The irony of the last post, juxtaposed against the "Love at first boot – OpenSolaris" logo to the right is not lost on me.

Windows, Mac, Linux: YAWN

Posted Friday, 09 February 2007, 9:16 pm | 1 comment

I’ve had it. I’m done. Can we please stop talking about computer operating systems as if they were Burger King versus McDonalds, the Dodgers versus the Giants, or Coke versus Pepsi? Never mind that there are three ostensible contenders to the crown. Never mind that there is no crown to wear. Never mind that what we are talking about is what amounts to utter, incomprehensible gibberish consisting of sequences of ones and zeroes that together are intended to do nothing more than make those ones and zeroes appear comprehensible to us humans.

What a mundane term to begin with. Operating System. The System that Operates. It’s akin to being a fan of pushpins. An operating system is a bunch of digital code that is a buffer between humans and machines. Essentially, it’s a game of pretend, so that we mere mortals can put the power of the machine to use.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not belittling the incredible human effort that goes into creating an operating system. Hundreds of thousands of people have toiled millions of hours to build these operating systems. They are truly marvels in many respects. I’m able to sit here, banging my fingers against a panel of plastic with flexible points on it, and quite magically, tiny squiggles of black appear on an illuminated screen, corresponding to the flexible points I’ve selected to bang on. While I’m doing that, the mysterious whirring box to my left is assuring that the squiggles are going into the right place on this screen, and simultaneously playing music, showing me the time of day, and displaying a pretty picture in the background. Forty years ago, I’d be punching paper tape all day just to create what I have written so far.

Operating systems, like the computer hardware they run on, are extraordinary marvels of human ingenuity.

The problem is, we have these camps of followers. The Windows fanatics. The Mac fanatics. and the Linux fanatics. (There are other breeds of fanatics as well of course – I’ve been accused of being a Solaris fanatic, and I can’t say it’s wholey inaccurate).

The problem is, it should be utterly and totally immaterial what the operating system is. For the majority of people, there’s only a handful of activities they perform with their computers. They read email. They browse the web. They balance their checkbook. To a lesser extent, they listen to music, watch movies, play games, and view photos. Sure – there are myriad other activities one can do with a computer, but for the most part, it’s what I just listed. I think I could safely say that for at least 75% of people who own computers, all they need is a web browser, an email client, and Quicken. Add in some music software, DVD playback software, a few games, and Picasa, and you’ve covered 85% of people.

I suppose that one could say I’m arguing in favor of a computer appliance that has seven functions that it’s capable of performing. Yes and no. I’m not arguing in favor of it – it’s what we have, for 85% of the population! A computer, an operating system, and about seven applications that are all that are ever run. Why not cut out the middle-man? The fact that one can browse the web on a Windows PC, a Mac, and  a Linux machine rather suggests that the operating system is not so damned important.

Maybe there is a market for a dedicated appliance….


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