March 21, 2019

The StartX Files: Between the Sheets with Anyware

Would You Like To Play A Game, Professor Falken?

  • February 21, 2002
  • By Brian Proffitt

I am always interested in the zany stuff Hollywood tries to pass off as an operating system whenever the characters in a movie have to deal with computers. Burdened with restrictive licenses and software developers who are apparently unwilling to pay product placement fees, filmmakers have opted to create fake "operating systems" that the characters of the movie can interact with, rather then have them use something like Linux, Mac OS, Windows, or something else that's authentic.

Personally, I think Linux is really missing out on a real ad boon here. Imagine if Sandra Bullock had used Linux in The Net? Sure, a contrived, paranoid plot, but all that star power behind Linux--whoa! No, we get celebrities like Linus, RMS, and ESR. Sorry guys, Sandra Bullock you ain't.

Fake OSes are a bit of a weird hobby of mine. I first started getting interested in them when I first saw War Games, where I got to watch Matthew Broderick use a command-line interface to almost start World War III. Now that's an OS! The Matrix is the extreme of creativity for a fake OS. They show up every where, too. I saw a plain-looking one in the movie Finding Forrester last night, for instance--a good movie that has nothing to do with computers.

So, imaging my shock when I saw one today, in real life, right before my very eyes.

I kid you not. The place was an FBO (flight base operations--where all the little planes' pilots go when they land) office in a northern Indiana airport, where I was waiting to pick up my kids after they spent a weekend at Grandma's. I was early, so I went to check the weather on the terminals provided. When I sat down and moved the mouse, I found myself looking at MSIE (I know, yick) but it was not Windows that it was running on. The window decorations looked as if they had been done in GTK, of all things. Intrigued, I went to minimize the browser window, only to find no minimizing button. I clicked the close button that was there, and for a brief instant, I saw a dialog box flicker by that mentioned something about a Net OS. But it was not a name I recognized, or remember. The the browser appeared again, showing the FBO's home page.

I stuck my head under the desk to find the terminal unit, only to discover that the keyboard, mouse, and monitor were hooked straight into a network switching unit.

It began to dawn on me that I had stumbled upon my first real-life Internet appliance. It did one thing and that was it: display the Web. I wanted to investigate further, but then a convergence of events involving a press conference with the Attorney General of Indiana in the FBO lobby and the screeching arrival of my four-year-old quickly put a halt to my investigations. (I couldn't even try to make this stuff up.)

If this was a Net OS (and I will look for the name the next time I return to that FBO), then this was certainly one of the better uses for it I have seen. Most pilots, after all, have little business mucking about with computers, trust me. Am I a closet advocate of Net OSes? Not particularly. I think that kiosk-mode terminals like the one I ran into today will always be around, but to have them completely replace the power of a desktop operating system would simply never happen, no matter which billionaire was footing the bill.

There does seem to be a strong argument, however, for utilizing the best and most practical aspect of a Net OS, even within a regular operating system. That best quality is the portability of the applications used across the network. If an application can be made truly net-portable, then it has very real value for anyone with a network of more than five users.

Into this arena comes Anyware Office and its spreadsheet application component, the not-so-originally named Spreadsheets.

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