The Increasingly Irrelevant Desktop OS

The Increasingly Irrelevant Desktop OS

Summary: Virtualization and cloud-computing will save the desktop operating system but we really just need a way to launch applications.


As promised from yesterday's post, "Without Virtualization, Apple's OS Will Die," today's post will expand on the idea of non-localized operating systems for you and perhaps give you some insight into the future of computing. The future is to have no distinct operating system on your local device (Tablet, Phone, Netbook, Laptop) but have access to operating systems (not that you'll need one), services and applications via the Cloud.

You don't need an operating system anymore. You need applications. Think application virtualization.

What's the one barrier preventing mass Windows to Linux conversion? Applications. Everyone complains about the lack of business applications--business applications compatible to accepted standards like Microsoft Office, QuickBooks and Exchange. Linux is free. What's more compelling than free? Compatible applications.

The problem is that you can't give away something that doesn't support what people are used to using. Applications rule. Operating systems are in a distant second place by comparison.

I don't really care that my iPad runs iOS 4.x because I don't interact with the operating system. I tap an app when I need to do something. I don't use the operating system for anything. Does that bother me? Not really and that's significant, since I'm a Windows and Linux system administrator. I'm someone who interacts with operating systems for my job. But, I still don't care that I don't interact with iOS. Nor should I.

All I really care about is that I can access Windows systems via RDP, 2XClient, DaaS Mobile and VNC apps. I can access websites and email via CloudBrowse and Safari. I can connect to my Linux systems with iSSH, VNC and RDP. And, I can access my cloud-stored files on with apps for Dropbox, QuickOffice and PlainText.

I just don't care what the operating system is on the local device. It could be Android, Chrome, some mobile version of Windows, OS2, Xenix or even SCO UNIX. I need to connect to services, apps and operating systems that are far away from me. If I needed to run Windows Server 2008 on a local system, I might be more inclined to care.

This is why cloud-based desktops make sense for me. If I'm carrying my iPad to the mall and I get paged for a support call, I can connect to a cloud-based desktop or to a server system and fix the problem. If I were bound to a localized operating system, I'd have to lug around a laptop, a power cable and find a place to sit down. Wouldn't that look cool at the mall? Oh, and if I used a non-approved operating system (Mac OS X) on my laptop, I'd have to race back home to work. Not good.

So, I reiterate my assertion that without virtualization Apple's OS will die. And, perhaps it should in favor of iOS but if people want to continue to use Mac OS X, Apple must change its licensing to allow virtualization on non-Apple hardware. And, to only allow the Server version of OS X is short-sighted. The OS that needs virtualization is the Desktop version.

If I had apps on my laptop that would allow me to connect to cloud-based OS X, I'd use it. I'd also use a cloud-based Windows and a cloud-based Linux. But what's more important than any operating system? Applications. Cloud-based applications running on cloud-hosted operating systems. That's the future. That's the Cloud. That's no OS required.

Topics: Software, Apple, Operating Systems


Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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  • Precisely ...

    ... and this is exactly what consumers and businesses need to overcome the business models and limitations currently imposed by the global IT corporations.

    1. We wouldn't need to buy expensive Apple products ... we'd run applications like EXCEL and PS.

    2. We could reorganise the infrastructure to buy value for money equipment, instead of insanely expensive enterprise offerings (as Google have done for themselves).

    I don't think Jobs is worried about the death of OSX: he's selling luxury hardware there anyways. His strategy is to:

    A. Corner the market in smartphones and tablets, post PC.

    B. Sign up the media giants and charge 30% for all digital downloads/streams.

    In the end one is always going to need an access device and data. He has the future of both.

    Microsoft are far too slow. Google is our only hope of freedom.

    [In this discussion I think the network needs more careful attention than it is receiving: it was the Achilles heel of SUN's network terminal, which virtualisation and clouds simply reinvent.]
    • RE: The Increasingly Irrelevant Desktop OS


      Excellent post!

      I totally agree, these kind of statements are far to general, it is well known different companies have different strategies. (Apple offers a total, heavely controlled package. Google is more open, bigger in terms of marketshare, smaller in terms of profit margins.)

      I agree microsoft is to slow, Balmer is killing microsoft in my opinion. All talk and no show salesmen.
      S. DeGarnd
      • On Ballmer

        @S. DeGarnd

        You are not alone.
    • I wouldn't say MS is too slow

      (I'm not biased) because look around - Android tablet after Android tablet, yet I'm very curious as to if any of the manufacturers have made, or will make a profit from their investment, and a major factor is that they're running Android. Once again going after a small market that Apple has locked up for the moment, as I agree that their goal of making money from content in the coming years, not hardware is why virtualization is not important with them

      MS appears to be taking it's time a bit in putting together an OS for tablets that may be the best of both worlds.

      Android is the OS stuck in between - can't run apps, can't work with iTunes.
      Will Pharaoh
      • The increasingly irrelevant MS trolls

        @Will Pharaoh
        "I'm not biased" - thanks for the biggest belly-laugh so far today!
    • RE: The Increasingly Irrelevant Desktop OS

      God help us all if Google is our only chance for freedom!!
      • RE: The Increasingly Irrelevant Desktop OS

        @kris_stapley@... Lol I hear you. I was just thinking about that today for some reason. They have essentially all ready become what many thought MS was many years ago. Way too over extended on things and a looming future target for the Feds to boot. I also don't like them and will remain an outsider if I have to adopt Google for anything. Their lack of quality control nailed me for a few thousand lost dollars I couldnt afford to lose.
    • RE: The Increasingly Irrelevant Desktop OS


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  • VNC and &quot;Cloud OS&quot;

    Although VNC was a great app last century, consider migrating to FreeNx. The benefits of FreeNx over VNC are staggering.

    Now, the thin OS is nothing new. Phoenix HyperSpace is several years old, in fact. It's been tried and failed a number of times. The issues with cloud-only solutions, such as Google is attempting with Chromebooks, at this time are quite innumerable, especially in markets with unreliable power and connectivity. They have been discussed ad nauseum.

    Blended, hybrid solutions, such as Microsoft's cloud model, seems to be the most viable model.
    Your Non Advocate
    • RE: The Increasingly Irrelevant Desktop OS

      @facebook@... Interestingly my company started about 18 months ago, and we took the decision to be based in the cloud.

      So far, it's worked pretty well - almost no downtime, I can use the same system whereever I go, and our IT costs are much lower than if I had gone to a traditional installation. We're looking quite hard at these Chromebooks, especially as we're about to replace our existing laptops (Sony Vaio, really quite poor build quality).

      Occasionally we have to use the desktop (on planes, etc) but working offline with LibreOffice seems to do the trick.
  • RE: The Increasingly Irrelevant Desktop OS

    I read the basis of this article for years first it was the networked operating system, then it was the thin client and now the cloud. Somehow the desktop OS is still relavent and many of the solutions to replace it are not.
  • RE: The Increasingly Irrelevant Desktop OS

    The OS becoming increasingly irrelevant to the consumer is not necessarily saying it's unimportant. To spite that companies would love to hold and control all our data, cloud will never be for everyone. However, because consumers care less and less for the OS; Microsoft's continued pushing of nerfed OEM versions and ex-orbinantly priced OS's will become less and less tolerable; apps or not.
    • RE: The Increasingly Irrelevant Desktop OS

      Maybe irrelevant, but needed.
      I have a device and I run apps and get my data from a "cloud". I still need the OS to run my apps. My interaction with it is more structured but where is the "don't need"?

      Perplexed :|
  • You are really messing with .......

    the fan boys' heads ;-)

    Good blog
  • Don't interact with the operating system?

    What do you think handles the application icon, processes your taps? Allows the app to even run in the first place?

    Good grief. I'd be embarrassed to put my name down as the author of this piece.
    • Totally over your head?


      Struggling with the big picture?

      I think the embarrassing "piece" is elsewhere.
    • RE: The Increasingly Irrelevant Desktop OS

      @fr_gough : My thoughts exactly.

      There will always be an operating system of some sort. The reason why operating systems were developed in the first place was to provide a consistent foundation upon which apps can be developed and deployed.
    • RE: The Increasingly Irrelevant Desktop OS

      He's not denying the use of an OS by apps, he's saying that *users* don't need to interact with the OS directly, which is the case with iOS sytems today. He's got a point...
      • RE: The Increasingly Irrelevant Desktop OS

        What current OS has the user directly interacting? Every OS I know has at least a shell program to provide a UI (command line) or a windowing program to provide a graphic UI. I agree with fr_gough, the author is out of his depth.
        • RE: The Increasingly Irrelevant Desktop OS


          I agree whole-heartedly. It is almost as-if the author is unaware of the underpinnings of the app he is typing into to write this article.

          Additionally, it is ironic that it took my nifty iOS device FIVE attempts to log into zdnet via Facebook and a RESTART in order to comment on this article. Hmmm... I wonder which application was at fault. :p
          Patrick Flaherty