G.ho.st Twitters From Amazon Web Services - InformationWeek

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11/11/2008
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John Foley
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G.ho.st Twitters From Amazon Web Services

G.ho.st, a startup that has developed a "virtual computer," is integrating Twitter with its browser-based user environment. More than a dozen applications are available from G.ho.st, a unique company where Israelis and Palestinians work together writing Web 2.0 software.

G.ho.st, a startup that has developed a "virtual computer," is integrating Twitter with its browser-based user environment. More than a dozen applications are available from G.ho.st, a unique company where Israelis and Palestinians work together writing Web 2.0 software.G.ho.st was founded in 2006 to develop what founder and CEO Zvi Schreiber calls a global hosted operating system (hence the name G.ho.st). The company's platform is a combination of Java-developed server software running on Amazon Web Services and Flash-Java browser code.

For users, G.ho.st provides Web applications (Google Docs, ThinkFree, Zoho), e-mail (Zimbra, Meebo IM), file storage, and keyword tagging in an integrated, browser-accessible environment. That includes, at no cost, up to 5 GB of file storage and 3 GB of e-mail storage. G.ho.st refers to it as a virtual computer. The G.ho.st environment is accessible from Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari, with Chrome and Opera support planned.

The 35-employee company has been on the A circuit for startup companies, attending the Web 2.0 Summit a year ago, followed by DEMO and The Wall Street Journal's All Things Digital conference, and it has $2.4 million in funding from Benchmark Capital. Revenue comes from a percentage of e-commerce and subscription sales generated by partners and, eventually, from premium services to users.

More than 100,000 people have tried G.ho.st, which is still pre-beta. The company will officially launch its service early next year, Schreiber says. The key issue it faces in the meantime is accelerating logon performance. It can take up to a minute to sign in from a machine for the first time, and Schreiber says that's not good enough. The goal is to bring that down to 10 seconds.

Who needs a virtual computer? G.ho.st is aimed at teens, students, and people in developing countries who don't have PCs and at mobile users who want to access Web applications and files from smartphones, Internet cafes, and temporary workstations. Business professionals could potentially use G.ho.st as a Web 2.0 workspace isolated from company-issued PCs.

At the same time that it's working to improve the speed of its virtual computers, G.ho.st is adding applications. The company is close to adding Twitter as an integrated application, though it hasn't announced it yet. Another forthcoming app is FriendFeed, a social networking site.

G.ho.st is noteworthy for another reason. The company has an office in Jerusalem and another in the West Bank city of Ramallah, which are separated by the 425-mile wall between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Despite that physical barrier, the business arrangement provides a two-way benefit: G.ho.st's Palestinian programmers get much-needed jobs and stock options, while the company gains the advantage of a skilled workforce at competitive rates.

Schreiber says it's a goal to foster collaboration, dialog, and peace between Israelis and Palestinians, while building a Web software business in the process. G.ho.st employees on opposite sides of the barrier use video conferencing, Google Docs, and G.ho.st files to interact. "It's a unique way to build a team," says Schreiber.

G.ho.st's technical challenges are small compared with the physical, cultural, and religious divide it's attempting to span and its goal of providing free computing resources to people around the world. Its progress will include intangibles that can't be measured in response time or gigabytes.

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