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CanvasOS is a unique operating system based on the concept of a ZUI or Zooming User Interface. It uses a strong hierarchy and several different visual and conceptual motifs in order to provide for greater consistency compared to traditional, desktop metaphoric, computing environments, therefore providing greater efficiency.

The simplest "unit" of CanvasOS (from here forward "COS") is the "cell." The cell is comparable to the window in traditional graphical interfaces. Each cell together forms a collective workspace which is known as the Canvas. As most traditional GUIs are at least quasi-desktop-metaphoric, COS could most likely be described as "canvas-metaphoric," thus identifying the reason for the name of COS. Each cell can contain various "objects." Objects could be a block of text, an image, a video clip, a button performing some task, or even a "portal," which an object providing direct access to information or media not contained within that particular cell, whether local or network-accessed. For instance, a portal could contain a portion (or all of) another cell, or a web page. COS is not application-centric. It is not document-centric either in the sense that COS contains no true parallel to the "document motif" which is omnipresent in the desktop-metaphor. However, given the option of the two, the latter would more aptly describe the nature of COS. One does not open an application or program to view data, it is simply viewed. All code that would be an application in other systems is simply run as daemon in the COS kernel when a relevant instance of data in encountered.