Red Hat release renews OS debate

Makers of "software appliances" are using the coming release of Red Hat Linux 5 to question the need for operating systems.

As Red Hat prepares to launch the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 operating system on Wednesday, the question is again being asked whether a robust and feature-laden operating system is really needed for some computing situations.

Makers of "software appliances" are using the launch as an opportunity to predict that the days of the monolithic OS are numbered. They say the future lies in a modular system in which software runs with only enough lines of OS code to make it work.

Some see promise in the appliance alternative to the OS, while skeptics think large enterprises will still need a general-purpose OS.

The same questions arose recently around the launch of Microsoft Windows Vista. A trio of Gartner analysts published a report in 2006 that said the increasing complexity of Windows makes it "unsustainable." Gartner predicted Windows will be broken up into modular components.

The same could be said for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 (RHEL 5), said Billy Marshall, CEO and cofounder of rPath, a software appliance platform vendor.

As new features are added to it, RHEL 5 has become just as unwieldy as Windows, Marshall said. "It's bigger and more bloated."

OS vendors add all sorts of functionality in the event some enterprise may want it, and the addition of these features is one of the reasons why both Microsoft and Red Hat have encountered delays bringing their products to market, he said.

Installing an OS could use as much as 1.82G bytes of space on a hard drive, he said. A software appliance with only the code to run one application would use just 300M bytes, he said.

"The general-purpose OS model is breaking," Marshall said.

Another software appliance vendor, Ingres, on Feb. 27 launched a database management software appliance it calls "Icebreaker" to compete against IBM's DB2 and Oracle's database software.

Software appliances may have a place in some niche environments in which a customer needs to run just a few pieces of software, said Jay Lyman, an analyst with The 451 Group. But a larger business would probably still need the various programs that are bundled into an OS, he said.

It might be possible to run an enterprise infrastructure without an OS, Lyman said. "But then again, you've already got people [in your IT department] running the OS, and it's a pretty critical part of the infrastructure."

Rather than seeing OSes fading, "I think we're seeing the trends going the other way," said Adam Jollans, director of worldwide strategy for Linux and open source at IBM.

At a time when IT administrators want to get more out of their existing hardware, isolating software applications and running them only with small pieces of code seems counterproductive, Jollans said.

"Many more people want to run multiple applications and do many different things. ... so I think we need the generic operating system to support all the different things people want to do," he said.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Robert Mullins

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?