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2/2/2007
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Where Are Operating Systems Headed?

Dr. Dobb's ponders the future beyond Windows Vista and Linux, and looks at whether operating systems are becoming irrelevant.

If one were to try, as technology writers are wont to do, to characterize the state of operating systems at this approximate midpoint in the first century of OS history, one phrase that might spring to mind is existential angst. Or maybe identity crisis. I mean, consider:

On the one hand, we are confronted with splashy operating systems news heralding new OS generations and directions and features, from the long-awaited release of Microsoft's Windows Vista and the new twists in Apple's Mac OS X to the peculiar maneuvers of Microsoft and Oracle regarding Linux—which, if nothing else, state loud and clear that Linux is an operating system force to be reckoned with.

On the other hand, we're confronted with assertions that the monolithic desktop operating system is dead, that Linux will never make it big on the desktop, and that Sun's Java can make operating systems unnecessary—or even that Java is an operating system.

Lines that once seemed clear are being smudged. Perhaps we delude ourselves to think that we once knew the difference between a "big" operating system and a "little" one, but today the biggest operating system ever written runs on desktop personal computers, not mainframes, and desktop operating systems are migrating to telephones and other consumer devices, while there is a trend for the "little" operating systems developed specifically for those devices to take on many of the capabilities of desktop operating systems as those devices themselves become more like computers.

And, as further evidence that the apocalypse is upon us, you can, with Apple's blessing, run Windows Vista natively on your Macintosh.

What are operating systems coming to?

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