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eyeOS 2.5 Open Source review – how the mighty have fallen

If you can set up a Linux box with Apache, with a bit of fettling you can use eyeOS to create your own personalised cloud desktop. Michael Reed reviews eyeOS version 2.5…

Pros: A clever idea. Easy to use for end-users as it looks and works like a traditional desktop
Cons: Installation is tricky. Documentation is disorganised. Still feature-poor compared to 1.8
eyeOS Homepage

Although eyeOS is technically a web application, conceptually it blurs the line between an application and an operating system. Unlike Google’s office offerings such as Google Docs, eyeOS offers a full desktop, complete with movable windows, alongside a suite of applications. What’s more, the system is extensible, and developers are free to create their own applications for the system and to modify the open source version of the project. At the time of writing, version 2.5 is the latest official release and 1.9 is the community-maintained release of the old 1.x branch.

From the outset, the project documentation presented a disappointment. To carry out an installation, one would almost certainly have to make use of the guide on the website in conjunction with the forum and the downloadable PDF manual. A full LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) system must be assembled before beginning the actual eyeOS installation, and things can get a bit tricky as eyeOS is quite finicky about the Apache and PHP settings. We give extra points for the install script that does its best to ensure that you have a fully compliant system, but we deduct some for the lack of comprehensive feedback from a fully installed yet non-functioning system. ‘There is an error in this eyeOS installation, please contact the system administrator’ is a typical error, accompanied by no useful output to any logs.

A morning spent moving between the forum and the supplied documentation should be sufficient for an experienced web administrator, but those less familiar with the intricacies of the LAMP will probably struggle. Being fair, it is a more complex system than, say, a typical CMS such as WordPress.

The eyeOS desktop itself makes use of familiar desktop computing paradigms. There are two main panels and a desktop backdrop with some icons. In the negative column, just like a webpage, text alignment within the GUI can be a bit haphazard, which can make the interface confusing at times. Its use of the Oxygen icon set along with a liberal application of white space gives eyeOS a look that is reminiscent of KDE 4. Performance is acceptable, but it’s not as snappy as a conventional desktop, and it even seemed a bit slow compared to version 1.9.

As with traditional desktop computing, user data is stored in files and folders – and to this end, there is a traditional file manager. Collaboration and file-sharing features are well integrated but insular. For example, the included instant messaging application only works with other eyeOS users. Getting files out of the system involves using the sharing system which spits out a URL that can be accessed from anywhere; moving files into the system involves uploading via the browser. It’s quite neat actually.

The included document editor is pretty impressive, as it does resemble a fully featured word processor. However, the ‘fit and finish’ isn’t quite as tight as we’d like it to be. Text had a tendency to jump about as it was entered, and occasionally, highlighted text simply disappeared for no reason, although it could be retrieved by using the undo function.

This project, in its current open source version, constitutes a cautionary tale in open source forking. Now at version 2.5, the current official branch does, in many respects, represent a step backwards from the final maintenance releases of the 1.9 series. The lack of available applications is glaring, omitting as such basics as a spreadsheet program. Unfortunately, version 2.5 is incompatible with the myriad third-party applications that were available for previous versions.

Verdict: 3/5
Oh how the mighty have fallen. Unfortunately, at version 2.5, eyeOS still doesn’t seem to have caught up with everything that the old 1.x branch had to offer. The still maintained 1.9 version continues to be a very good system in its own right and would be our recommendation.