XIN - a Web OS that wants to be a platform

XIN - a Web OS that wants to be a platform

Summary: Recently Mikael Bergkvist has been showing me his "It's basically Windows' entire concept - only online." new web-based OS, called XIN.


Recently Mikael Bergkvist has been showing me his "It's basically Windows' entire concept - only online." new web-based OS, called XIN. Mikael first got in touch with me about it back in October last year - and to be honest it's taken me this long to (almost) grok what he's on about! XIN is an online Ajax OS, which runs server/client applications on a virtual desktop. Mikael says it has been coded using "the simplest possible XML for the greatest possible rich apps".

XIN has set out to achieve two main goals:

1) It aims to be a web operating system that enables users to run a variety of applications within a web browser - similar to other such products, like YouOS. Mikael told me it's "very simple to create, run and install new apps for this 'desktop', privately and/or globally". The XIN how-to page covers the basics. One example is a calculator app, which Mikael explained:

"Notice that everything is contained in this one single XML file, both server and client-side code, as well as the HTML for the interface. It's very similar to plain DHTML, but with a twist. The server-side offers a wide range of objects and a SQL database to work with, so the developers are well equipped to create any type of cool stuff that they want to."

There's also an online document authoring tool, which seems very alpha and isn't as classy-looking as Writely or similar services yet. However Mikael wants us to look deeper than the surface. He says the difference between XIN and other solutions is that "you have absolute server-rights for the apps that you create - and that means the exact same power as any other server/client service found on the web, no matter how sophisticated." He also noted that the AJAX interface is "implemented automatically for the apps, so the developer never has to think about that even for a second."


2) The second main goal of XIN is to produce next generation applications on the XIN Web OS platform. This goal is a long-term one and requires a decent user base and the app list to be fleshed out some more. Mikael somewhat cryptically told me:

"It's something I can't go into in detail as of yet, but it will involve the kind of apps that the industry has speculated about for a while, but which never seem to have materialized - because they're way too sophisticated. The desktop will remain cost-free though, regardless."

When I asked for more details, Mikael told me XIN basically wants to be an OS platform like Microsoft and Apple. He's thinking big:

"Let's say we get 100 000 users of this free desktop with the basic set of apps. Let's say it proves to be useful and fun, and they return to it, and use it for email and news and stuff.. Let's say that they discover that they can easily add more powerful apps - not widgets or gadgets - but real, heavy stuff - to the desktop for a minor fee, like mediaplayers, cms, poker, sms, photo-management, etc. All looking pro and with far more than just 'basic functionality', which is 'what is' today - let's be fair about that.

You won't even have to market any of these apps as a developer - we do that for you, [because] we think it's worth doing that app for that single reason alone for any developer or small company. It will be instantly noticed by all of those 100 000 users/buyers, because it's thrown right in the middle of the highway [the desktop] right away - by us - and it will be instantly worth it as a result. We will make it easy to develop, we will make it cheap to develop, and we will make sure everyone knows about your product right away, and we will manage the sale and take a percentage of that. It's basically Windows' entire concept - only online."

So XIN appears to be much more than a Web Office-like suite of tools. As Mikael describes it, XIN is an actual OS which he says is easy to code for:

"This is not some fancy DHTML desktop that just opens iframes in DHTML windows, it's more of an actual OS. An OS is handling the relationship between the code and the hardware, that's why you need it."

It'll be interesting to track the progress of XIN and see if it makes much headway into the OS market. It seems to me like an interesting long-term concept experiment, at the very least. Will an entirely Web-based OS be able to make inroads as a full development platform, like Windows or Linux? I'm not qualified to tell at this point, but I'm sure a number of ZDNet readers are. So I'm very curious to hear your thoughts. Do you think a Web-based OS like XIN is a viable development platform?

Topic: Apps

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  • GADS, ANOTHER layer

    Use the browser as the "hardware", and XIN OS as the software. This sounds like inefficiency at its worst! The browser will undergo the same CISC-like feature-creep that made x86 into the tangled mess it is today. I can see the future! Calls for XIN v5.0 to become more RISC-like, since it bogs down the heartiest browser.

    I still like my own idea the best (imagine that?) - make the "browser" into a general-purpose display module. Have ALL applications use the browser as their GUI - but not as their computational "device". IOW, like Open-office uses a single GUI for all of its apps.
    Roger Ramjet
    • No so fast..

      "Calls for XIN v5.0 to become more RISC-like, since it bogs down the heartiest browser"

      Xin runs on the server, not in the browser.. at all.
      So, none of that will ever happen. :-)
      • Both, actually

      • mixed

        XIN, using Asynchronous JavaScript Technology and XML (AJAX) shares load between the server (Java, .NET, PHP, etc) and the browsers using Javascript. Having built an AJAX application using the .NET AJAX library, I can't say it will be the easiest thing to debug. If a lot of the code is on the Javascript side, response time will be dependent on not only the user's computer but the type of browser.
        I'd rather focus on standands compliance and fixing the things that are broken before adding more complexity to an already fragile web.
        • Re: mixed

          A lot of the comments on Xin show that nobody visited the documentation at: first, or that they did not read it. Xin wont be particulary hard to debug, there's almost no clientside code, none at all for the developer infact, and It allows for virtualisation, it manages uploaded/downloaded files and you can write your own apps and run them live on your Xin desktop.
  • A concept that warrants a look

    This concept is a possible solution to our growing desire to have everything we do on a day to day basis at our fingertips whenever we need and/or want it. However, XML is not unlike other programming languages that have evolved into monsters wanting more processing and memory from systems. A part of this evolution is the incorporation of higher order functions to streamline the programming end. This is a problem that will never go away as we demand more and more from computers.
    • XML is not unlike other programming languages

      Well, it could be more similar: it could be a programming language. It's not, it's a data markup language.

      Am I going mad, or did the whole world just forget the last 70 years of Computer Science?
      • No just the people who post here ;-)

        I can still remember when coding actually looked good and could be read. Not the abortions foisted on us by web scripting languages.

        And yes it's a data markup language, but then most people don't know that ;-)
        • Re:No just the people who post here

          "And yes it's a data markup language, but then most people don't know that"

          And that's how we treat it too.
  • Not OS, no

    It is not an OS. An OS is an Operating System, and manages the hardware. In this instance, there is neither real nore virtual hardware for it to manage. It is a Desktop i.e. Workspace.

    I think the idea has merit, but it needs reworked at the base level for practicality and optimization.
  • Er, I have an OS already.

    This is so wrong it hurts.

    DHTML is the wrong tool for writing application GUIs. I've been developing GUIs for years, and the mess that is DHTML+Javascript is beyond beleif; no encapsulation, no componentisation, no polymorphism. Not even cooperative multitasking, let alone proper multitasking! It's a document markup language written by a comittee of B-Rankers with no real world experience. For crying out loud - IT'S NOT THE RIGHT TOOOOOOOLLLL!!!!!

    All this Ajax + DHTML malarky is popular because of just two things:
    - Deployment is invisible (but it's still deployment - not 0 deployment as some evangelists tout).
    - Security is tight (the app can't actually do anything, it relies on a business tier running elsewhere to actually do things).

    Oh, I wish I wish I wish we could just create a new, standard, simple, clean, cross-platform/write-once/run anywhere, open, programmatic, efficient, robust GUI language that provided the above advantages: 0 administration, 0 risk. Java could've been a contender, but it's a complete mess now; DHTML+Javascript is just evil.

    And what on earth are the patents for?
  • just LOOKS good

    the GUI looks good, kind of like the web os that I am making. with one big difference. mine is a true OS, ya thats right, a TRUE OS one that can do more then just be a work space. one that can be moded, advanced users will have acess to parts of the code, online file storage, and I have only ben working for a month, who knows what I might do next!!!!!
    • Re: just LOOKS good

      Took us the exact same time to do the exact same thing.
      - God knows what we might do next ;-)
  • Another webtop:

    As said in the article: "... So XIN appears to be much more than a Web Office-like suite of tools"

    The "online operating system" (available at: goes one step further and includes everything needed to own a personalized desktop. By giving the user the ability to change the look&feel, to manage files, to share videos (still to come), etc. The idea of a "web based desktop" becomes more real than with Xin-Desktop