Consider the folowing:
First, The SETI project involves many computers sharing computer time for a single overall application. This is the most famous example of distributed computing. Also, Grid computing is hot.
Second, the basic thing about a network operating system, is that when an ordinary member computer boots up, it scans its network connections to seek a network controller computer. Then, it becomes part of the group. Example: Win NT workstation booting into a domain by connecting to a domain controller.
Third, we have LiveCD distributions of Linux.
Put these together:
What if have a LiveCD distro which connects by itself via TCPIP/HTTP to a global Server and becomes part of a global domain or group of computers, connected using TCPIP as the networking protocol! Also, with a completely Java-based Operating system like JNODE (http://jnode.org) now being developed, we can have a main JNODE server which sits and listens to boot-time requests from client computers world over. Clients can have a feel of what JNODE can do from this LiveCD-Connect feature and run the OS from a JNODE LiveCD on a CD or a pen-drive and connecting to the main server via the internet.
This method can be used by all OS vendors to give demos of their operating systems. Of course, this requires a broadband connection, but that’s ubiquitous, nowadays. This can also be used by major software vendors to demostrate the capabilites of their software, by making a very limited functionality version dummy client of their software and let it connect to the main server computer via the Internet and then see the essential functionality which is actually being executed on the server.
In other words, not only for demonstrating an OS, but also for other software, a LiveCD-like thin client can connect to a global server over the Internet and demonstrate the functionality which actually executes on the server, without needing an install at the user’s end!
In case that sounds new, do read a bit about Java Web Start which allows you to install programs and run them on the fly.
Update: November 7, 2005: Found this topic on another blog, published a YEAR and a half ago: http://www.kottke.org/04/04/google-operating-system