Cloud computing is a concept that I never really thought was a good idea. I know a lot of people love the concept of storing information out “in the cloud” so that you can access it from anywhere in the world, regardless which PC you’re using.
I guess what has always concerned me about it is security. Don’t we already have enough bits and bytes of ourselves floating around in cyberspace already – easy enough pickings for hackers that want your social security number or credit card information. So, why increase the volume of personal information streaming through the ether? I’m not judging anyone that has adopted the cloud mentality – I think it’s convenient and a cool concept. It’s just that I guess the security trade-offs are too great for me.
With that said, I really like the convenience of the cloud concept, and one area where I feel it could be put to good use is right inside the family home. Consider what it would be like if anyone in your family could log into any computer in the house, and access the same central computer system – each person with their own file storage space and desktop setup. Well, by using a cloud desktop solution called eyeOS, you can actually set up such a central “cloud” desktop server right in your home.
Not a Real Cloud – A Home Cloud
This concept is more like a “contained” cloud. You are only creating an environment that is accessible from inside your home, on your own home network.
If you think about it, the idea of this is kind of nice. You can have a cheap laptop with hardly any hard drive space. So long as it has decent RAM and a good browser – you can log into your “computer” and start taking advantage of the processor speeds and storage space of your honking home server.
Your home setup may look something like the image below. The only prerequisite is a decently-powerful server – this can be a tower PC, so long as there’s lots of RAM, a screaming processor and plenty of drive space.
When eyeOS is installed onto the server as a PHP web-based application, clients are able to connect to it through nothing more than a browser window.
eyeOS is really intended for a collaborative environment, like a business or a school, where you want to maintain tight controls over what the environment offers, and what the users can do – while also offering enough productivity tools so that people can actually make use of the system.
I think where I envision it working best is as a family environment for users that say, “All I need the Internet for is just to check my email.” You’d be surprised just how many people like that there are.
This option lets you offer terminals (cheap PCs or laptops) all throughout a home, that anyone in the family can use to log into their “desktop” whenever they like.
Setting Up eyeOS
To set up your own cloud desktop in your home, you’ll need a server (or powerful PC) that is configured as a web server. This can be as simple as installing XAMPP or Uniform Server. It’ll work on either, because all eyeOS needs is PHP and mySQL. If you’re missing any extensions, the install procedure will tell you that when you run it.
How do you run it? Just download the files to the eyeOS folder in the root web directory, and then go to http://your-server-IP/eyeOS/install/
You’ll see what extensions you have installed and those you don’t – typically everything you need that’s critical will be enabled with a XAMPP or Uniform Server install. Yellow warnings are just optional items – you can ignore.
Once the install is completed, you’ll want to open up phpmyadmin on your server and configure the mySQL database with a brand new database for eyeOS. I created a database called test, and a user on that database called eyeDB. Once you’re done in phpmyadmin and your mySQL database is ready, continue with the eyeOS install. The next step is entering in the mySQL database info you just created.
The eyeOS root password is actually the admin password you’ll need to get into the system the first time as “root” administrator.
Once the install is done, if everything goes smoothly (as it should), when you go to “http://your-server-ip/eyeOS/”, you’ll see the login screen.
When your family first connects to the system, they’ll just need to click on “Create an account” to start their own session. They’ll be able to choose their own id and password, and fill in their profile details. When they’re done, the next thing they’ll see is the cloud desktop appear inside the browser window.
Now, ideally if you’re creating a classroom system or a protected environment for your kids, you would have a browser automatically launch the URL to eyeOS in full-screen mode when the computer first boots up. This way, it’ll have the look and feel of a regular computer, except that boot-up includes the extra step of connecting to the eyeOS system.
The cloud OS has the application “start menu” actually at the top left rather than the bottom left. Click on it to see all of the apps that are included in this “virtual PC”.
The “People” and “Groups” items are just ways for people on the system to stay in touch by adding each other to their own contact lists, or adding groups of contacts.
The file manager is actually pretty intuitive and well-written, and it even has a preview window off to the right (not shown below) just like in Windows. All of the folders you see on the left are virtual folders – physically stored on the home server but they show up as personal folders for this particular session. For fans of the Linux OS – this is how the world should work.
I also thought that the included Word Processing application is pretty full-featured. You can format in almost any way that you could format in MS Word, and you can even insert tables and images.
If you want to save the file in Doc format, you’ll have to download and install the OpenOffice extension.
Here, you can see a busy desktop. What do I have going on here? There’s a text editor, file explorer, a calculator, and in the back you can see that I have the email client open. eyeOS uses RoundCube to connect to your email account of choice.
I should also mention that the thing that attracted me to eyeOS the most was the fact that it starts off without any full-featured browser. Instead, you can right click on the desktop to create “links”.
When you click on the link, it’ll open a browser window that doesn’t have any URL address bar. The only purpose of the window is to display the web page. Obviously, you can click on links and browse anywhere you like – but for young children, a setup like this is absolutely perfect. They can’t inadvertently type something wrong into the address bar or into Google, because they just can’t get there.
Just set up a few links on their desktop to their favorite game sites, and they’ll be as content as could be. This will keep younger kids happy anyway. Teenagers – not so much.
For those that are looking for a central desktop experience like this, but one that’s a lot more functional, then you’ll need to consider installing one of the hundreds of free applications you’ll find available for download at the official free eyeOS apps website.
There, you’ll find things like a Windows 7 theme, other email clients, and a ton of multimedia and theme apps. There’s lots of ways to tweak the eyeOS cloud-oriented desktop to the way that you and your family like it.
So give it a shot – it takes less than 30 minutes to set up if you already have a server. Introduce your family to the world of cloud computing – securely within the confines of your own network. Let us know what you think of the app in the comments section below.
Image Credits: Cloud Computing Concept Via Shutterstock