Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

The Operating System is Becoming Irrelevant

One upon a time, computer users were defined by the operating systems running on their computers. People using Windows did so because it was familiar; it came on the computer they bought. Mac user thought differently and were snobby, creative types. Linux user were typically uber geeks who looked down their noses at anyone who didn’t compile their own software. As for every other operating system … well, how many people had heard of them or used them anyway?

What’s worse was that the software used on each operating system also defined you. Windows was for business users or technically-illiterate home users. People using Macs were creative types. And Linux was for programmers who liked to work in plain text and at the command line.

How times have changed.

The lines between the operating systems have changed, not matter what some people say. You can do creative work on Windows. Home users have embraced Macs. And you can do just about everything on Linux. But what’s really blurring the lines between operating systems is the web.

Most of what people need to do these days, they can do on the web. For much of what you need to do, there’s a (web) app for that.

And that’s why the operating system is slowly, gradually becoming irrelevant.

Think about how you use your computer or phone or tablet. Think about the applications and services that you use, both on the computer or device itself and on the web. Chances are, you’re spending a lot of time in a web browser or using an app that interacts with a web service like Twitter or Facebook or Evernote or Gmail.

In early 2012, spent a month using my Chromebook (a small laptop, running Google’s Chrome OS operating system, that’s meant to be used with web applications) as my sole computer. I found that I could do 80% to 85% of my work online. I still needed some dedicated desktop applications to do some work, but I was a bit surprised to see how much of my computing had shifted to the web.

But what’s happened is clear. No matter what operating system you’re using, no matter what kind of device you’re using you’re getting pretty much the same experience, and are able to do pretty much the same things, thanks to the web. That’s not news — this has been fairly evident for a while.

Of course, you need an internet connection to use web applications. The problem there is that you don’t always have that connection. That might not be a problem in the near future. A few years ago, Google had a technology called Gears, which allowed you to use files and certain applications when you were offline. Gears would synchronize your changes when you went back online. That sort of technology is slowly being incorporated into more web applications.

Until then, there will be barriers between operating system. And, for the time being, there will be any number of things that can only be done on the desktop.

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