Is the Operating System Dead?

David Tan

Microsoft released Windows 7, its latest and greatest operating system this week and it's a very well designed and developed platform. The features and functions have been well documented, and frankly, it's a worthwhile upgrade.

That's not the topic of this post. The hype around the release has got me thinking: Is the operating system really even a big deal?  Is this the last major Windows release we will ever see?

Does your operating system really even matter anymore?  I definitely don't want to be the one at the front of the hype brigade, but there really is no doubt that the future is in the 'cloud.'  I use that term loosely, because frankly, the cloud might be in your data center, in some remote location, at a service provider or a combination of all three.  For this discussion, that's irrelevant.  What's important is how you interact with your systems and programs.

Of course, the first case study has to be Salesforce.com.  Maybe you're using it now-it is certainly a widespread platform. If you are, who cares what you run on the desktop? The desktop platform is completely irrelevant. It's the Web browser that matters. That browser can be on any platform or any form factor and your experience is basically the same.  Salesforce.com is one of the innovators, but it certainly is not alone.

How about Google and its Google Apps platform, a collection of entirely Web-based office applications? The operating system certainly doesn't matter there. In fact, Google feels so strongly about it that it is making its own OS (ChromeOS), which is basically a souped-up version of the browser.  How about Amazon? It has spent a fortune developing its Amazon Web Services in a strategic move that bets on the computing experience moving away from the desktop and into the cloud.

OK, so you're probably thinking this is all just a lot of rogue companies taking a shot at Microsoft's fortress.  The moves that signal the end of the OS more than anything, however, come straight out of Redmond. At this month's Professional Developers Conference, Microsoft will formalize its Azure platform-its own cloud-based application development environment. Yes, Microsoft is working hard to enable developers to build cloud-based applications that make the OS completely irrelevant.  And in what could be considered a sign of the apocalypse, not only is Microsoft making a free version of its next Office Suite (Office 2010) available, but that version will be entirely Web-based. 

 What does this mean for the future of computing as we know it? Well, I'm not entirely sure. One thing that is clear: The browser is moving front and center as the most important application on your computer.
 



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