'Ghosts go through walls'

Israeli-Palestinian virtual desktop software launches on security barrier.

By STEPHANIE RUBENSTEIN
July 15, 2009 23:06
3 minute read.
'Ghosts go through walls'

security barrier painting 248 88. (photo credit: )

 
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A technology company with a team of both Palestinians and Israelis gathered at the security barrier between Beit Jala and Har Gilo on Tuesday night to launch the beta version of their virtual desktop product, which allows users access to their data files and applications from any Internet browser. In 2006, when Zvi Schreiber established G.ho.st (Global Hosted Operating SysTem), he chose to open the company's main headquarters in Ramallah. He would also set up another office in Modi'in, 15 kilometers away. "Ghosts go through walls," Schreiber said at the launch, adding that he hoped the company's technological advancement could aid in bridging the communication gap between Israelis and Palestinians. The group conducts its meetings mainly through Skype, a software application that allows users to communicate through video and audio calls over the Internet, as the two office locations make it difficult for the team members to meet in person. "I wanted to make a statement that people who are traditionally at war can overcome physical and political barriers to come together to build a product," Schreiber told The Jerusalem Post this week. "Traditionally Palestinians and Israelis don't work together because [they consider each other] the enemy. But it doesn't have to be that way." The group developed the prototype of the virtual desktop a year after the company was founded, launching the alpha version of the product in May 2008. Around 200,000 people tested the alpha version. The beta version runs in over 20 different languages. The idea of having remote access to a home desktop is not revolutionary, but the technology and approach G.ho.st has used make the process faster and do not require the user to have a home computer. G.ho.st's Web operating system gives each user his or her own virtual desktop hosted in a professional data center on the Web. Documents and photos can be uploaded to the Web page, or home computers can be synced to the virtual desktop, where 15 GB can be stored. Files can be shared between users and accessed through mobile phone Internet browsers. The company describes its business as a collaborative, relying on both third-party Web-based service and application providers, and the team's own diversity. "Creativity knows no race, color or boundary," said Quartet Envoy Tony Blair, who attended the launch on Tuesday night after spending the day in Nablus, where he surveyed the situation and progress. "Sometimes it's difficult, with all of the challenges, to get some hope," he said. "When you leave aside politics and just talk to people, you realize the similar human truths." By opening the company headquarters in the West Bank, G.ho.st has created job opportunities and the potential for greater economic development between the territories and Israel. "This is a great chance for development and experience, to put skills to good use and to make software the central industry [in the West Bank]," said Elias Khalil, the director of research and development, who is based at the Ramallah office. G.ho.st hopes to serve as a role model for other companies. While several Israeli companies have begun to conduct research and some development in the West Bank on an outsourcing basis, Schreiber said he remained optimistic that more companies, especially in the hi-tech sphere, would begin to open in the territories. In addition to launching its virtual computing product, the group also established the G.ho.st Peace Foundation last year. The nonprofit branch of the company aims to offer free or highly subsidized technology training for all people, regardless of socioeconomic status. The foundation has established three training centers, one in Lod and two in east Jerusalem, where kids and adults attend sessions to learn computing skills. "We want to offer the same access and openness of the Web to bridge between [Israeli and Palestinian] communities," said Noa Rothman, general manager of the Peace Foundation and granddaughter of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Since January, over 2,000 children and teenagers and 130 adults have participated in the programs offered by the three centers. The foundation hopes each center will service 1,000 people annually.

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