The Orb Web Desktop

[Hugo Leisink] is a programmer who contributes to Open Source projects. In their spare time, they have been developing a web-browser-based operating system called Orb. It is available for the princely sum of zero cheeseburgers and doesn’t need a high-spec machine to run smoothly. The project is built using PHP and Javascript, which allows it to run efficiently on most desktop devices. There are a number of apps included, which are again written in a combination of PHP and js, together with a few written using webasm.

A few notable examples include a C64 emulator, minesweeper, and even a js port of Wolfenstein 3D so this isn’t just a toy, but actually useful. Ok, for real use cases, there are also the usual file browsers, and document readers as well as a writing application based on CKeditor. There is a kind of Windows 3.1 look and feel simplicity to the experience which is refreshing in the modern era of complex applications with their learning curves. Orb could be very useful in an educational setting, or just for jotting your own notes as you travel. Who knows, because the possibilities are endless if you’re willing to get your hands dirty with a bit of coding.

We’ve seen a few web desktops before, here’s a collection of them we saw last year. If you want to go in the other direction and turn a webpage into a desktop app, then look no further than Gluon.

28 thoughts on “The Orb Web Desktop

    1. Speaking of, DesqView X had the ability to run applications remotely, multi-task DOS applications, run X11 applications on desktop and run Windows 3.1 in virtualization (as a session in a window, with seamless mouse cursor).. And that was 30 years ago.

      But there was one notable difference. Back then, people had access to wonderful CRT monitors. Looking at the CRT was like looking through a window/porthole inside of the computer world. Due to the screen mask, applications and the whole GUI looked natural, more “organic”.

      That’s something we lost. Doom, Monkey Island, Wolf3D etc. or a C64 emulator don’t look right on an LC display. The filtering of the CRT is missing.

      So unless we get hold of a CRT emulator/simulator device that plugs between LC display and PC, it will never look right, not even close. And no, scan lines aren’t the final solution. Cheap 13″ to 14″ monitors barely did show them, anyway. And neither did 17″ to 21″ monitors, if being run at their higher resolutions.

      1. CRT are better in the oblivion, we are grateful for the service but it’s time has come to the end, and it was a hell of a ride, glorious, but to be honest, I hated the CRTs since my first computer, those shi**y monochrome CRT was hell on earth, and the size, the bulkiness, the sphericity, the mask, the pixel size, the refresh rate the insidious Humm, no thanks no more

        1. I miss the sepia-tinted monochrome monitor that came with my first PC, which I used up till the late 90s. I got so used to the mono shades that I didn’t miss or get jealous of the color monitors my friends had. I drew in MS Paint, played games, even made my first website on it – laden with animated gifs of course.

          I only got a color monitor after Win98 came out, and man that was such a jarring experience. Especially when running old games – so. much. pink. Like the old Alley Cat game for instance, looked great on mono but on color, it was almost completely pink on a color monitor. Looking at the garish colors of my favorite old games put me off them and made me hate my color monitor. Of course I was able to turn down the saturation to make it all greyscale, but it wasn’t the same sepia hue that I’d gotten so used to.

          Eventually I did get used to the colors, but I still regretted not being able to enjoy my old games. I hold that regret till this day. I’ve gotten hold of and restored an old 486 DX2 for retro gaming, but haven’t had any luck finding a sepia mono CRT, and without it, I feel it’s just not the same. DOS, Win3.1 and all the old software of that era just don’t look right in color.

      2. I still have about 10 CRTs left over from the old days, so yeah – I like them, I maintain them, and I use them with my old machines, but come on! They weren’t better. I use them primarily because the video circuitry and characteristics of the old hardware is a good match for them. On an emulated system though, seriously – software CRT emulation does a great job with a modern 4k panel to play with. There’s no need to force things backward.

  1. So we actually have an OS running in a browser and Hackaday has the balls to call it “lightweight”? The features are lightweight, the resource requirements for those simple features are a joke.

    Have you guys lost the plot?

    1. I reported above comment because it didn’t show up, so after about 7 minutes I typed a new one which got posted immediately. Now suddenly the first version got posted as well. :-)

      1. The OS running in the browser is indeed lightweight compared to Windows, in terms of features. The resources required to run that OS are still insane compared to its capabilities. Lightweight might be relative, but this OS is going to lose all comparisons except against other browser-based operating systems.

  2. “doesn’t need a high-spec machine to run smoothly”

    Have you guys lost the plot? The required specs and resource usage of a modern web browser alone are insane considering considering what the user of this OS gets in return. The user experience gets thrown back 20 years. Try running a web browser on hardware that old.

  3. There used to be a super-slick in-browser desktop called echo3 (by nextapp) that had a ton of super-snazzy graphical features including transparent windows, accordion panes, etc. It was entirely javascript—unusually well-structured javascript—and I remember we had a master’s project about 10 years ago where we augmented it with a back-end file store and added applications including a terminal. Really amazing for the time, and I don’t know why it never took off.

    You can still see the echo3 desktop by Googling ‘echo3 demo master’, downloading the zip file from the github page, and serving it from localhost (contrary to the readme file, you can no longer directly open the HTML files owing to stricter origin policies.)

  4. I can see this being a serious security concern if used in a production environment for doing serious work, unless there is a lot of protection in the backend. I imagine hackers will be able to find flaws right away. However, this is a nice piece of work and with effort it can go far.

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