Palestinian and Israeli employees from G.ho.st, at a company picnic near Jericho.
Zvi Schreiber’s G.ho.st (the Global Hosted Operating System, pronounced “ghost”) provides users with a virtual operating system, where they can store files, write and save documents, surf the Web, and even send instant messages to their friends. And he does it with a staff made up of residents of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority – who have to meet and collaborate virtually, through video chats and on-line conferences.
But all that virtual-ness is having a real impact on the lives of people in Israel and the PA, who for perhaps the first time are able to collaborate on high-tech projects, just like people in “normal” places, such as Silicon Valley.
In fact, the 30-strong staff at the Ramallah offices of G.ho.st, even have stock options in the company. “I’m not aware of any other company in the PA that gives out options to its employees,” Schreiber tells ISRAEL21c.
Those stock options are just one innovation Schreiber has introduced with G.ho.st, which provides users with a uniform desktop and interface for individual users from any computer, anywhere in the world.
“Your files and e-mail follow you wherever you are, and so does your work environment, with all your personal settings and applications,” says Schreiber, explaining how G.ho.st differs from existing online storage and e-mail solutions.
While Gmail and Google Documents are fine for storage or e-mail, they don’t provide the total environment – the virtual operating system – that G.ho.st does. In fact, Google Docs is one of the three virtual office applications available to G.ho.st users – the others are Thinkfree and Zoho Office Suite – and users can also listen to music, send instant messages and e-mail, edit photos, and collaborate on projects with other users.
“We see G.ho.st as a way to allow users access to great on-line applications, so the more of these applications there are, the better for us,” Schreiber says.
G.ho.st, which was founded a couple of years ago, was revamped recently, with all data services now hosted by Amazon Web Services, ensuring greater security and speed for users. The virtual OS has received a number of prestigious computer industry awards as well: It was recently named one of the top five technologies in the world at the Wall Street Journal’s All Things Digital conference, and is on this year’s Red Herring Most Promising Technologies list.
G.ho.st is UK-born Schreiber’s third startup (the other two, Unicorn and Tradeum, were sold for enough for Schreiber to retire on), and he decided that this time, he would try to do something a little different.
“I’ve always wanted to make a contribution to coexistence, and a high-tech firm with offices in Israel and the PA seemed like a good way to do it,” he says.
The G.ho.st office in Ramallah has about 40 employees, and much of the application’s development is done there, while a smaller Israeli staff, working in Modiin, takes care of corporate and marketing duties for the company.
Because of security restrictions that prevent employees from each office traveling to the other office, the two staffs communicate mostly through the Internet, with an always-on video conference or through IM. Schreiber himself is no exception; it’s not that he fears for his safety in Ramallah. “I’m sure they would be happy to host me in Ramallah, but as an Israeli, security laws prevent me from going there,” he explains.
Still, Schreiber, who lives in Jerusalem, says he tries to maintain a personal relationship with all of the company’s employees. “I’ve met with all employees personally at least once, when they were hired,” he says. Since he can’t go to Ramallah and the PA workers can’t come to Modiin, meetings are held on “neutral ground” – at a gas station on the Jerusalem-Jericho road.
“We’ve even had company meetings there, since it’s the only place we can get together that both sets of employees can get to,” he says. But G.ho.st staff get-togethers aren’t like the ones held in fancy cafes and restaurants by Tel Aviv high-tech firms. Schreiber usually supplies the refreshments for the meetings; the restaurant at the gas station doesn’t have much to recommend it. “The whole place is pretty basic,” he says.
As far as relations between the two groups are concerned, “we don’t limit communications between employees to work-related matters,” says Schreiber, although of course, as a place of business, work issues predominate. But politics crops up too, especially when a major event affecting Israel and the PA occurs. “We have had some spirited discussions on political issues, whether through IM or on the company’s blogs, but all the discussions have been respectful and issue oriented,” Schreiber says.
Meanwhile, word is getting out in the high-tech community about Schreiber’s unusual setup – and more than one company has asked him for advice about setting up shop in the PA. (See related story Programming for Middle East peace.)
With G.ho.st’s model, Schreiber says, everybody has a stake in peace – because everyone has a stake in economic prosperity. Thanks to G.ho.st, maybe peace does have “a ghost of a chance.”