The reinventing of the Operating System

Martin Brinkmann
Aug 5, 2009
Updated • Jan 1, 2013
Windows, Windows 7

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has found that logging onto the computer has become quite mundane and boring. Yes, I like Windows 7, and Snow Leopard isn’t looking too bad either, but its kind of frustrating because we haven’t had any major revolutionary ideas in the past three OS updates for both Microsoft and Apple.

Yes we got things like global search, hi-def support, cool animations and visual effects, but where are the revolutionary ideas that should be popping up. While our hardware is getting more and more powerful, our software seems to lag in support for such features. Operating systems do a pretty good job of the basics, intermediate and advanced, but I think it’s about time we see some better integration between our electronic devices.

No doubt you’ve probably heard of “Microsoft’s Home,” Redmond’s idea of how our homes will look if 2012 proves to be incorrect. While the ideas are great, it’s clear to see that many of them will be, to say the least, expensive. More importantly these technologies require much more then a simple computer to operate.

Reinventing an OS however, while radical, could render it useful. Let me give an example, the “Desktop” is a wonderful place and without it most of us wouldn’t have our bearings in our OS. But it limits what we can do in many ways. For example, retrieving a file from a remote computer is one that can involve a lot of pain and headache especially if both systems are operating two different OS’s.

The Fix? Cloud computing! Yes, we’ve heard the term mentioned hundreds of time, but it’s not been until recent years that the necessity of cloud computing has become evident. For instance, I have changed smartphones and carriers three times in the past year (I know what you’re thinking). Although switching from the original MotoQ to the Blackberry Curve was a painless process, not so when I decided to get the Pre. While numbers and most emails as well as websites were transferred, this was not the case for birthdays, notes and such. More importantly, it failed to synchronize my email contacts with my phone.

If I happened to have all my contacts “in the cloud” it would cut out the need to find a way to synchronize my messenger, email, and phone contact lists between different models and manufacturers. All I would have to do is sync any new phone, computer or PMP with the cloud and all data would remain intact. Plus I could cancel the risk of those horrible duplicates that always seem to arise when switching platforms. Yes, I know Microsoft, Apple, Google and Palm among others have programs that sync contact and calendar information among multiple platforms. But I’m still looking for a solution that allows me to run Adobe Photoshop, Google Sketch-Up or Microsoft Office remotely.

This of course could give users the ability to run graphical, CPU and memory intense programs from netbooks, nettops and other bargain PC’s thus reducing the need to buy multiple licenses for the same product. More importantly data lost would be less common as the event of a hard drive failing or a virus taking over a system would not affect data stored remotely.

Small businesses would be able to cut IT costs as most employees would only need a small computer, one that is capable of Internet access, and of course the required security details to log in. Speaking of security, “the cloud” could not be accessed unless a security key (USB dive) were plugged into the computer accessing the data. Other security measures such as facial recognition, and fingerprint readers could also be utilized in these security keys. Best of all these keys would keep a record of the who, what, when and where.

The USB key could also double as a USB modem thus the ability to bring access to “the cloud” anywhere service is provided. In an event that the user would be traveling to an area that internet access is unavailable, information, programs and other data could be downloaded onto the USB key and used on any computer through a dedicated virtual environment.

I know what you’re thinking, this would be impossible to implement in a short amount of time. But quite the contrary. All of what I have mentioned are technologies used everyday. Many Mac users run Windows virtually, Linux users do the same for Windows and vise versa. USB keys have been used for quite some time from providing network security IT professionals to high end software of the likes of AutoDesk and Houdini. Best of all, Microsoft, Linux and Apple support a basic amount of virtualization. All that is left is to port the OS’s to “the cloud.”

It’s a wild idea, but it’s plausible and something that could break barriers as information could be easily shared across different environments as well as mobile devices, vehicles and other electronical equipment.

Your thoughts?


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  1. Roman ShaRP said on August 8, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    Here is the thoughts I wrote on article about the cloud of Bill Thompson, BBC columnist:

    On my opinion the cloud will fail because it misses badly money, property
    and copyright issues. The talks about the “utility computing” as power
    grid are sweet, but the Internet is different.

    It isn’t that neutral as power grid. Nobody talks about limiting
    electricity one could use for fans or condition (like some do limiting
    traffic for Bittorrent), nobody pushes laws about cutting off the
    power grid forever people committed some copyright infringement (and
    as far as I know, people can use electric devices even in the jails,
    at least Britain jails). The price is low, and even the poorest people
    can afford it (at least in Europe).

    But all is different for the networking. There are constant disputes
    about property rights. Some people said that every single page view
    must be paid (do you remember that “Penny per page” buzz or more
    recent Firefox blocking only for Adblock existance?). Do you remember
    the copyrighted video shops shutdown with stopping DRM servers? Or
    that case about Facebook policy change?

    We don’t have that with the power grid. The only case I know is the 3
    times bigger kW price for those who use more than 400kW per month
    here in Ukraine – but we have almost the very same in the providers’
    traffic plans, and even worse with the mobile roaming tariffs.

    The people who fear electricity cut buy generators. But nobody plan
    using generators forever, everyone thinks that after some time the
    grid supply will be restored. And on the net you can see some sites
    with valuable content or some services be turned off forever, or become
    priced from the free, or see price increase – for the copyright, profitability or other reasons. So you think about something what will work when the
    site might be cut off.

    So, on my opinion, if you do value some content – keep it and tools
    for working with it as much independent from the net and companies as
    you can. Because if it depends on the net or some company – you might
    lost it, even forever, or be asked to pay more.

  2. The Mighty Buzzard said on August 6, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    cloud = inserts multiple single points of failure = retarded place to store data.

  3. Andrea said on August 6, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    “This would result in staff being stuck twiddling their thumbs”

    This already happens where I work, in europe, but luckily doesn’t happen so much, and just for few minutes.
    Ok, it’s not the same for all the jobs, but most of tech related ones are intrinsically connected to the web nowadays.

  4. Phil said on August 6, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    I think too many people have their head in the “Cloud(s)” of late! I concur with Doc above in that I, along with many others will never be able to entrust all my important data to the cloud, no matter who owns and/or runs it. I would never forgive myself if all my photos of years were to disappear along with my Taxation Data, Family History data, etc, etc.

    It is all fine and dandy to imagine this wonderful utopia but unfortunately there are many, many users on this planet who do not have a fast and reliable internet connection. I myself live in Australia and here our “Fast” internet is a joke. In Australis even when you have what is considered a fast connection it is not what the rest of the world considers fast. Of course there are other countries in some of the less technologically serviced areas of the globe in similar and indeed worse scenarios, so the Cloud is a victim of this technological drought.

    Even with the best of systems there will be outages. Whereas in an office situation a company can get by with alternative software/hardware if an individual piece malfunctions the same company cannot function if ALL its main applications and data were to suddenly go offline. This would result in staff being stuck twiddling their thumbs as the cloud evaporates with no suitable software/hardware to perform tasks on. I can’t see that contributing towards healthy financial outcomes for any business.

    By all means I see a place for Cloud Computing but not in anywhere as near a big a way as is envisaged at the moment. It can see it as being most effective as an aid to staff who are constantly mobile and needing to be able to operate more effectively than is currently the case. That is where this technology excels, as an adjunct to the existing structure.

    All I say is whenever you are getting all excited about this “new” phenomonon just think back to Bill Gates and his elusive dream of a successful Tablet PC. In 2001 Gates said the following,

    “The tablet takes cutting-edge PC technology and makes it available whenever you want it…It’s a PC that is virtually without limits — and within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America.”

    We are all still waiting Bill and I believe the same will go for Cloud Computing. The idea has been floated many times before in different incantations but even though platforms have improved in that time it is still the “Tablet-Type” dream in my opinion.

  5. Andrea said on August 6, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    All I do now is already web-based, so the shift will be painless.
    In fact in each rare case that the ADSL is down, all I can do is browsing my hard drive in search of some lost file, and usually end playing some MAME game or reading a book …

  6. Transcontinental said on August 6, 2009 at 12:21 am

    Cloud computing’s reliability. Martin, this very interesting article is focusing I think on what is starting to invade our minds, that is where will the data be stored; not in terms of volume but in terms of accessibility. Cloud access is tempting, but as far as i’m concerned, at this time, it is less confidentiality than reliability that prevents me from an excess of enthusiasm : I dare not think what may happen should the very flesh of my work – data – be the exclusivity of a path out of my metal-skinned computer. Let us remember the torments of those who, relying on GMail as the mean and depositary of their email; got confronted to Google’s world-wide halt. Frightens me.

  7. river-wind said on August 5, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    Historically, as local computing hardware gets more powerful in relation to the bandwidth available, the trend leans towards local applications and local data (at the cost of access to that data, and duplication of maintenance effort). As the ratio shifts back towards larger available bandwidth, remote processing and storage is more favored (at the cost of centralizing your points of failure).

    These days, however, there is a third variable; the average person’s need for processing power may be lower than what is currently available. You might be on to something novel here if it could be shown that since the average computer user has more hardware power than they will ever use, that is no longer an important factor in the equation.

    As such, it will all be about bandwidth from now on.

    Perhaps widespread installation of WiMax will allow for this shift?

  8. Orrett Morgan said on August 5, 2009 at 10:58 pm


    You are 100% right. That is my whole idea. Most of the tech that I mentioned has already been invented. If only it could be ported to a cloud format this would make perfect sense. Secondly it could bring affordable computers to areas like China and India where there are big WiFi networks.

  9. river-wind said on August 5, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    This process is logically sound, though it has both advantages and disadvantages.

    To get a feel for both sides, and to track the history of the last time this question came up, check out information on the Dumb Terminal era – when users had access to a screen and keyboard attached to a mainframe over a network. The dumb terminal did next to nothing, and stored next to nothing; leaving all the heavy lifting to the mainframe.

    In this situation dumb terminals are replaced by lightweight cloudbooks, and the mainframe is replaced by a distributed collection of servers.

    “In an event that the user would be traveling to an area that internet access is unavailable, information, programs and other data could be downloaded onto the USB key and used on any computer through a dedicated virtual environment.”
    This idea is essentially the concept of portable home folders, where a user’s entire environment is compartmentalized and the OS is made aware of it at login. OSX had a short-lived “Home on the iPod” project to do just this, but for some reason, it went away.

    The downside is that it would only work on computers running the right OS; otherwise the computer wouldn’t see the user, nor would the applications run. Perhaps, through some form of virtualization of a thin client OS environment, or via WINE-like API translation, this could be abstracted enough to become a cross-platform system?

  10. Doc said on August 5, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    Cloud computing will NEVER replace any of my main programs for two simple reasons:

    1) I can’t guarantee I’ll ALWAYS have an internet connection fast enough (or a connection at all) whenever I want to do something. Yes, Yahoo! and Google web mail is nice, and obviously a connection is required to send/receive mail, but word processing? games? (I don’t play online games, unless it’s a Flash platformer);

    2) There isn’t ANY player–Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google, or any other “web drive”–I’d trust with my documents, photos, MP3s. Never will be. Ever. Period. Amazon’s recent goof with removing 1984 and Animal Farm from everybody’s Kindles is proof of that.

  11. zeus911 said on August 5, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    I live in the Greek Islands and there isn’t a cloud in the sky for 4 months each year :-)

  12. Peter Owen said on August 5, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    Great article. Google OS is not out yet, but hopefully within a year? I know cloud computing would make my life a lot easier. Not having to worry about all that, but it appears that Google is trying to take a large breadth approach by releasing Android and now Google Voice… they are definitely positioning themselves for this. Hopefully it all works out like we hope and makes our lives easier.

  13. Imran said on August 5, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Nice and spicy article, forcing to think. I hope Linux will get solution soon.

    P.S. who has seen Google Chrome OS? it has not yet entered in the field so main player is far, it is not even a player.

  14. Andrea said on August 5, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    You totally forgot the main player here, Google Chrome OS, that will do all you mentioned, and in the easiest way too.

  15. Rarst said on August 5, 2009 at 11:24 am

    I had some thoughts (and posts) on topic. To sum those up:

    1. Local computing is fast.
    2. Cloud computing is convenient.
    3. Convenient can complement fast, but cannot replace it.

    PS modern cloud hype must be thoroughly chilled before consuming.

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