Linux, Microsoft, Mac: Meet your real competitor

There's been a lot of rumblings about Windows 7, the next Microsoft OS which will probably arrive in late 2009 or (more likely) early 2010. A few have said Microsoft is scared of Linux -- especially on netbooks -- and that open source software will finally, eventually trump commercial offerings. There's also a contingent of folks who see the Mac as emerging from market share obscurity -- the long-rumored takeover where average citizens finally, eventually stick their nose up to corporate domination and flock to the well-architected but somewhat elitist platform.

I think none of these platforms will win the OS war.

In 10-15 years, these debates over OS options will quietly slide into obsolescence. Massive 700MB ISO downloads, boxed software with beautiful smiling people on the cover, shiny and sleek laptops designed for one OS: they will fade into oblivion.

The real competitor, the real OS of the future, is not Windows 7, Linux, or the Mac. It's just simply the Web. And, I don't mean "the cloud" in the sense that there's this vague conglomeration of data centers in unknown locations storing all of our data and apps. I mean immediate access to the Web, sans any operating system at all. I'm in favor of being OS agnostic, and seeing the Web as the ultimate platform.

The debate, frankly, reminds me of what's happening with Blu-Ray movies right now. Hollywood studios -- the equivalent of Red Hat, Microsoft, and Apple -- are arguing over the future of this physical medium. Why are the Blu-Ray players not flying off the shelves? Why are people hunkering down with their standard-def DVD collections? Don't they understand the merits of this wonderful format that is so far superior to HD-DVD (now long dead) and other formats? The format war has continued since HD-DVD died at last year's CES (I was standing right next to the booth when it keeled over) even though there is only one format.

Or is there? While commercial entities struggle to breathe life into Blu-Ray, obviously out to make a buck, the real future is in digital distribution. Why buy a Blu-Ray disc for your collection when you can wait a little bit for a more viable digital option? Here's the hard-to-swallow truth: people who download movies with an Apple TV or the new Samsung MediaLive player are having just as much fun watching I Am Legend as those who invested their hard-earned dollars in Blu-Ray media.

The same is true with the OS, except that the writing on the wall is a little less clear and on a wall that's in the distant future. Yet, a few people are already reading the inscription.

So, why the Web? I don't think "the cloud" has enough of a draw. The average user doesn't care where the data is housed or where the apps reside. Let them exist locally on a browser and on your own hard disk, fine. But they do want ubiquitous computing, and an OS will be too restrictive

Here's an example. I am testing touch screen technology right now, and the best devices do not emphasize an OS. You only see the app. There is an OS, partly because no one has figured out how to make a device without one. Many of these devices -- like the Sony PRS-700 -- run on the Linux kernel, but even that is not necessarily going to have a stranglehold over the computing industry. Microsoft has already hinted at a managed code OS (called Midori) that might power the "computers" of the future. I think some oddball company might emerge as the kernel provider of the future. Maybe it will be NVIDIA, or AMD. We won't call them computers then, and we won't have an OS.

Think of it this way. On next-generation touch devices, those that run on a bathroom mirror or in your car window, there is no need for an OS. All you need is a browser and a place to store the data. (That's why, for long-term investments, I'd think seriously about any company that manufactures non-volatile memory.) So many people are adamant about open source software -- but the end-user doesn't care about these discussions. Which OS provides the best experience, which one lets you install software easily, does it crash? No one will care.

Look at the HP TouchSmart, perhaps the best example of where computing is headed. Everything that's cool about it has nothing to do with the OS or open source software. It's the HP-created touch interface, which is admittedly just so-so, but could easily run on a much less expensive device. It has a browser, photo and music apps, a way to play videos, but no operating system. Okay, it runs on top of Windows, but it doesn't have to. Another example of this is when your laptop boots into some weird text-based boot screen so you can watch a movie without ... waiting ... forever ... for the OS. It's not an OS at all; and, it's the future of computing.

The company that is really being left out of this future equation is Apple. The company has been short-sighted (and short-sited) about the Web (have you ever used MobileMe?) and about stand-alone devices. They kind of need to have a massively bloated OS because that encourages commercial software development and sells hardware, which reminds me of another company that is often criticized for making bloatware.

Amazingly, many of the experts are saying Web 2.0 will not survive. There have been a few lay-offs and sometimes I wonder about the sustainability of the business model. Yet, maybe Web 2.0 won't survive but Web 3.0 and Web 4.0 and beyond will do just fine, running on your bathroom mirror in 2020, sans an Apple, or a Microsoft, or a Linux operating system. So, enjoy those Blu-Ray movies and Windows 7, start picturing a day when you don't download an ISO file anymore, and get ready for the day when your MacBook is old hat, because OS dominance will be short lived. Ubiquitous computing will finally, eventually get the big win.

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  1. gravatar Anonim

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