Cloud computing is not a gimmick; it is real, and may very well supplant the way many of us think about and use our computers. There are numerous commercial cloud platforms available from juggernauts such as Google and Amazon, but in the realm of free and open source, eyeOS is a very promising technology.

First I’ll say that eyeOS is extremely easy to install, maintain, and upgrade, and offers a lot of attractive features. I have been using eyeOS for about 6 months and I have installed it on a number of servers with virtually no problems, other than performance issues common to shared web hosting packages. eyeOS requires the server delivering the data to process some PHP on the backend, and it makes heavy use of AJAX on the frontend, but once the data are loaded, even on an ill-performing shared server, it performs respectably.

A little history. When I first worked with an outside web host about a decade ago I had to think small. Small files, few videos, audio, images on the site, and diligent practice in optimizing file formats to keep the bandwidth usage down. I think the first host I worked with provided about 200 MB of storage, which was okay at the time, but was certainly not generous.

With the emerging pervasiveness of broadband at the turn of the millennium I soon got used to the idea of fast downloads and having gigabytes of storage available online for a reasonable price. So I began to store files I commonly worked on locally to the server. I used to use FTP to manage these files, but FTP programs don’t necessarily make it easy to determine which image out of hundreds is the one you’re looking for, for example. Anyone who uses a computer to do more than standard “office” work and occasional pictures needs more than the name of a file for efficient workflow, and that’s all you get with most FTP clients.

Enter eyeOS. eyeOS requires only a server with PHP 5.x and no MySQL database to set up and maintain, which is nice for a number of obvious reasons. For one, it affords installation experimentation without having a lot of files to clean up if you decide it’s not what you want. Let me say that I am only referring to the most basic installation of eyeOS here, that is, without OpenOffice support. Yes, eyeOS supports OpenOffice files, but only if you have the core OpenOffice files installed on the server, which is not so simple to do, but you don’t necessarily need that for personal use.

eyeOS is bundled with a number of simple yet useful applications, including a word processor, spreadsheet, address book, FTP client, mail and message client, and others. These are all very feature light, but they work, and are practical. Through a basic eyeOS installation you can easily manage most file types, create HTML documents, basic text files, and make it relatively simple to view images as slideshows. I didn’t mention this before, but eyeOS tries to look and work like a graphical computer desktop environment, so if you like mousing about, you will feel right at home. There are icons and folders and menus (oh, my).

One particularly attractive feature of eyeOS is that it’s possible to set different privileges per account so it’s very easy to use it for collaborative work. You simply set specific files with the intended permissions for a particular group and those files can then be accessed by other people who are members of that group. Administration is very easy, though there are still a few rough spots like resetting passwords for users who forget them. That requires a bit of manual file editing, but it’s not hard, just more work that it ought to be.

Going back to what I like about using eyeOS for my personal work I really appreciate being able to quickly go online, peruse my files graphically, and download or upload files as I need to. I find in many cases it’s faster for me to upload a file to my eyeOS cloud than to plug in a flash drive, copy the file to the drive, and unmount it. Since the files are online I only need a web browser to get to them. Very handy.

There is an active development community working on eyeOS, as well as numerous developers adding “applications” to the eyeOS platform. From my limited investigations of programming apps for eyeOS it looks like a nice framework to work with, and it will only get better.

You can find out more about eyeOS here: http://eyeos.org