The operating system may be losing its luster. In fact, you could argue that the operating system--Linux, OS X and Windows--will become an application that just happens to boot first. And hardware vendors are on to the OS's diminishing importance.
Let's connect a few dots:
The common thread: These efforts from Dell and Intel are arguably taking away some of the tasks that the operating system would normally do. My working theory: The OS is being slowly downplayed as hardware vendors and Web developers grab more control over the user experience. The OS will never be totally irrelevant, but it will be increasingly less important. It'll be plumbing. Simply put, the OS is being squeezed between hardware vendors that are cooking up their own applications to handle key tasks and the so-called Webtop, which will deliver programs through the browser.
Indeed, Mozilla had a casting call last week for developers to cook up ideas for the successor to Firefox. The effort is very conceptual, but does indicate that folks think the browser will poach more work from the OS.
Toss in virtualization, which will become the most important layer of the software stack and manage the OSes, and there are enough items to argue that the OS glory days are gone.
How soon will this scenario play out? It'll be years--perhaps a decade. The OS isn't going away anytime soon, but its role is being nibbled at slowly but surely. I'm sure that Microsoft, Apple and the folks behind the various flavors of Linux would beg to differ. But the writing is on the wall: While people are focused on winners and losers in the OS wars the reality may be that they all lose.
update: VIDEO: A world without Windows?