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.


  • Okay, I’d take the Wintel box with the internet connection, but only to email someone to come rescue me so I could get back home to my Mac.

    chyronct had this to say on Sep 27, 2006 Posts: 7
  • This article could have been interesting, instead it is puerile. I would take the windows machine because I want to communicate. If I had my choice I would take the mac because it’s OS is far superior and transparent with respects to the net, as well as more secure. IE: it allows me to communicate better.

    The OS is the main user interface to the web… it’s far from dead, in fact the net is one of the main reasons that the mac is finally seeing a rise in its market share.

    The notion that the internet is going to change the nature of operating systems has been around for quite some time… from futurist predictions, to thin client computing, to web-based apps that run over / through browsers and other forms of ip clients. What hasn’t been thought through in any way is the business model that will replace the current model found in the IT industry. It would have been interesting for you to actually discuss how this magical transition to an ip-based global thin-client system is going to occur, and how it is going to be funded.

    Simply saying that something is on the horizon and is inevitably going to occur doesn’t make it so.

    rogueprof had this to say on Sep 27, 2006 Posts: 17
  • Instead of buying a OS with the computer, you’ll get it from the internet instead? This sounds like you will have the opportunity to pay for it constantly. Sort of like subscription computing. This is a model where even hardware won’t matter. All you would need is a terminal linked to a neighbourhood mainframe. A computer would consist of a monitor, optical drive and a mouse & keyboard (an iMac without a CPU, HDD and all the other goodies). And like many other subscription services, price is the determining factor. The bigger the user base, the better the deals.

    As well, you’ll be force-fed your OS. Apple won’t survive this. Without OS X, Apple is just top end hardware. There are several companies offering top end hardware, crappy OS, but that’s a different matter. There will be no reason to switch from MS OS to Apple OS. All the Windows security problem will disappear. It would be much easier for MS to control the OS & make it more secure when you have to connect to their servers to get it. Windows user apathy will work in MS’s favour.  The big question is who will come out on top, MS or Google, because Google will get in on this action. 

    If there isn’t an OS at all & the apps run OS free, the cost of the programs will increase to cover the additional cost to provide what was in the OS (fonts, libraries, etc.). You will also lose any consistency in the appearance of a program. Most people, including mac users, use their computers to work. If Adobe started putting out the CS package as a stand-alone program, no OS required, why buy Apple? The bottom line is the factor that will decide hardware. Back to the neighbourhood mainframe analogy, the form factor is no longer that relevant. The prettiest monitor, mouse & keyboard is the only aesthetic option.

    dleboubon had this to say on Sep 27, 2006 Posts: 17
  • I have an addendum to add to my above statement…..The final result of this OS over the internet (??iOS??) will turn the home computer into a TV on steroids. Just another way to stream content into the home. The downside of this is it will give the OS providers more control of the content. Do you think MS will provide access to an Apple site? I can predict endless errors telling you the site isn’t responding or doesn’t exist, because IE will be the browser you use to access the content provided. How many private or independent TV stations are there now? Not too many here in Canada, at least with a viewership of more then a couple of hundred people (community TV). If you control the means of communication, you control the content.

    My intention is not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but it would definitely make live advertising within the OS possible & advertisers have a big say in content. With Tivo changing the way people watch TV, this could be the way to advertise in the future. Right now, you get advertising on tv & web sites, imagine getting it while you work as well. How annoying would it be to be working in Photoshop & be bombarded by advertisements for printer ink, the latest, greatest precision mouse known to mankind & granola bars as the optimal snack for your coffee break?

    dleboubon had this to say on Sep 27, 2006 Posts: 17
  • Blah. I would love to see less pointless articles on applematters. Of course you want a computer that enables you to communicate. The OS is evermore important though. Because it keeps you productive while the damn ISP is down again, or the frickin website just aint no worky. The OS also protects you from the evils of the web, keeping your local data safe. Yes, there is data you may not want on some server, somewhere, waiting to be hacked into by any 13 year old kid with m4d 5ki11z. These issues do not change with faster connection speeds.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Sep 27, 2006 Posts: 371
  • I disagree; the operating system becomes more important as the hardware layer becomes less. All these interactions need to proceed transparently. Microsoft constantly puts roadblocks in the path to ease-of-use. Apple does everything it can to end them.

    Will there be advantages of doing activities on the Web? Sure. But, will you do everything there? No way. This is, in a way, an thin client/ stand alone computer argument. Both systems have advantages, but both alone are not flexible to satisfy our needs. Some of our needs cannot be done remotely even at the fastest transmission rates (video creation, photoshop, etc) Much of the processing must be done locally. And we do not know what new features will become possible when the technology proceeds far enough—virtual reality, perfect vocal commands, wearable computers, brain controlled computers, computers inside the brain, etc.

    I expect that increasingly the hardware will become identical as more of its features are fitted onto a single chip, but that makes the software interaction that much more important. I do not expect Microsoft or Google to get what the Computer User needs. The Computer User doesn’t even know yet. But, Apple will still be pushing the computing envelop and the best user experience on the Web will still be on a Mac, even when all the hardware has seemed to disappear.

    UrbanBard had this to say on Sep 27, 2006 Posts: 111
  • 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?

    moldyapples had this to say on Sep 27, 2006 Posts: 8

    There’s about 100 reasons why an ISP based OS will never fly… First off, LOAD TIME! Come on people! Get it right! Even Mac OS X takes 30 seconds to load natively. What kind of crap are we gonna have that has to load over a 5mbs connection? Even the most slim linux distro’s take over 2mins.

    Another problem I see is this… LAPTOPS! How many of us use them when to inet connection or cell connection is available?

    Ok, yea it might work for the people who are on a budget and can’t afford much, Fine. Let them have the Google OS or whatever, I’ll keep my Mac and my native OS.

    And in regards to the above question. #1 thanks. Windows will constantly crash and have to restart. If I’m on a desert island I’d like to have structure of reliability. Besides that I’ve got everything I need aside from communication and with my workload lately that sounds like a nice vacation.

    I’m well aware that Office 2007/8/9 whatever will be internet based and this will prove without a fact that web based infrustructure for hosted applications will flop, just as it did in the late 90’s. Some things will work, most will be a nother notch on the rediculous belt when we look back in 20 years. IPV 6 is supposed to help with some of this but the defacto is still SPEED of communications!

    xwiredtva had this to say on Sep 27, 2006 Posts: 172
  • I’ll take option 2 and then immediately order a Mac Pro from the Apple Store. Once FedEx crashes into the sea near the island, I’ll disconnect the internet from the PC, and plug in the Mac.

    El Payo had this to say on Sep 27, 2006 Posts: 12
  • I’d definetly take option 2, but only to communicate as most of you said. Personally I think this Question is taking the Mac Fanatic Stereotype a little too far, sure, our OS and hardware are superior but who in their right mind would give up communication fun and entertainment. If I had to go Tom Hanks on a deserted island, give me the ol’ virus plagued bug infested PC…at least I’ll have a full day of guaranteed fun downloading all the service packs and antispyware….wait, maybe I would hang myself before the first servicepacks are ready to install.

    Nemin had this to say on Sep 27, 2006 Posts: 35
  • Would you choose Vista and Internet Explorer or OS/X and Safari?

    If you consider this a reasonable question then Hadley’s proposition is nonsense.

    HTML remains a very clunky way of presenting a user interface, and any notebook user will tell you that being able to work “offline” is essential - especially when travelling.

    Sorry Hadley, but it’s a silly proposition.  Don’t expect any Mac user to ENJOY using Windows on your island…  The O/S still has an enormous impact on the user experience.

    Otherwise we wouldn’t be Mac fans would we!

    sydneystephen had this to say on Sep 27, 2006 Posts: 124
  • I can see the OS becoming much less important in the future.  As broadband connections increase and nice online Ajax apps become more common then who needs the OS?  Right now I use Google Calander, Gmail, Picasa Web Albums, Google Spreadsheets, and Google Writely.  While many of these apps are in their infancy and aren’t suitable for professional level work, they do show the potential and part of the direction that Google is taking.  I would think that all of this scares MS to death as Google is offering all of this for free!  Too bad as Apple slowly develops these online apps as part of .mac they will continue to insist on charging $99 a year…

    had this to say on Sep 27, 2006 Posts: 4
  • I will take option 3, the Wii. It comes with a free web browser (at least until 7/2007) with full AJAX and Flash support, a newsreader,  a photo organizer. It is cheap, it plays games, it wakes up instantly…

    hitoro had this to say on Sep 27, 2006 Posts: 12
  • Consider this experiment a success, Hadley.  Note the outright hostility as Mac fans are forced to begrudingly admit that they’d choose the internet over the OS (which is exactly your point).  And then watch as they retreat into bloviated Apple-talking points about every totally irrelevant point imaginable, seemingly to wash that admission out of their mouths.

    Now that’s worthwhile reading.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Sep 27, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • This experiment is not a success, as Beeblebrox so gleefully sneered.
    Instead of using the ‘Internet connection’ in your example you might as well could have used a working or lacking powerline to supply the box. That’s just silly.
    As a matter of fact it’s interesting that you wrecked your brain until you came up with a situation so desperate (being stranded on a deserted island) that you could make someone choose a Win over a Mac. Cute, no?
    It’s like knowing of the innert superiority of “X” over “Y” and then forging the magical question: “Ok…if you could choose X PLUS being shot in the knees, hit on the head, having your eyes gouged and receiving a thousandandone whiplashes on your raw skin…..ORRRRRRR product Y and…errm…a monthly bonus of $1.000! Which one is it gonna be, chief?”.
    Wow!! He chose ‘Y’! Hahahaha…he’s admitting that ‘X’ is useless and shitty.
    Errrm…right. Great analysis, Mr. Freud jr.

    And on a last a little more serious note:
    What more can you do to incorporate the internet into the OS than Apple is doing with iDisk and all of its apps that are extremely internet savvy (iWeb, iPhoto, iCal, .mac-groups etc…) easily tied together by the Cocoa API (and yes, all this has to be considered to be part of the OS).



    “An Apple a day keeps Windows away….”

    Joker had this to say on Sep 27, 2006 Posts: 1
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