Monday, February 26, 2007

The Death Of The OS

A lot of startups out there right now are really pushing the boundaries of what bandwidth and client-side scripting can take. More and more complicated applications are moving to the web. If bandwidth, storage, and robust in-browser scripting technologies (like flash and javascript) keep improving indefinitely, there's no reason that tasks as complex as photo editing won't happen on the internet. And it might actually benefit from it - imagine photoshop integrated with flickr. Of course, this would require huge leaps in client side processing power - running a full scale app in a vm (the browser) is costly, but it could happen, given ample time.

It's not unreasonable to imagine, if things continue going the way they're going, that people won't need operating systems in the traditional sense anymore. All they'll need is a web browser. What needs to happen for this to become reality?

  1. Online file storage and management systems need to become mainstream, usable, and cheap/free.
  2. More desktop applications need web-based equivalents.

That's it. Considerable advances have already been made on both fronts. Office software is already moving (tentatively) to the web. See google docs for example. There are also repeated attempts at online file systems - nobody's got it quite right yet, in my opinion, but it's just a matter of time.

So, could the OS become a thing of the past? Could it become nothing more than an uppity web browser? I think it's a distinct possibility that sometime down the road, that will be the case. I frequently hear rumors of a Google OS coming out. I don't think we're ever going to see that, because Google is looking to the future and they see that the web is the next big operating system. And they're frantically developing software for it before everyone else realizes the same.

Anonymity in Web 2.0

With the advent of the social internet, people are sharing all sorts of things they never thought they would. This is information that, as recently as the late 90's (or even later), would have been considered private. It wouldn't have been considered private because it was particularly personal - it was just stored locally, and always had been, so it was automatically private. Bookmarks would be a prime example.

Web 2.0 changed all this. Sites like made it possible for anyone to share their bookmarks with the world. Something that was always considered private, was now public. And it was ok. This had all sorts of nice benefits, like letting people collaboratively sort through the internet, and share the good parts, quickly and easily. More and more things are going public, and for the most part, it's great.

The question is, how far will this trend go? How much are people willing to share? As more social tools mash up other social tools, active users of these sites are starting to have a real identity on the internet. It may not be exactly the same identity they have in real life, but it is still one cohesive presence for all of their activity on the internet. Actions and statements are starting to have consequence. They stick to the identity of their owner.

It's starting to seem a lot like... real life.

The term publish generally implies a high degree of selectivity. Or at least, it used to. Now, with people sharing so much information so freely, publication has moved towards becoming the default that privacy previously was. It's not there yet, but it's certainly gotten closer. I can't help but wonder, where will the balance between public and private information be struck? And when it finally is struck, if the Web 2.0 boom hasn't drowned itself in buzzwords by then, will this finally be the wall it hits?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sudo too much for "ordinary" users?

A couple of brief facts to preface this post:
  1. I am a Linux (currently Fedora Core 6) user.
  2. I have not actually used Vista yet.
I don't really like windows. I far prefer Linux. I think it's superior in many ways. I don't think it's right for everyone, but I think that it's come a long way in the last few years, and anyone willing to put in a little time up front and learn a little bit can get a much better experience from Linux then Windows.

Unfortunately, I'm starting to think that I'm either way too biased and used to Linux, or the ordinary user is just extremely, extremely, dumb. It's probably some combination of the two. The reason I've recently come to this conclusion is partially due to a number of reviews of Vista that have popped up in the last few weeks. Without much variation, every single one complains about one thing: Vista actually has security. It asks for an administrative authorization (a simple password prompt) for system settings. (for an example, check out this fairly creative one that was posted to slashdot recently).

I'm sure there are myriad things wrong with Vista (like the unproven network stack), but this really doesn't seem like one of them. It seems like this is finally something Microsoft got right. The concept is something that Linux users have been familiar with forever. It's called, sudo. It's one of the major things that keeps my computer free of spyware. Since I'm not always running with administrative privileges, neither is anything malicious that I might have accidentally downloaded.

Is this really too much of a nuisance for ordinary users? Is it that hard to type a password? And shouldn't the fact that the computer is asking for one engender a sense of safety, not one of annoyance? Maybe there's a better way of doing authentication more invisibly, and maybe Vista doesn't do it as well as Linux (or OSX), but I welcome this change, and hope that it helps end the spyware pandemic.

If users are unwilling to pay such a small price for such improved security (and performance, without all that spyware dragging the system down) then how will the ordinary user ever be able to make the switch to Linux. Maybe they won't.

It's not that Linux isn't ready for ordinary people; ordinary people just aren't ready for Linux.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Shameless Sensationalism

I took this snippet from this news article on I'm not sure if they just worded it poorly, or if CNN just holds themselves to lower standards on the internet then they do in broadcast, but the video link at the end seems... questionable to me.

"Watch two teenagers beat a cowering homeless man with bats"? Really, wouldn't something more along the lines of, "Watch a video of the tragic beating" be better?

But really, who can blame them? News is after all, a business, and if CNN's going to take on streaming video on the web, it's gotta learn from the best. The best, or at least the biggest in online video is definitely YouTube right now. As I write this article some of the most viewed videos of the day on YouTube are:
When these are some of the most popular videos on the internet at this moment, I'm surprised CNN's link wasn't "teenagers vs bum! check it out!"