First Look: The gOS 3 Operating System

O/S is an open source Ubuntu derivative which first appeared an inexpensive computers sold at Wal-Mart

The gOS operating system is an open source Ubuntu derivative published by Emeryville, Calif.-based Good OS LLC. gOS gained fame when it showed up in a line of inexpensive computers sold at Wal-Mart. As a longtime Ubuntu user, I've known and used some of its derivatives, such as Kubuntu. However, this time, I decided to give gOS a spin.

The version of gOS I used, gOS 3 Gadgets, is built with components from Ubuntu 8.04's ("Hardy Heron") repositories. Despite the gOS name and integration with Google online apps, the company that makes gOS has no affiliation with Google.

This version of gOS uses a modified version of the GNOME desktop environment. That approach represents a switch from earlier versions of this operating system, which used the much more lightweight Enlightenment window manager to get the best performance out of low-end hardware.

gOS makes use of a nice little application docking utility called wbar to store commonly used applications. The wbar plus GNOME combination appears to be an attempt to imitate Mac OS X's user interface.

Everything in gOS is done nicely, with a soft green appearance that is aesthetically pleasing. It's a much needed departure from Ubuntu's default brown color scheme. gOS also offers a custom GTK theme with attractively done controls. However, since this is the only theme available (at least on the LiveCD), there is no way to change it without installing other GTK themes yourself.

The green theme got to me after a while, so I wished other GTK themes were available. Users wanting themes such as Crux or Clearlook, which are practically standard in most GNOME-based distributions, including Ubuntu, may be disappointed.

gOS includes some of the standard tools that you would expect to find in a typical desktop-oriented distro: OpenOffice.org, Gimp, CD/DVD utilities, Firefox, Mplayer, PDF viewers, etc. In addition to the basics, gOS also includes Google's Picasa (a nice Windows-based image editor/organizer that uses a Wine-based wrapper to work in Linux) and Skype.

gOS has close integration with Google's online applications. It includes Prism-based wrappers for Google Mail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs. Therefore, gOS is especially suited for those who routinely make use of these services.

The most interesting and useful feature I noticed in gOS is the default inclusion of Google Gadgets, which are little desktop widgets closely resembling those found in Mac OS X's dashboard, Windows Vista's sidebar, and KDE3's SuperKaramba and KDE4's Plasmoids. These widgets show CPU usage, RSS feeds, weather and more. There is even a little virtual plant that will eventually bloom if you "water" it by placing your pointer on it every so often. Despite being in beta, the gadgets work very well, with a wide assortment available from Google and independent developers.

gOS is very efficient and undemanding in its system requirements. On my new triple-core AMD Phenom with 4GB of memory, gOS only used 238 MB to 245 MB (seven percent of my total system memory) for most of my session. All in all, my system barely broke a sweat during the trial run, which is a good thing in a time where bloated operating systems have become the norm.

However, there is room for improvement. gOS attempts to distance itself from Ubuntu by rebranding everything, but it still uses the Ubuntu sounds for logging in. Codecs to play DVDs and MP3 audio are not installed by default due to copyright laws in some countries. Some users will not know how to install codec packages manually, so they will not be able to play MP3 audio or watch DVDs. Free audio codecs, such as OGG Vorbis or FLAC, will work fine out of the box.

I experienced some display problems with gOS. My Samsung Syncmaster 932BW's native display resolution (1440 x 900) had vertical distortion. I had to downgrade to a lower resolution to get readable text, although anti-aliasing was still poor. Compiz Fusion is available in gOS, and this can be used to produce complex 3d-accelerated desktop effects. However, I could not make it work on the LiveCD because gOS did not detect my Nvidia graphics hardware and load the restricted drivers for it.

All in all, gOS is a good distro built on Ubuntu's foundation, with room for improvement. If you like green color schemes and frequently use Google's services, give it a try.

-- Will Kraft