Wednesday, September 2, 2009

(empo-tymshft) OK, so how do you create an operating system?

I first was directly exposed to an operating system in 1979, when my college freshman physics labs did labs on the college computer. The labs were supposed to teach Pascal programming, but to get to the Pascal stuff, we had to navigate through the Unix operating system. Eventually I was exposed to other operating systems, such as the Oasis (later THEOS) operating system, the Finder on the Macintosh, the MS-DOS operating system, the OS/2 operating system, the Windows operating system, and the Linux operating system.

All of the operating systems that I listed are either command-line based, graphically based, or both. But they all have some common elements between them, most notably the fact that each of these operating systems was designed to run on one or more pieces of hardware, and was designed to host multiple applications.

Well, there's a new batch of operating systems coming down the pike, one of which is the new Google Chrome operating system. Many of us have seen the Google Chrome browser, and are wondering how the operating system will work. Well, according to a post in the unofficial Google Operating System blog, we already know how the operating system will work. The title of the post? "You're Already Running Google Chrome OS."

If you use Google Chrome and Google's web applications, then you're already running Google Chrome OS. Just maximize Google Chrome's window and imagine that each tab is an instance of an application. Gmail is your mail client, Google Calendar is the calendaring application, Google Docs is the office suite and the file explorer. Google Chrome's new tab page is the desktop, the dashboard that lists frequently used applications and lets you add widgets.

In essence, this thinking turns the whole idea of operating systems on its head. Rather than developing applications after the operating system is completed, in this case the operating system is proceeding FROM an application.

But there's another issue here. If you look at the list of applications that are running on this OS, all of them happen to begin with the letter "G." And that has Steven Hodson a tad cranky:

Now given that ChromeOS is being billed as the next generation web-based operating system one has to wonder if it will be held to the same anti-competitive standards that Microsoft is. By the looks of the screenshots, and much of the talk surrounding it, ChromeOS will be the home of Google applications.

However given Google’s dominance (an argument used against Microsoft) will they also have to allow users to choose some other browser to be ‘installed’ on their web OS platform?

Consider Microsoft's previous arguments that Internet Explorer was an integral part of the Microsoft OS (Windows). Now think of the Google Chrome OS, and it's hard to argue that Google Chrome ISN'T an integral part of the Google OS.

Perhaps this will all be hashed out as time goes on, but it's clear that the whole concept of an "operating system" is undergoing a potential shift. As the pendulum swings back toward dumber terminals - think about the ramifications of "the cloud" for a moment - the whole idea of operating systems will be rethought also.

And does this mean that we may have a Mozilla OS in the future? One can speculate.
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