Operating systems

The operating system still matters and always will according to poll

We are told that with cloud computing and virtualization the operating system does not matter anymore. Well, according to these poll results those ideas are completely wrong.

On July 15, 2011, I wrote a Microsoft Windows Blog post:

The operating system is dead, long live the operating system

In that post I asked if the choice of a system-wide operating system is still important to information technology professionals. The recent talk in IT pro circles has been about the coming revolution of cloud computing and virtualization, so I wondered how long it would be before the operating system became an afterthought that did not factor into decision making anymore.

I was extrapolating on the idea that the personal computer would become an appliance. Just as we don't worry about the operating system that controls our microwave ovens, we wouldn't worry about the OS powering our computers. I think this day may come sooner than many believe.

However, according to the poll results, I am in the definite minority on this idea. Responders to our poll believe the operating system will continue to be important to IT pros for the foreseeable future, with many taking the point of view that the OS will always be important.

The results are very clear, but I would like to understand the "why" behind the results. Why is the operating system important and why will it always be important? Are there no future scenarios you can foresee where the OS will become insignificant to the IT decision maker?

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

29 comments
tigua
tigua

Sounds more like a way to go back to server terminal again only this time they charge you to use the apps on a monthly basis because the apps all belong to the server provider. Not my idea of being cost effective or having the ability to develop your own apps.

l_e_cox
l_e_cox

I mean, it's really that simple, isn't it? We know that these machines run on OSes and we use various tools to interact with those OSes. We know that, as things currently stand, the OS defines which tools are available, which file systems are available, and essentially the entire sub-application environment. If the technology were to get to the point were the System Administrator never worked directly with the OS, then you would have a different situation. But I don't know why we'd go there. The money is being made by controlling the end-user's experience, not the system administrator's experience.

bezerkus
bezerkus

I hope I am wrong but the OS will only matter to the few in the cloud. It is why the only benchmark comparisons between mobile os's is some weak browser comparisons. People point to feature lists which are really 3rd party apps. They will need to coin a new phrase...OE Operating Environment. Fast foward to the near future with a rare moment on the porch between neighbors... "Barney: Hey Fred, so what OE are you fully committed too? Fred: I do Google OE, it just all works. Remember the days when I had to search for something with a keyboard? I love that Google knows when my vacation is every year and has already booked me on the best cruise and properly shares my video with my circle of close friends that I shared them with last year." Barney: "Hey I never saw your cruise video!" Fred: "-koff- Sorry, getting a cold, don't know why Google's taking so long with sending me the pills, they know my up to the minute health condition with my Google Rolex that came free with Google implants.ummmmmm what about you?" Barney: Oh my kid works at AppleSoft and says I won't be able to materialize in his living room and catch a flick with him unless I went that route." Fred: "I hear Ned across the street there is running his own illegal "March of the Penguins" OE with actual computers. What a nerd, holding on to the past like that just so he can save on his daily OE utility bill. He can't even break away to come up an enjoy the air once month like we do." Barney: "He better watch himself, they can tell now just by your power draw and how little information you are giving up if you are "tweaking" things yourself. He'll have to get his access to the world through that probation service and I hear you still have to touch a screen!" Fred: "Doesn't your boy develop things at AppleSoft?" Barney: "Yeah, He said he got a promotion after spending the whole day nodding and shaking his head at the his AppleSoftTV, so that the company can can give iMoney credits on their bill, through powering down and up your iWipe at night by reading your iBladdars and iColons." Fred:"Ahhh, wish I could save G's* on my Google BMWM** through using less GW's*** You must be really proud of that innovative son of yours.." Barney: "I knew when he was a little boy and tied all those straws together so that he could sip on an ice cold iCoke from the iFridge without getting off his iDonut, he had innovation written all over him." * G = Slang for a Google Buck **BMWM = Bowel Movement Wiping Mechanism ***GW = Used to be the standard Gigawatt, but Google successfully aquired the standard as GoogleWatt for utility bills. A constantly fluxuating power measurement that coincides with Google's stock index.

wbaxterwork
wbaxterwork

I build applications that run equipment with a variety of interfaces, from RS-232 to GPIB to Ethernet. For this the web is useless. My applications need to be confined. I provision our products (loading FW, configurating them, testing them) and it would be disasterous if an application accidentally attached to something other than the unit under test. I also have to store data from the tests I run. Though it would be nice to build a web apploication for posting and analyzing data, there's a fairly hefty up-front cost in time and money involved which we, as a manufacdturing start-up, don't have. When we do get a chance to add a web data service, I'll still store a streaming datalog on the local disk because I can't afford to have a production line go down because of network availability. Finally, I have to use Windows because that's what test operators know how to use. There's also poor device support for Linux and I don't have time to re-invent the wheel for it. My Linux applications have to run without user intervention. MACs are also a non-starter for the samereasons, plus the fact that if Stevie wants you to do things his way. It used to be that you paid a huge money penalty for Apple hardware, but that's less of an issue now.

nrei
nrei

But for this to happen, all applications will need to run equally well on all OS's. While this is theoretically possible, I don't see it happening any time soon. Mostly because it is not in the (financial) interest of the people who make OS's.

dsutton
dsutton

IT professionals will always care which OS is used even if the end user doesn't because they will have to fix it when it breaks. They will have preferences on tools available for maintenance, troubleshooting, etc. Every OS has necessary training for the IT professionals managing these systems, and the more practice you have with anything, the faster you can correct problems when they arise, as they ALWAYS will. When your microwave breaks who remotes in to fix it? We don't care about your microwave's OS because when it breaks, you buy a new one.

jimt007
jimt007

By cons in this case I mean Consumers. There was an article on techrepublic a few weeks ago that talked about how tablets are great and all, but for IT pros it is too limiting compared to a laptop. I think what we will see is a large portion of the consumer population, moving to tablets and possibly web only OSes. On the development side this isn't practical. Chances are we will always have a different tool than the majority of people just by the nature of our work. What will be interesting is who will win the consumers and who will win the professionals. Will be be developing on Linux/Microsoft, for Apple/Google programs? Or will Microsoft regain some of it's long lost market-share and be on the consumer side? I believe we are on the edge of change, exactly who will win is too early to tell.

johncymru
johncymru

If that isn't an OS then what is it. Admittedly, it might be the very thinnest of clients, but it will still be an OS for even the cloudiest of devices. But, until we can all get Gbps or even lowly 100Mb connectivity 24/7 cheaply, then for anything involving any amount of data we will still need 'thick' devices or PCs. E.g. so far this morning I have done some remote admin for a non-profit I help out at, some browsing to a few of my favourite forums with minimal text input from myself so all doable from my tablet. However, in between I needed to write and send some very long email reports, too painful on even the Xoom for the length, and I needed to encode a few multi-GB video files on a couple of i7 2nd Gen laptops. Files which would have taken about twelve hours just to upload using either my mobile broadband or my ADSL2+ Annex M land-line broadband. Six hours if I split the load between the two connections. Even using Virgins fastest upload speed in the UK, 10Mbps, which is about the fastest presently available in the UK, but only for about half its residents of which I am not one, it would have taken about two and a half hours. Getting it back from either connection would have been faster obviously, but still taken quite some time. In fact, in a fraction of the time that it would have taken just to download the processed files using a Virgin 100Mbps connection, which I can't get though, I can do both locally. Of course at some future time we will all live in happy land with next to free Gbps connections available 24/7, yeah right, and then much of what we do now might be transferable to the cloud. But even then, anything remotely important will still demand a local backup and a device with an OS, even if we call it something different.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Depending on the applications your business calls for, that frequently dictates which OS it runs on, or which it runs on best. AS for the cloudies and their "we don't need no stinking OSes"; well, I don't live in an optimum 24/7/365 connected and powered world. There's a lot of folks who have 5% (or worse) unreliability for power; and an equally unreliable internet connection. Cable doesn't go everywhere, and even if they do have a phone line, often it's slow, and massively noisey (i.e. dropped or corrupted bits.). In almost every case of someone saying the Cloud is the end all, be all, they're a person with an unlimited budget for direct satellite connections, or they live in a massively metropolitian area with multiple redundant carriers and switching stations.

robgrie
robgrie

There are far more uses for a computer than what is accessed from the Cloud. Consider media editing, or controllers of automated test equipment, and I'm sure many others. I'm employed in the ATE industry, where tester controllers were until recently on the Solaris platform, and have transitioned to Linux (Centos) by one manufacturer and Windows by another. Both are heavily OS dependent, and I can virtually guarantee they will always remain so. Someone already mentioned that computers are much more general purpose than Mr. Kaelin allows. Web browsing and office applications aren't all they're used for folks.

SmartAceW0LF
SmartAceW0LF

When the day comes that Corporations or the Government own all communications of any sort, perhaps, then the OS will not matter. I personally believe that is in the distant future. However, if you will excuse me I have more pressing matters to tend to in my underground bunker. :D

timrush-aero
timrush-aero

If the OS was becoming less necessary, then Microsoft should not need several versions of an OS for end users. Home, Pro, Enterprise, Ultimate? Apparently Microsoft thinks its relevant to the bottom line if not to the consumer. One thin OS that can do it all? Not for a long time, not from MS.

jor55
jor55

Whatever OS you use, it is the medium for doing things with your applications. One great thing about the PC or MAC is that the machine can do things with or without the 'Cloud'. If the OS were on the 'Cloud' and not in the machine at hand, use of the device will be completely dependent on the degree of access (or lack thereof) to the 'Cloud'. If there is no connectivity one cannot access the stored data on the 'Cloud', nor do anything with the data.that is stored, nor be able to do anything with the machine if it is off-line. Right now, our PCs and MACs are multitasking devices that can operate independently of the Internet, and we can do much of our productivity without having access. However, once the OS and the apps are in the 'Cloud' then the PC or MAC just becomes a dumb terminal. A corporate network is like a 'minicloud' and where I worked we were expected to store all our data on the server. One day I came to work and found my PC inoperable because the IT guys had done an upgrade that went sour, lost all the data on the server, lost all the data that I could have backed up had I been allowed to (USB keys, flash media and burning were prohibited for security reasons) and everyone was supposed to trust that their data was safe on the servers-never again. Even if in the not too distant future, we operate our apps in the 'cloud' I will never feel safe unless I have a device that I can store data locally, back it up externally, and still do work when not accessing the 'cloud'. So, while using the cloud for on-line productivity and data storage increases incrementally, I feel thee will ALWAYS be a niche (perhaps smaller but never going away) for the PC and MAC. I will NEVER, EVER depend on someone else or something out of my reach to store and protect my data or operate my computer.

RNR1995
RNR1995

Eventually the OS will become irrelevant It almost is now, when everything is done on another network (Cloud) what does it matter how you connect Microsoft realized this years ago, part of why they killed Netscape I used to use Netscape as the GUI for my PC I still cannot believe that people want Office... creatures of habit I guess

NPSage
NPSage

As much as it annoys me, there will always be some applications that are only available for one OS, or work better on a particular OS. HTML has been around for how long now, and there are still sites where if you don't use a particular OS/Browser combination, it completely fails to render properly or even goes so far as to lock you out. (I'm looking at you FASFA on that one.)

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

To make juice! We don't expect an appliance to be general purpose. The reason computers are so powerful is the fact that they are general purpose devices. So long as we want control over what that device does the operating system will remain relevant.

pfeiffep
pfeiffep

the real question is "To whom will it matter?"

seanferd
seanferd

I'd say the OS is important because you won't be doing much of anything with a chunk of hardware, a bunch of applications, and no OS, regardless as to what form the OS takes. So, what else is important about an OS? What is it that won't matter about OSes as the technology moves forward? You may get a "No" rather than a "Yes" depending on what the question is really attempting to ask. Bare-metal hypervisor: That is still an OS. And most likely OSes are virtualized under the hypervisor. Hosted hypervisors live inside an OS, and generally, again, host other OSes. Cloud, distributed, clustered, or whatever computing still uses an OS on the cloud back end. Cloud users aren't going to get very far without an OS of some sort, no matter how thin, on their devices. So, how will OSes ever be a non-factor? Or, in what view would one consider them to be potentially factored-out?

Slayer_
Slayer_

And it frequently had errors... And overrides that almost never worked... I am surprised none of them ever thought to try Control + Alt + Delete.

lynda
lynda

Is it a POV issue? Users will be less aware of the OS with cloud computing but systems managers know the OS will always be there.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Why is the operating system important and why will it always be important?

SmartAceW0LF
SmartAceW0LF

if you know something I do not. I am not sure how one could use Netscape for the GUI of their PC unless all they did was browse the web and were of the impression that is all any computer does. Still, I wasn't aware that Netscape could run minus an Operating System of some sort. Perhaps I need enlightenment.

seanferd
seanferd

Being able to re-route or re-configure physical systems from an LCARS panel apparently outweighs the ability to reliably shut down any computer-controlled system.

RNR1995
RNR1995

No dude the OS is irrelevant as far as the GUI goes and MS realized that long ago Similar to the way OSX GUI runs on top of Unix, or Gnome, KDE, Enlightenment etc on Linux Actually Netscape ran on top of WFW 3.11, which ran on top of DOS 6.22 The browser was used to launch any app or browse for files etc Did not need Program Manager You look old enough to remember DOS?

spdragoo
spdragoo

As I didn't specifically state that IE was available *before* Netscape. Nor is this a discussion about the relative merits of browsers (i.e. Netscape was a great browser, & was my preferred browser to use, until it starting trying to copy IE's style). However, it would be interesting to know what exactly was being used on your PC for the 2 years prior to Netscape's release (WFW came out in 1992, Netscape 1.0 came out in *1994* -- barely beating out IE 1.0's 1995 release). Oh, wait, that's right, it was probably the *built-in interface that allowed you to access files, run programs, & share your work with everyone else on your LAN*. Nor do I see any refuting of my assertion that your "Netscape Solution" not only added an extra step into the equation (either by having to launch Netscape each time, or to mess with the autoexec.bat file to allow it to automatically start -- something that most businesses don't like their workers to do, since the *business* owns the machine, not the employee) but duplicated an existing function. It's not like you were coding your own, unique OS or UI to provide a new feature, were you?

RNR1995
RNR1995

This was before IE, and people like you make me sad I comment on these troll pages anyway, like you have something brilliant to say...WOW you mean if I type in the address bar it will open a file....gee I always wanted to type for things in Windows........

spdragoo
spdragoo

Windows for Workgroups 3.11? Wow, talk about placing your age as well. That was released back when I was in college, so you're kind of dating yourself as well by saying that was the system you were using (back in the 'good old days' of IE4 & IE5, before Windows 95 came out). As for Netscape being able to access the files... well, yeah, that's because browsers are able to access files on your hard drive because it treats the reference as a link. The same thing happens in other browsers, too. In fact, all you have to do is put the drive letter and folder name into IE's address bar, & Windows Explorer pops right open to that folder. But you don't need to open a browser to do that. I mean, if I want to go to the My Documents folder, why not just use my "My Documents" icon to open it? Saves me the trouble of an extra step. Plus, the OS already provides me with a place for links to the files & folders I need (it's called the "Desktop") without having to create a homepage for my links. And before you respond to that, if your "homepage" is simply pointing to the Desktop, then you don't need to open your browser to access it, do you? That's what the Desktop is for. Not to mention that WFW already had File Manager & Program Manager to access any files/programs you needed to access... which means using Netscape to access them was essentially adding a "theme" to WFW. But, hey, if you really didn't like WFW's interface *that* much, you could have always used a Mac running Apple's System 7...

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