The YouBox – Hardware for YouOS

I have been following an idea I originally discovered in a Paul Graham essay about the advantages of placing applications on the web server rather than the desktop PC. Hot mail and Gmail are good examples. The application and the data for that application (your email) are stored on a server.

YouOS is an interesting development along this path – it is an entire operating system that runs on a server, complete with an IDE for application development and some really powerful collaboration models. One very powerful feature is the ability to move from one computer to another, fire up YouOS on the browser, and there are all your applications and data – just as you left them.

Looking into the future a little there will come a day where ALL your applications, and ALL your data can be stored on a server.

This transition seems to be already happening in some parts of the world. This point from the Ajax web site really interested me:

  • Web as the only Platform Thanks to the widespread adoption of public internet access, the so-called technology gap between countries and between socioeconomic groups is closing. Many people don’t actually own a PC, but do have regular access to the web at internet cafes or schools or friends’ homes. For this diverse category of user, there’s no point installing applications and keeping their data locally. The web is their only platform.

So we have a large number of people who use the web as a platform for economic reasons. YouOS will increase the power of the web platform. What would also help is lowering the cost of web access.

With YouOS the only application you need to run on your PC is a browser. Which suggests to me that you don’t need a PC anymore, just some bare-bones hardware with internet connectivity capable of running a browser.

One thought I have had is adding a monochrome LCD display and keyboard to an embedded linux platform (like the hardware in a WRT54G router). These little routers retail for $60, so must cost about $20 to build. Add a keyboard and LCD and you still have a device that still costs less than $50 to build. Then you would have a small, Wifi connected computer with plenty of CPU power/memory to run a browser, basic command line tools etc.

Combined with ubiquitous connectivity we have a YouOS-Access-Device (YAD? or maybe “the YouBox”) and can replace the desktop in many applications. In a laptop form factor the YouBox could be really light and thin and almost disposable. It would be very portable and lightweight and would use much less power than a regular laptop. It’s more like a larger version of a Palm. For a few extra dollars you could add sound-blaster type audio and the device is also a telephone.

I know there is a sub-$100 laptop project out there, the YouBox is another approach that uses the web as a platfrom paradigm to optimise the hardware. One advantage of the YouBox is that it can be put together in small quantities using off the shelf components.

The YouBox concept still has many questions – for example the need for an internet backbone to connect the YouBox to a server and also the YouOS servers. However these may be a little easier to solve, for example if one backbone/server can handle X YouBox clients, you amortise the backbone/server cost by X.

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