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.

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