Monday, April 21, 2008

Do we need a Consumer Operating System?

In a keynote presentation many years ago I presented a Spiral model of IT Advancement or IT Evolution described in the illustration above.
Instead of advancing like more mature industries as described in the blue line, IT evolves in a spiral way: Going to one direction and afterwards to the opposite direction. As shown in the illustration IT advances on time axis, but due to the spiral pattern it evolves more slowly.

Recently Gartner Group's analysts Michael Silver and Neil MacDonald claimed that Windows will collapse if Microsoft will not change drastically the way it builds this Operating System. According to the analysts the operating system is too complex due to accumulation of code since old times Windows. The result is growing difficulty to maintain the code, which eventually will cause collapse of the operation system, unless Microsoft will shift its Operating Systems upgrades paradigm.

Windows was a standalone Personal Computer operating System afterwards it was also a Client Operating System. In the beginning of the 90th the Stand alone/Client Operating System was Windows 3.1 which was evolved to Windows 95 (The main design goal was compatibility with Windows 3.1) and Windows 98. These operating systems could be described as Unstable and Insecure. The server and network operating system Windows NT was relatively stable and included some Security features (sometimes it was also used as a Client Operating System).

The strategy was changed when the next Operating System Windows 2000 was released: A common Operating System core with different editions some capabilities were included only in the Server or Enterprise type editions. Since than Microsoft's Operating Systems Reliability and Security was gradually improved, but the number of code lines was increased. Bugs frequency is in most cases directly related to number of code lines, so the number of bugs also increased and maintenance processes complexity increased as well.

My personal experience indicates that Vista Operating System is less reliable and a lot more difficult to manage than Windows XP (see previous posts Zen and the Art of MS Office Problem Determination and Microsoft Data Protection: Hone and Mobile Users Excluded ) . It should be noticed that the XP edition I used was the Professional and the Vista edition is Home Premium. Some people may argue that it is not Vista which is less secure and less reliable it is the home edition of both operating systems, which is less secured and less reliable than the corresponding professional edition.

It may be true, but that raises another question: Do we need a home consumer operating system at all? In my opinion we don't (at least not a complex one).
According to the Spiral Model of IT evolution we should return back to the ideas of the Network Computer (NC) advocated by Larry Ellison and Scott McNealy in the 1990th, but in an improved and more mature way. Microsoft should deploy NC like or Terminal Server like model for the Consumer operating system, by returning to the separation between two lines of Operating Systems as deployed on the 1990th but in a different way (again the Spiral Model): This time one line for Consumers and another line for Enterprises. The Consumer Operating System Reliability and Security should at list be equal to theses features for the Enterprise users.

The model of Home Consumers computing in the age of Web 2.0, SOA Mashups and beyond should be based upon the following ideas:
  • Many Services that will be consumed will be located in the Web or in an Enterprise Servers connected to the Web. No need for complex Consumer Operating System and infrastructure software for consuming these services just a Browser or another simple consumer device (cellular phone, PDA etc.). Web 2.0 and beyond is a key differentiator between the future model and the old NC (I remember that one still have to download client software for Web 2.0 applications like Second Life so it is not completely mature yet).
  • More advanced and available Mobile connectivity will enable Mobile users to plug into the Web or other networks. Technologies like Wi-Fi and WiMAX are not yet mature enough for ensuring easy mobile plugging anywhere, so probably for the Short Time Mobile users will need relatively complex Operating System in comparison to the Home Consumer.
  • Consumers Devices will be connected to a Home Server or an Area Server (Serving few apartments or few houses) will serve as a partial backup in case of problems in Web connectivity, as a proxy and for hosting of some applications or services. Hosting of some applications and services may be necessary because of Network Performance considerations. The necessity for complex Consumer Operating System is eliminated because maintenance will be done mostly for the local server operating system.
It should be noticed that similar Enterprise Architecture change from Client based application centric deployment to Server based application centric deployment was performed by many enterprises.
The advantage of the consumer computing model briefly described here is hiding complex maintenance processes from consumers. Most home users are not skilled enough for proper maintaining their current complex Operating Systems. These systems should become a lot less complex or maintained by experts. There is no need for duplicate installations and maintenance of the same software on many home PCs located at the same apartment.

Most electricity consumers do not posses self-maintained home placed generators or telephone exchange equipment. The local servers' operating systems should also be less complex and very reliable as well because they are not located within the enterprise boundaries.

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