At the moment, the Web site is another in an increasingly crowded field of companies hoping to convince Net users they no longer need to buy software or keep files on their home or office computers. But CEO Shervin Pishevar claims the vision is much grander than that.
The idea of turning your local computer into a dumb terminal that simply "borrows" software from a network is hardly new. Most recently, it was the central philosophy of Larry Ellison's well-worn Network Computer vision. But today's incarnation of the concept has companies like Desktop.com, MyWebOS.com, and even Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq:SUNW) pushing forward with the idea that your computer files should be able to follow you wherever you go.
The idea has drawn big money investors, too -- Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus, owns a slice of Desktop.com, which launched in September. MyWebOS.com claims among its investors Adam Dell, brother of Dell Computer's (Nasdaq:DELL) Michael Dell.
Saving on software
MyWebOS.com, which launched in beta form on Tuesday, creates a personal Web page for users that looks and feels like a Windows-based computer desktop. Users also get word processing, e-mail, and other software for free. They also get access to their files and a familiar interface from any computer connected to the Internet.
Pishevar, a 25-year-old Berkeley grad, thinks computer users are currently paying far too much for software, and that a la carte renting would really benefit consumers.
"That democratizes the market," he said. "There's no reason for you to pay $400 for an Adobe Photoshop program that your going to use 10 times."
But Pishevar isn't just after single-use rentals. He said he hopes to commoditize the office application business by renting everyday software like spreadsheets and word processors on the cheap. While currently the Web page offers such programs for free, ultimately they will cost between $5-$20 month to rent, he said.
"We really want to make the software industry look exactly like the utility industry," he said.
Dell said during an appearance on CNBC that the most enticing part of the company was the notion that users' files would no longer be trapped in a single desktop computer at work or at home.
"It represents a whole new platform," Dell said. "Storing data in a remote platform that's accessible anywhere."
Only the beginning
Visitors to MyWebOS.com will find applications that do indeed work over the Internet, but on Tuesday, many typical functions like saving and renaming files worked quite a bit slower than standard software. Pishevar said that was partly a function of the site's heavy first-day traffic.
"What you see today is only the beginning, what a bunch of visionaries could do together in a few months. I can promise you this technology is going to get better every day," he said.
Despite the ambitious name, MyWebOS doesn't currently serve as an operating system. Users must still boot up their computers using Windows, Linux, or another operating system, then connect to the Web before then can access their MyWebOS.com files. Pishevar admitted that his company is not a replacement for Windows "for now," but hinted that deals were in the works which would allow MyWebOS users to bypass Windows altogether.
He declined to offer details -- in fact, he even declined to explain why the company has the ambitious name. "I just can't tell you right now," he said.