The short answer is no. By definition an operating system (OS) is a computer program that manages the hardware and software resources of a computer. At the foundation of all system software, the OS performs basic tasks such as controlling and allocating memory, prioritizing system requests, controlling input and output devices, facilitating networking, and managing files. It also may provide a graphical user interface for higher level functions. It forms a platform for other software.
I think you agree that anything that runs in your browser doesn’t match this definition. However, the vast majority of computer users don’t know the definition and as long as they can continue their daily tasks (like text editing, sending email, using a spreadsheet, …) will not care if their user interface runs in a browser. For them I have good news: the answer to the title question is yes and Google may launch a web OS in the near future :).
Personally I think the term web desktop (or webtop - a network application system for integrating web applications into a web based work space) is closer to what you can have today. Why would you use web desktop software? Well, here are some features you will find in current webtop applications: file explorer, file sharing, web based email, blog creator, instant messenger, address book, calendar, chat rooms, message boards, RSS reader, website editor, office productivity applications, online document collaboration. If you are not convinced yet please note that you can have access to this personal desktop and your data without carrying anything more than your username and password from any place in the world (with an internet connection, of course). There are a few choices for this available today – you can see the links and some screenshots at the end of the article.
But what is somebody comes with the right hardware and software environment and offers a “true” web operating system? Would you buy/use it? Already there are a bunch of offers for online storage, you can write your documents online and even use a spreadsheet. Here are some thoughts I have in mind:
· Don’t expect high performance, intensive 3D games or applications, fast response times and user interface richness you can have in a modern OS today. Even a super fast internet connection (10MB/s) is way below the speed of the hardware (50-100MB/s for a hard drive, 2-8GB/s for RAM memory and so on).
· You will not “own” your private data anymore. If something goes bad with the hosting company, well, it’s bad for you too. How about your privacy? Your provider will have access to anything you do on your computer, ANYTHING.
· How about storage capacity? Development environments? Porting existing applications?
Today there are some research projects in this area and even some implementations but nothing near what you can get from a “normal” OS. I’m watching the news in this area but in the meantime here are the promised screenshots (click for full size images):