The incredible shrinking operating system

Windows, Mac OS, and Linux are all getting smaller. What does that mean for you?

For example, the SDK for the hot new Palm OS provides developers with CSS, JavaScript, and XML, all the tools that are used in a modern browser. These tools let developers write applications as widgets that do not require the support of an onboard OS.

Winthrop also says when back-end and front-end services both use the same Web technologies, the need for a powerful OS is reduced.

Tomi Rauste, president of Movial Creative Technologies, a mobile consultancy, picks up on that idea. Rauste believes combining Web technologies obviates the need for application integration at a deeper level. "Using Web technologies to customize a user interface is far easier than using interface technologies where you have to have native coding skills to change the interface," Rauste says.

Of course, Microsoft is not convinced that the browser will take over much of the OS. While there are a number of embedded versions of Windows, including Windows CE and Windows XP Embedded, where hardware designers use only those components needed for their device, DeBragga says he doesn't see the browser taking over most of operating system chores.

It is true that 50 percent of the time a user is in his or her browser, but the browser is not suited to handle the other applications a computer can handle, DeBragga argues. He cites document editing and video editing as example tasks that don't require a browser but do require a powerful operating system.

Bear River's Meadow agrees. While the OS may get smaller and more users will live in their browsers, he says there is still a lot of competitive advantage to having a fully featured OS that does things other operating systems don't. Case in point: "OS X running on the iPhone gives the iPhone incredible power."

But even that legitimate OS dependence is changing, counters Winthrop. He points to Photoshop.com and Photoshop Express, Web versions of the premier photo-editing package Adobe Photoshop. There was a time when no one would have thought that feature-rich Photoshop would ever be a Web 2.0 application, but to a great extent it is now.

For a growing class of users, notes independent analyst Kusnetzky, a device that presents a Web browser, Internet mail, a word processor, and a calendar is more than sufficient for their needs.

It's certain the OS will continue to shrink, in whatever directionThe incredible shrinking of Windows 7, Mac OS X Snow Leopard, and Linux JeOS are no accidents. The OS center of gravity is indeed shifting away from the large do-it-all operating systems to a far more targeted approach.

The reason for these changes by the major vendors is downright Darwinian. All of them realize that they must adapt or die as virtualization, cloud computing, the explosion of unique devices, and the desire for more efficient, less costly operating systems all drive the next generation of business users toward smaller, less costly, and more efficient operating environments.

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Ephraim Schwartz

InfoWorld
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