It seems that the way data is managed and dealt with nowadays leaves less room for locally installed operating systems. If all of your data is already on the cloud, why would it matter for your operating system to be there too? What if all you needed to access everything is a browser?
Of course, all this isn’t anything new or something of the distant future, but so far we’ve seen very little remarkable examples of such technologies and of very limited capabilities. Symbiose comes as the only “Gnomish” WebOS to prove that its kind can be more than just a bold experiment, but does it succeed?
What is it?
Symbiose is a WebOS that can be run in a tab of your browser that utilizes what it seems like a lightweight version of Gnome for the DE and some of its applications that offer very basic capabilities compared to the desktop versions. The shell actually looks and works similar to GS versions of the past.
These are the tools offered by Symbiose. As happened in older versions of GS, the items are grouped in categories showed on the right. You can add/remove items to the dash by dragging them on it/out of it.
Symbiose search in the overview works perfectly fine and the workspace generation and management, and lock screen is working exactly as supposed. Other than that, Symbiose offers tools for configuring your system (very basic) and you can even login and save your configurations.
Searching in Applications overview
Changing wallpaper in Symbiose
What can you do with it?
There are no limits in what users would ask from a WebOS to do, so let’s just take into account what Symbiose is aiming for and what needs it actually manages to cover successfully.
Symbiose offers the ability to access the internet, edit and save your documents online and watch movies or listen to music. For this reason the system offers a basic media player, a light version of Firefox web browser, a light version of Nautilus files browser, lighter versions of gedit and LibreOffice writer, and some extending tools like the software center.
There are two scenarios you can use Symbiose with the first being just a usb stick with your data and a browser running Symbiose and the second being accessing your data by connecting to FTP server, dropbox or Google Drive from within Symbiose. Both aren’t working exactly as intended though…
Symbiose generally works faster than you would expect, but it fails miserably when it comes on accessing and managing data on locally connected drives. It seems that to use any kind of data you will have to upload them to Symbiose and this takes far too long for things like movies and other large files. Moreover, you will have to create an account and login in order to be able to upload anything you want to keep online, but when trying as a user the files explorer window doesn’t appear at all!
Connecting to dropbox was a simple task in Symbiose and the file manager did display my contents, but I still couldn’t actually play the .mp3 file found inside using the default and only media player of the system. The documents were somewhat accessible by gedit, but Google documents app and LibreOffice writer failed to open .txt and .doc files. I wish all of the above to be just codecs missing, but still an informing message would be helpful especially since the terminal is not actually working at all…
So, what can you do with it? Almost nothing of what it promises but lets not forget that Symbiose is still under heavy development and the current version (1.0 beta3) is not considered to be stable yet. Using the system will reveal more weird little problems that highlight the immature current state of Symbiose.
The good part though is that Symbiose is free software and looks and works very similar to Gnome Shell. The developers have done an astonishing job in making this webOS work fast and familiar, and I am sure that the active community around the project will lead it into being actually useful. Much work needs to be done until 1.0 is ready and the best you can do is to use it, help with bug reports and get involved in the development!