Operating Systems Don’t
Matter Much Anymore
The OS will
for as long
as we use
but mostly it
Thanks to advances in virtualization, cloud technology and the Web, it
matters less and less to users which operating system is behind their desktop screens — or, for that matter, their tablet and smartphone displays.
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been
technology and the
business of technology
since CP/M-80 was
300bps was a fast
Internet connection —
and we liked it!
He can be reached at
Don’t get me wrong. Operating systems will
remain important for as long as we use computers. But for the most part, they are going to matter
only to the people behind the scenes.
Look at the desktop. More and more applications can be used with just a Web browser.
Indeed, Google’s Chrome operating system is built
around the idea that a browser is all a user really
needs, and Google extends that idea through a
software ecosystem that includes Gmail for email
and Google Docs for office software. The primacy
of the Web browser is arriving just as advances in
Web technology, such as the rise of HTML5, are
making the browser ever more powerful. (And if
you don’t believe that HTML5 is a real advance,
then you haven’t noticed that Adobe, for all intents
and purposes, is abandoning its flagship media
format, Flash, for HTML5.)
Meanwhile, software as a service, which used
to be just for business applications, is becoming
more common in user settings. This isn’t just
Google’s plan. Other options include programs
like Dropbox, which offers users universal access
to storage without any need for a file server.
Meanwhile, Apple, with iCloud, is moving both
data storage and services such as media serving,
email and contact management to the cloud. And
Microsoft is moving this way as well, with offerings like Office 365.
In the business world, the old client/server
model is being phased out as cloud-based services
take over more and more functions. Users — and
sometimes CIOs and CTOs, for that matter —
increasingly have no idea where their applications
and data actually “live.” The IT staff may know
that the cloud is in a given data center, but that’s
it. A similar progression is occurring in the con-
sumer world, with personal storage and services
going to the cloud.