is is a lightweight deployment model. Each page is a scripted application. Limited - but easy to deploy. It has has a built in client/server protocol - so it's easier to centrally store data. That's it - let's not get excited about any revolution in application development.

    Make traditional dekstop applications as easy to deploy (e.g. Flex, WPF etc) and build this on established client/server protocols (e.g. WS.*, JSON, XML etc) and any advantage the Web model has disappears in a puff unusability.

    It's funny how history repeats itself- remember the Oracle thin client model of the mid-90s.
    joe1972
  • No I don't thinks so

    Why do we need a smsll OS sitting on top of a browser on top of an OS? How about a Boot OS in a 2GB (maximum) Memory Card that
    allows the computer to boot up adn run everything off the net? Bye MS OS
    C4Ever
  • Congratulations; you've just re-invented Java

    > Xcerion has developed a layer that can sit on top of a variety of browsers
    > running on a host of different operating systems ? everything from Internet
    > Explorer, Mozilla and (soon) Safari running on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.

    SUN has developed a layer that can sit on top of a variety of browsers running on a host of different operating systems ? everything from Internet Explorer, Mozilla and (now; not merely soon) Safari running on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.

    > Once customers have downloaded this layer, plus one or more even smaller
    > applets (word processing, spreadsheet, presentation system, etc.)
    > developed by Xcerion and/or various third parties, they are ready to roll.

    Once customers have downloaded Java, plus one or more even smaller Java applets (word processing, spreadsheet, presentation system, etc.) developed by SUN and/or various third parties, they are ready to roll.
    Knorthern Knight
  • Reliability?

    What about reliability??

    Seriously, despite our best efforts, stuff happens. The server could be hit with a DoS attack. The client could be on a laptop and could lose wireless access. There's really no guarantee that everything's going to be OK, and the Internet is notorious for being unreliable. Linux or Windows, doesn't matter. Despite competing claims about how many 9's they add to 99.99.....% reliability, I've yet to see anywhere on the Internet where that is actually true. Downtime is a fact of life, and I'd prefer to avoid moving parts of my OS to a place I know is unreliable.
    CobraA1
    • I hear you saying that the Internet is unreliable...

      ...but I don't experience that. And, I don't hear others telling me that. I think it's more likely for my OS to crash than it is the Internet.

      Take the blinders off. Internet's here. You know, the computer in my car drives my fuel injectors. If it fails, car stops. Car JUST NEVER STOPS!

      Eventually, it will be the exception to the rule that you won't find a connection someplace. Think of the last time you had to use MS Word or Excel. Were you online at the same time. Probably.

      I'm telling you, look out Microsoft. You are nailing your coffin if you don't offer up a Google Apps...post haste!
      rayted32
      • Take the blinders off yourself

        "I hear you saying that the Internet is unreliable...
        ...but I don't experience that. And, I don't hear others telling me that. I think it's more likely for my OS to crash than it is the Internet."

        Well, unplug those ears once, I hear and experience all the time. My OS just needs a rare 5 minute reboot, but when the nearby construction crews break my cable Internet, it could be hours (I lived in an expanding neighborhood). Same with DoS attacks or defacement; almost every website I've visited has been attacked at one time or another.

        "Think of the last time you had to use MS Word or Excel. Were you online at the same time. Probably."

        On my laptop or desktop? On my laptop the answer is [b]NO.[/b]

        From what I can tell, my computer [b]IS[/b] more reliable than the Internet.
        CobraA1
  • What's the Point?

    Another layer on top of the OS that is running slow web apps. Have you ever used a web app? They are slow and limited in use. This will have marginal appeal.
    jpr75_z
    • That's a narrow view

      They are aiming at people that do not want enterprise applications, and/or don't have power user needs. They're not looking to replace all of MS-Office users. Far from. But it sounds like a Firefox model where they have build a base for others to build extension applications.

      This model may also prove useful to several start-up companies looking to control costs. And even larger companies that don't necessarily need to roll out the full Office suite to every user. This could save lots of people a lot of money.

      Third, it could also be less invasive to the operating system stability than potential installs of non-MS Office applications, or loads of other calendaring, etc... tools.

      Fourth, if it's non platform specific, it means I can install it on any machine, with any OS I like and have a consistent suite of tools. This would be great for virtual teams.

      It's got some promise. Don't be so quick to shoot it down.
      Spats30
  • Lets add another layer to further remove us

    from the machine. Why do we have these fast fast machines that we slow slow down
    and cripple with code interpetors and dependence on a high speed internet
    connection. The internet is just a big network. Let us use our computers to
    compute, let us use our networks to connect. Remove the clouds and let the sun
    shine.
    LittleGuy
  • Xcerion runs offline too, its an XML OS :)

    Some answers to some of the misconceptions:

    <b>Reliability</b>: The OS runs also offline, without a network connection, as long as it was booted while the network connection was up. This is probably one of the first times a web application may continue to operate in an offline mode. The code is not running on the Internet servers, it is executing within the OS on the local client.

    <b>User experience</b>: Interaction with a web application is sometimes quite slow. Here is an OS that uses the local processor on the client, to directly without any network server round trips handle the user interaction = as fast software as traditional desktop apps.

    <b>Look and feel</b>: Applications look, feel and behave like traditional desktop applications, including drag and drop, windows, context menus etc.

    <b>Reinventing Java</b>: The Xcerion OS is actually an XML OS, applications are written and run in XML. To develop these applications you do not need to program, they are described in a higher meta-level, making it much faster and easier to develop desktop applications compared to traditional languages. Java and .NET is still great for back-end server code, like implementing XML Web Services. Remember XML is often the preferred way both for Java and .NET developers, compare with XAML for WPF. To achieve great results using Java you need to be a programmer, using Xcerion OS, you simply don?t.

    <b>Memory card</b>: Together with a thin Linux and a browser, the OS would be able to boot from a memory card. Why reinvent the core OS? Xcerion have focused on improving everything but the core. The memory card can also be used as your virtual hard drive for the OS. Using a thin Linux underneath would remove many layers and make the experience even faster. This would be ideal, but realistically most people do not want to switch the OS underneath, because they have apps they need to use.

    Xcerion Team
    dlsxc
  • Technology Innovation Beginning To Take Root

    In laboratories other than Microsoft. Here is another good example:

    http://www.fingergear.com/computer_on_a_stick.php

    Although they have most of the world buffaloed, Microsoft is now learning that some people are not afraid take advantage of new technology and use it for their own benefit rather than pay-thru-the-nose to Microsoft for it.

    http://lxer.com/module/db/index.php?dbn=14
    Ole Man
  • Xindesk is the same

    Xindesk is the same, with the difference that xindesk is serverside only, next to nothing executes on the client, which is treated as a mere 'dumb client', and therefor any browser will do.
    More information is found at the http://www.xindesk.com/blog
    Mikael_66
  • RE: Could a startup beat Microsoft and Google to market with a 'cloud OS'?

    I attended a Microsoft partner meeting with Steve Balmer last week here in Copenhagen, and it sounded like he was scared that a cloud OS would be in place before MS had called its next shot..I think your right on the nose on this one, m'dear! I will look closer at Xcerion's product, they're not so far away...
    Scott Hill
    Mobile Monday Group
    Copenhagen
    www.version2.dk/grupper/mobilemonday
    frontierscientist