Product of the Day: OEone HomeBase 1.3

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Product: OEone HomeBase 1.3Manufacturer: OEone CorporationAddress: 290 St-Joseph Blvd, Suite 103               Hull, Québec, J8Y 3Y3               CANADATelephone: 819-770-3444URL: www.oeone.com

HomeBase Operating Environment

OEone Corporation, a leading open source software developer, has recently released its HomeBase product as a software-only package that can be installed on a wide range of PC hardware. Powerful and Intuitive Software, OEone's HomeBase is the first Operating Environment based on Linux and Mozilla that enables consumers to configure their own fully featured Internet and Entertainment Computers.

What Is It?

OEone HomeBase software is the industry's first operating environment to fully integrate Linux, Mozilla, an XML based Webtop, and a broad suite of applications bundled with targeted system hardware or to be installed by customers on a wide range of PCs.

All applications are seamlessly integrated within the Webtop and they comprise the Mozilla browser, personal productivity, communications, entertainment, personal portal, and TV viewer. OEone HomeBase also includes backup services, 100MB of server-side storage, and free software upgrades for one year.

What's It Not

It has been called a `Distro', but unlike Linux Distributions such as RedHat or Mandrake, HomeBase clearly stands alone with respect to user interface, usability, and simplicity. While other Distro's strive to replace traditional desktop OS's such as Windows or the Mac/OS with added complexity to the user, HomeBase on the other hand ushers in a new class of computing experience for the masses. Robin "Roblimo" Miller of NewsForge.org agrees: "I found the [OEone] Internet Computer easier to set up than an iMac, and lots easier to use than a typical Windows PC."

What Does HomeBase Allow You to Do?

Whether you buy a machine pre-configured with HomeBase or you customize your own Internet Computer, you'll be ready to enjoy this new computing experience in a matter of minutes. The new Mozilla browser gives you full compliance with all standard Internet content. Our multiple post-office Email Client allows you to access all your email accounts: personal or corporate, POP or IMAP. Our visual address book application allows you to maintain an up-to-date contact list in a standard vCard format.

A complete Calendar application will help you keep all your appointments in one handy electronic format accessible from anywhere in the world. You can receive reminders via email or directly on your wireless device.

The word processor, based on the popular AbiWord, is seamlessly integrated into the Webtop, and provides a full set of features for today's demanding documents. You can also publish your personal page, sharing files with friends and family anywhere in the world.

For your entertainment needs, you can download MPEGs, AVIs, MP3s, and the latest videos received from your friends and family, or watch TV on your computer while you browse the Internet or play games.

Our easy-to-understand Internet Connection Manager will help you connect to the Internet whether you use a regular V.90 modem, high-speed ADSL, or cable modem, and there is no software to install.

Perhaps HomeBase's most valued capability resides on the back-end. Take advantage of our free 100 MB secure storage and synchronize your data with OEone's servers to save your emails and files, and access them from anywhere in the world.

And when the time comes to maintain your system, you will undoubtedly appreciate upgrading or installing new software automatically over the Internet, directly from our servers.

Who's Using HomeBase?

From day one, the product design goal was 'near-zero learning curve'. The difficult challenge we encountered was to create a user interface that was simple for the novice user without limiting more advanced users. Although our early adopters are Linux and open source enthusiasts, their proficiency with Linux varies widely. Their objective remains the same, however, and once they've discovered HomeBase's novel concepts, they then want to turn their relatives on to Linux without the fear of getting endless `How do I do [whatever]' questions. Based on real life experience with owners of Internet Computers running HomeBase, we found that even novice users were able to use and enjoy the computer from day one and will make hardly any 'how do I do?' phone calls to their Linux expert friend.

How Do You Buy It?

All products are available now from OEone's webstore at shop.oeone.com. The OEone HomeBase 1.3 software package comes with free software upgrades for one year and 100MB of server-side storage. The package sells for a suggested retail price of US $29. You can also buy a complete machine pre-configured with our software. The FuturePower AIO integrates a 17" CRT display and a built-in TV tuner. Its new list price is US $649 (down from US $799). Or, if you need to select your own display monitor and speakers, you could order the pre-configured ASUS Terminator, which starts at US $399. Standard options for the Terminator are a TV tuner card at US $49.

Introducing New Concepts

The PC software industry has seen little fundamental innovation in the last fifteen years. The traditional desktop operating systems, Windows, Macintosh OS, and Linux, still fill basically the same role as they did many years ago. This role is limited to managing Fat-Client resources (files system, printer, scanner, camera), and running mostly monolithic applications (office automation, graphics, games).

OEone recognized early the opportunity afforded by a new era of abundance of digital infrastructure: inexpensive processing power and storage, broadband access, and powerful multimedia features. HomeBase leverages this abundance to bring to the masses modern computing that realizes the convergence of information, communication, and entertainment.

Key Design Principles

HomeBase is a fully integrated Operating Environment that uses all the facilities that traditional OSs offer and extends them in two key areas: 1) On the Client side, HomeBase integrates all applications and utilities users need to write documents, communicate, access the web, and enjoy multimedia content out of the box. At a more advanced stage, the user will have the means to install additional Linux or Mozilla applications. The Webtop shields the user from the complexity of the underlying OS (Linux, windows manager, file system, application launcher, Browser) and offers the user a cohesive browser-based user interface that unifies managing files, viewing documents, switching tasks, and surfing web pages. 2) On the server side, a suite of back-end services complements the client side of HomeBase with 100MB of managed storage, data synchronization, point-and-click backups and restores, remote access to personal workspace, auto updates of software, and web page sharing with others.

The Penzilla Application Framework

HomeBase is built using an XML-based application framework called Penzilla. The Penzilla framework ensures that all applications have a consistent and easy to customize user interface. All applications share a common set of CSS and XBL definitions, which are provided by the Penzilla framework. XUL, CSS, and XBL enable the framework to specify all low level details of the user interface, such as the thickness and border color of all buttons, allowing for easy customization of the user interface. For example, changing CSS files in the Penzilla framework can modify the color scheme of all applications.

User Interface Design Approach

Since windowing systems became industry standard in designing User Interface for Software a decade ago, no new user interface paradigm has emerged. The few attempts, such as HP's Dashboard or Microsoft Bob, were limited in scope to hiding details or providing better application launcher. From the user's perspective, these didn't provide any improvement over existing windowing systems. With the introduction of HomeBase, OEone is the first company to try something different: a radically new desktop environment with a new UI metaphor that actually works. For example, Joe Klemmer of LWN.net says, "... I think that the way OEone has designed and built their interface to the computer is as good as, and in some ways better than, Aqua on OS X. I don't say this lightly. The ease of use is fantastic but, as it is Linux, you can still get to the guts of the system if you want to. This really is the Linux Distro for Grandma."

Today's desktop operating systems use the all too familiar window-centric UI model that follows the Document/View Architecture. In this scheme the user is required to manage a multitude of overlapping windows. Sometimes, a single document can be viewed in multiple windows or frames within a single window. When you compound this with modal dialog boxes, modeless property boxes, minimized windows, task bar, etc, it shouldn't be surprising that even advanced users can loose track of what's going on. Consider how many times a dialog box has dropped to the background, making the whole desktop appear frozen.

In contrast, our guidelines call for all UI designs to be user-centric. This makes the product easier to learn by novice users. HomeBase's UI design architecture uses 1) a single full screen view port where the use of overlapping windows is avoided as much as possible. Unlike other environments, overlapping windows will never sink below the main Webtop where they would otherwise be hidden from the user. 2) a Browser like navigation. The user can click on the launch bar or use Back, Forward, or Home buttons to easily switch between Web pages, reading email, or Word-processing. 3) Task/View oriented model. There is no notion of launching/terminating applications, minimizing/maximizing windows, or saving/reloading documents. 4) Design style follows the "web look" while retaining the power and interactivity of traditional desktop UI.

HomeBase Schemes take UI customization to its limits by leveraging Mozilla's built-in skin support. A UI designer can easily customize the HomeBase look-and-feel by specifying their desired UI layout in XUL and CSS. An example, which depicts the same application in two different schemes, is shown in the figure below. Notice the horizontal Launch Pad in the Intrigue scheme has moved to a vertical panel in the Flat scheme without changing any functionality - only changing the UI. This is the kind of flexibility that HomeBase Schemes offer.

Mobile HomeBase

Mobile HomeBase is a collection of back-end services ranging from 1) Server-side storage for data to be synchronized with the Client; 2) Secure OpenSSH interface for synchronization, backups, and restores; 3) Web application giving users access to their data from any browser; 4) Wireless browser interface to same user data; 5) Auto Update facility to keep a client's software up to date; 6) Remote support service to allow an OEone technician to securely access the user's machine in the field, even if it's behind a firewall.

Access to these services is integrated into HomeBase such that once the computer is registered with the server; users who have logged into HomeBase do not need to authenticate themselves to the server.

Features and Requirements of OEone HomeBase 1.3

email: potd@ssc.com

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