The operating system is dead

The death of the operating system as you know it is not far away. While Microsoft won’t be going out of business any time soon, the writing is on the wall for Windows, Linux and OS X.

The OS will always be there hidden in the depths for those willing to look but it’s becoming less and less significant for consumers. Anyone who has watched a non-technical friend spend their first week with an iPad can see which way home computing is headed. The Android tablets will get their act together in the next few years and, once that happens, most homes will revolve around tablets.

You might argue that the on-screen keyboard is no good if you want to type a letter. The average consumer doesn’t care. They don’t write letters and they can’t type. They use one or two fingers and hunt for every character. The only surprise is that on-screen keyboards don’t yet default to alphabetical order. Maybe the computer industry is waiting for kids to be taught the alphabet in qwerty order.  

More significant with Android and iOS is that they are genuine consumer products. If they stop working or an application is bad enough to lock the OS up, consumers just switch them off and on again. Which works.

So that leaves businesses. They spend huge amounts on operating systems and software licenses. There are bespoke applications to be run and everyone needs a keyboard because they’re working. Unlike consumers, they’re producing and not just, well, consuming.

That would be fine if it weren’t for one simple point. Anyone involved in application deployment will tell you that hundreds of applications are used across an enterprise but that the vast majority of users only have a few. Take a look at the logs of Altiris or LanDesk and you’ll find that around 80% of users in a large company have nothing much more than Office and a few enterprise applications. These days those enterprise applications tend to be web-based.

Processors a decade old are fast enough to run Office. Ask any hardware geek if a £99 Apple TV has enough power to do the job of the average business desktop if it had a keyboard. The answer is yes. It may only have 8GB of flash as a drive but all sensible enterprises store everything on the network so that doesn’t matter.

Need a laptop? Here’s your company tablet with optional portable keyboard/stand.

If there was an equivalent of the App Store that held all of an enterprise’s software licenses, that would also be a major step forward. No more spending thousands to have Application Packagers convert the install disc into an MSI or App-V package. Products like MSCAV, Altiris and LanDesk need to watch their backs or move further in that direction.

So that’s down to just 20% of the desktops in an enterprise. Effectively performance-sensitive jobs and specialists. Except the change doesn’t stop there. Say you’re a CTO with two thousand desktop computers on your network. You want to keep the finances tight so you have a four year hardware replacement cycle. If you switch 80% of those desktops from £400 PCs to £100 iOS/Android devices, you might be tempted to use the £480,000 you save on hardware over a cycle to find ways to change the other 20%.

Which just leaves servers. Maybe the OS as we know it can survive there for a while.