The Operating System Is Dead

by Hadley Stern Sep 27, 2006

If you were on a desert island and you could only take the following two machines:

1. A MacPro with all apps installed with no internet connection


2. A Windows box with an internet connection, Firefox, IM, etc.

Which one would you take? me thinks even the most diehard Mac fan would take option 2.

Why? Because the operating system doesn’t matter anymore.

Before you all start screaming and cursing look back at my original question. And be honest.

Why is this? Well, as I said, because the operating system doesn’t matter anymore.

Or, another way of putting this is that the internet is the operating system.

Sure, it doesn’t boot out computers (although it can) but it does run our lives. How much of our computer time is spent on the web, using our email, using applications that require an internet connection, and using IM? More and more with each passing day. And, when we think of enjoying our computers, yes we think of the incredible things we can design and create with our applications (which, by the way, can increasingly run on either platform,) but we also think of surfing the web and emailing friends.

So what does this mean for the Mac? Well, first of all it means that Apple should be doing everything it can to focus on product development that leverages the internet. In many ways it is already doing this. The .Mac product line and isync is a good example. But a better example is iTunes, Apple’s most used application (note, released on Windows too) that happens to have the internet at the heart of its raison d’etre. After all, iTunes really is an internet client for the music store, podcasting, and a CDDB server for your collection.

Apple needs to think about its operating system and where the internet can fit in much more aggressively. And it needs to prepare for the day when the OS is simply a dumb terminal for a series of web services. Word processor? Gone. Mail App (oh yeah, already gone)? Gone. Need to rotate an image? Do it in Flickr not iPhoto. Heck, need to manage a photo collection and share it with others? Flickr again.

Apple needs to think iPhoto, and think about an OS and applications that leverage the internet at their core.

Otherwise, 20 years from now, Apple will just be an operating system, that funny thing that we used to need but no longer do.


  • It’s still a stupid question.  If you were stranded on the island, would you rather have a motor boat with no fuel or a rowboat complete with oars?

    It doesn’t fit the standard “If you were stranded on an island” profile because one item is artificially crippled.

    CrazyOne had this to say on Sep 29, 2006 Posts: 1
  • I don’t think it’s a stupid question. Addressed to a target audience of Mac fans, the fact that they would rather use Windows than have to live without internet does show something. (Incidentally though, why bring the desert island into it? Just obfuscates the issue.)

    However, the question is treated badly. What it certainly does not show is that “the operating system doesn’t matter any more”. The operating system obviously still matters enormously, because the number & use of web-based applications is still insignificant compared to pc-based applications. I would like to see Hadley try to justify this comment by switching to Windows 3.1. We’ll see just how quickly he’ll take it back.

    Now, obviously Windows 3.1 is not a current operating that can be honestly compared to Mac OS X. But it is an operating system. By appreciating the horror of the thought of having to go back to those days, it is evident just how important our modern operating systems are to our entire experience.

    For example, above, StevenJobs mentions the Mac applications which tie into the internet - iTunes, iPhoto, iWeb, iChat (not to mention Safari and Mail…!). Think what using these would be like if you had to go through the pain of setting up windows 3.1 to access broadband across even a simple network. Think, even when you eventually managed it, the technology in the operating system would be so poor in comparison to OS X, how ugly, unstable and unsafe would be the experience of using such apps. Notice on your computer, right now, just how easy it was to set these things up - was it actually more difficult than plugging in a cable and… boom?

    The internet is important, sure, but our modern operating systems are what sets up our computing experience to be great, both on and offline. Insinuating otherwise is just plain odd.

    Benji had this to say on Sep 29, 2006 Posts: 927
  • “So you need to get your pregnant wife to the hospital, which would you rather have, a fully functional Yugo or a Mercedes with no wheels?”

    I’ll take the Mercedes and sell it and buy a BMW with wheels.  Oh, I’ll call and ambulance for my wife; that’s a much better option.

    TexasAg03 had this to say on Sep 29, 2006 Posts: 17
  • I think John is right to question your logic, especially the quality of your conclusion.  While I agree that internet access is so important in today’s general computing that it’s value may trump the differences in operating systems, that doesn’t eliminate the differences or nullify their importance.

    First of all, your proposition is a false choice.  One that noone will ever need to make.  Given that reality (the fact that every mac user has equal access to the internet as any windows users) the question becomes: what else matters?

    Rich media creation matters more and more in an area where the internet has enabled self-publishing.  The Mac remains a wildly superior software platform for rich media creation, especially for amateurs.  In that sense, the internet has helped to bolster the appeal of the Mac. 

    Similarly, the inherently superior security of OSX makes using the internet on a Mac a more pleasant experience.

    It will be a very long time before the internet’s bandwidth and latency are capable of supporting thick applications like Final Cut Pro.  What your point really should be is that the internet is raising the watermark for platform differentiation beyond the simple applications that can now be handled by web services.  For users who are fully served by web services, the issue becomes which platform is the safest, most compatible and pleasant to use web environment.  This does mean that Apple needs to ensure the Mac is the best platform for internet use and I agree they could be doing more.

    In all cases, “the operating system doesn’t matter anymore” is an incorrect and sensationalistic conclusion.  It’s simple minded, and wrong.  No offense.

    John Papola had this to say on Sep 29, 2006 Posts: 1
  • A couple of questions…

    1. Where does the electricity come from? Do I share this island with Jack, Kate and Sawyer?

    2. Even with “with all apps installed”, what does it matter? I have bigger problems to concern myself with than whether or not I can edit my latest iMovie. Food and Shelter somehow seem to be more a concern than Freecell.

    I think at this point, being a computer geek wouldn’t really matter anymore if you were an ignorant die-hard mac fan who would never touch a Windows machine. And I don’t think they exist. Because the moment you say “APPLE or DIE”, you’re an idiot—because you’re essentially saying “Apple AND die”. I think Apple customers are smarter than choosing to spending the next 50 years all alone on an island to prove “Apple is more elegant”.

    Yes, you’re right,... we’d ALL choose #2 - the Windows box with the internet. And not so we could spend the rest of our life Googling porn and playing games over at We choose it so we could GMail somebody to get us the Hell off that cursed place. That would be the only point to choosing a Windows machine. Ever!

    There. I have finally discoverd the Answer to the Holy Grail of Tech Questions:

    Q: What is a Windows PC good for?
    A: It could get you off a Desert Island.

    Other than that, I’m stumped.

    Hottdogg had this to say on Sep 29, 2006 Posts: 2
  • I just want to say, John Papola, I want your comment’s babies.

    Benji had this to say on Sep 29, 2006 Posts: 927
  • okay, im not going to read all of these comments here… hopefully someone has already touched on this, but just in case:

    you, sir, are a nincompoop..! the whole idea is fallacious, because i can simply choose #2, download the hacked intel version of osx, and—given the time ill have on my hands—get the thing running my os of choice anyway…

    youre just buying into this ‘web2.0’ hype, and i imagine youll learn your lessons once ‘bubble2.0’ bursts…

    toromei had this to say on Sep 29, 2006 Posts: 1
  • 2, assuredly.

    Because I could use the net to get myself the hell OFF the island. And once I got back in the normal world I’d go back to using a Mac.

    When I was fleeing Hurricane Katrina, I used any means I could find to keep in touch with my friends and let them know I was okay, and figure out where to go next. If a public terminal was a Windows box, I didn’t care as long as I could get to webmail, LJ, etc. When I ended up moving in with some friends in Boston, I spent a decent chunk of my disaster relief money on a refurb Powerbook so I could start freelancing again.

    “The network is the computer” only works if you do nothing but text. Ain’t no way I’d wanna use Adobe Illustrator in my browser. Hell, ain’t no way I’d want to use some mythical version of iTunes that pulled all the music off the net, either. I have about 40 gigs of music on my computer and I’ve never spent a single cent at the iTunes Store; it all came from my own CDs.

    Egypt Urnash had this to say on Oct 01, 2006 Posts: 1
  • What if the choice was reversed… A Windows box with all apps installed with no internet connection or a MacPro with an internet connection, Firefox, IM, etc.?

    The answer will always be the one with the communication. I don’t see how it all matters anyway.

    Hottdogg had this to say on Oct 01, 2006 Posts: 2
  • First you become a vegetarian, next you’re finding all kinds of justifications for owning an apple computer. no, the operating system doesn’t matter but owning a mac gives me narcissistic pleasure in pretending that i am so much more refined in my choice of computers than people who use windows. Now that i’ve started eating meat again, maybe my next purchase will be a dell.

    the parallax view had this to say on Oct 01, 2006 Posts: 25
  • oh, i should add: the operating system isn’t dead, it just has as much use-value as an armani suit.

    the parallax view had this to say on Oct 01, 2006 Posts: 25
  • This post is far too lame to reply to, but what the heck.

    A TRS-80 with a 2400 baud connection and text-only web browser would be preferable to a top-of-the-line Dell with Windows Vista but no net connection.

    The question is stupid, the answer stupider and the questioner the stupidest.

    pbreit had this to say on Oct 02, 2006 Posts: 3
  • if you could only take one of the following:
    1. A MacBook Pro without internet
    2. A MacBook Pro that is formatted exclusively for Windows XP with Internet.
    3. A years subscription to Hustler.

    the parallax view had this to say on Oct 04, 2006 Posts: 25
  • 4. A banana, a tooth pick and a talking squirrel

    the parallax view had this to say on Oct 04, 2006 Posts: 25
  • Damn, I must have hit a nerve! Which usually means that there there is some truth in what I say. First of I am a Mac user and Mac fanatic. I run a site called Apple Matters after all!

    And please, don’t call me stupid, or the site stupid. You can call the question stupid!

    And, the cleverest answer by far? Use the Windows box to VPN into an OS X box. Love it!

    But this piece really wasn’t about the original question, it was really about the growing importance of the internet. Google is clearly heading in that direction. Imagine this scenario. Google gives away a computer that is essentially a dumb terminal to all of its applications. Gmail, Writerly, Firefox, etc. Within all your data storied on their servers. You could get any number of these machines for free. This is the challenge that Apple will probably face. After all, when everything is storied remotely who cares about the finder?

    Hadley Stern had this to say on Oct 04, 2006 Posts: 114
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