There is an interesting and, in my opinion, historic battle unfolding around Operating Systems these days.
At one end, Microsoft is readying the next version of their OS: Windows 7. Windows 7 is nothing more than Windows Vista done right: more stable and polished. At the other end, Google announced Chrome OS, a Linux-based minimal operating system meant to run a web browser on a computer without any further sophistication.
Our position at INM clearly leans towards the latter side, not because we prefer Google’s logo to Microsoft’s but mainly because we had predicted that Operating Systems were becoming irrelevant commodities (see conclusion of “All aboard! The new Intel-based Mac is leaving the station; here’s how to switch platforms”) and that real challenges were moving away from the metal and closer to the mental. Our key argument is that, thanks to RIAs and technologies such as Adobe Flex, MS Silverlight and HTML 5, it is nowadays possible to deliver rich content and interactivity without the cost and hassle of desktop applications.
Ironically though, while Google’s core message is that an operating system ought to be small, subordinate to the web browser and mostly free; they are precisely drawing attention to the relevance on the operating system by discussing it in the media.
On the other hand, Microsoft is crafting a sophisticated pricing plan for Windows 7, with an array of colors and flavors ranging from Home Edition to Ultimate thus underscoring that the choice of the right OS, and hence the OS per se, matters.
Moving forward, I think there will be confusion and internal conflicts at Google, and ultimately Android will prevail as Google’s canonical operating system for all devices ranging from smartphones to tablets to small PCs (as well as yet-to-be invented small devices).
Windows and MacOS would obviously remain the OSes of choices for users of Photoshop, video editing and other high-end applications. But as the cloud becomes more reliable and people discover the true benefits of RIAs, most common applications will migrate to lightweight (and invisible) OSes, and only specialists would need to shop for heavier operating systems.