Hey YouOS!

Posted by: Steve Hamm on March 31, 2006

Where do people get the nerve to do things like this? YouOS, a four-person startup in Silicon Valley, has just debuted a beta of their technology, which they call a “Web operating system” and which they conceive as the online counterpart to Microsoft’s Windows. I guess it’s the “better mousetrap” impulse. These guys aren’t crazy. They’re not out to get rich quick. They’re just four fun-loving techies who like to invent stuff and think they have come up with a better way to do things on the Web. “People will use it when they want to collaborate or they want to access data when they’re away from their computer. It’s about being able to access from anywhere and share with anyone,” says Jeff Mellen, the company’s executive vice-president.

The practical details: YouOS runs on a handful of servers in San Francisco and can be accessed by anybody through a Web browser at www.youos.com. Consumers who register for free can use a host of simple applications for everything from writing a letter and scheduling their life to managing their e-mail accounts. They can manage all of their Web services and files in one place, share files through a simple buddy list, and add applications written by themselves or their friends. Anybody with the skills and will can write programs on YouOS using Javascript, a simple programming language, plus all sorts of other equally free programming tools.

YouOs obviously isn’t a conventional operating system, which mediates between the chips that power a computer and the software applications. But it has enough similarities to make the metaphor apt. It’s a technology platform that applications can be built upon, and it manages networking functions and other plumbing for the applications. It brings many aspects of the desktop operating system into the Web browser. Also, in a sense,, YouOS liberates software from hardware. “It’s a profound idea in some respects,” says Mellen.

The YouOS story is exceedingly cute. The founders are four friends who used to work at Oracle Corp., the Silicon Valley database software powerhouse. They met each other as members of Uncle Sam’s Army, one of Oracle's intra-company basketball teams. In addition to Mellen, an MIT grad, nicknamed “uiguy,” they including Joe “mrwong” Wong, also of MIT, the treasurer; Sam “unclesam” Hsiung, of Caltech, the secretary; and Srini “burritoninga” Panguluri, of Stanford, the president.

I’m thinking that Panguluri got to be president as a reward for thinking up the idea for the company. In his picture on the Web site, he looks like a sleeping baby.

The boys don’t have an office. They work out of their homes. They have a tiny bit of angel capital, which they raised from Y Combinator, the Web 2.0 incubator, and a few individuals. “Everybody talks about how Google is building the Web operating system, but these guys have done it,” says Paul Graham, one of the principals in Y Combinator. The four aren't exactly burning through the money. They keep expenses low. Their servers and other gear cost less than $10,000. Their software: open source.

Is this really a company? Does it have a chance in hell of accomplishing anything of significance? Beats me. All I know is the founders are fired up, they’re working hard, they’re having fun, and YouOS seems really practical and useful. So far, since the site launched on March 14, (first notice on the Web at digg) 5,000 people have registered and 27,000 people have logged on in one mode or another. So, I guess you could say four guys have created something on the scale of small town in Missouri. Their enthusiasm, luck, and network effects will determine the rest. Says Mellen: “We think of this as an experiment. Hopefully, it’s an experiment that will work out.”

Reader Comments

alex

March 31, 2006 3:30 PM

I think its an excellent idea - that is being able to access your digital content, applications and preferences all virtually from any computer...you can see trends where all major applications are headed that even (even microsoft with their significant investment in live.com and office live.)

Take a look at www.goowy.com. We have developed feature rich application like functionality in a virtual desktop that gives you the ability to upload and manage files, integrated instant messenger, email, contacts, calendar, news, rss, pictures, and more!

- alex

Sterling

March 31, 2006 4:18 PM

These people are what make the tech world interesting... and so deadly for established companies. Google would be smart to use some of the $2B they're raising to buy this start-up now while the price is right... if they'd sell! But there's a bigger story and everyone feels it to some extent and no one wants to say it out loud. It's that proprietary, desktop-driven traditional applications software as we know it will be a thing of the past in five years. Even Microsoft knows it. They just can't say it. Google is thinking that Search is the new operating system. These new guys are thinking the web with Linux is the new operating system. No one, down deep, believes Windoxs XP or Vista or any other proprietary, closed system will prevail. By 2010 Steve you'll look back upon a field of wreckage and realize that the signs of this impending havoc were everywhere in 2006. Maybe you know that now, but like so many of us, think it just can't happen? To which I say remember Prime, Data General, Apollo, Digital Equipment, Wang, Compaq...

Al-Noor

April 2, 2006 9:39 AM

Trying to get a webOS going based on open source is not new but to get as far as they have is new. In particular the ability to have apps running under one OS is key. The content and customisations stuff has been done as has a limited range of apps which are MSFT type productivity apps.
A combination of NING.com and the ability to mash using a common OS would be revolutionary.
Contributing to this we will be opening up location,presence and many other hitherto Telco owned common capabilities to encourage an open WebOS.

David Sterry

April 5, 2006 10:21 PM

YouOS is quite well done and I think they've done a great job creating the development tools and environment to encourage people to help them get it going. Their biggest issue - and many people are struggling with it - is that javascript is being pushed and prodded in all kinds of directions and nobody ever knew it would be used for so much. So the cool thing is, YouOs and others like it are exposing the need for javascript to become more powerful. The question is who is working on a better javascript that will provide better speed, power, and security?

srikanth

April 12, 2006 12:20 AM

I tried Youos. Its a fantastic and gr8 revolution towards the cutting edge technologies

max44

December 14, 2007 9:49 AM

much has happened in the meantime, a lot of other great systems such as eyeos and http://www.oos.cc have emerged. a nice way to go

ramil

March 17, 2009 8:05 PM

what happened to youos. the site has been shut down. did google buy them or apple did? to stop them on their track of taking over the world?

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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