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StaffIncremental BloggerWhere will the next big OS come from?

Where will the next big OS come from?

Ed Bott tries to put to rest the speculation that a re-write of Windows is eminent.

While I agree with Ed that it’s unlikely that we’ll see a new flavor of Windows any time soon, I think he’s missing something here. Something big. What is it? Those little phones.

Here’s the thing: With the transition to portable computers and Intel and everyone else unable to deliver faster and faster processors that are power-user notebook friendly we’re on track for a cross over point with dedicated devices. So for any new OS, I’d say don’t look to your desktop. Look towards your phone. That’s where the big innovation change is most likely to occur. The desktop/server IT world can stick with Windows the way it is. Everyone else will move on.

If you look out five years I don’t see Microsoft changing Windows that much. Maybe we’ll see better connectivity across connectivity types. Maybe we’ll see more integration with communication services. But by and large, for the IT world, I don’t expect we’ll see much change.

Now looking at the phone I see something different. Here’s where I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new OS pop up out of the blue. Not only would it be a much smaller task, it’s already a more dynamic market, and it’s ripe for innovation.

For the high-end desktop/server/virtualization market, I think there will be plenty of processor power for more of the same. Could a better tuned OS come to the rescue? Sure, but most people won’t even be paying attention to it if it were to ever come out. They’ll be too busy using other devices.

So, if you ask me don’t watch the high-end over the next five years. Watch the low end. Watch the low-cost PCs. Watch the phones. Watch the dedicated devices. That’s where the processor innovation sweet spot is now. That’s where the OS innovation sweet spot is most likely to come. The OS lags the hardware. Always has. Always will.

Yes, some day the numbers of “desktop” PCs is going to get dwarfed by these other devices and their OSes and we’ll ask ourselves why we were so hung up on Microsoft re-writing Windows–because the future OSes will be evolving in front of our eyes all along. They’ll just be coming from the non-desktops.

So when might we realize all of this? Hmmm. What do we have now? One billion Windowsish PCs out there now? That market took about 20 years to grow. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the device world “replace” it in half that time. Working backwards, I wouldn’t be surprised that all of this becomes obvious in five years or so. With Windows 7 slated for around 2010 and another three years for the Windows version after that in 2013…that means by the time that follow-up version of Windows hits the market, I’d expect that we’ll begin to really see how the OS isn’t what it used to be. Heck, with the web and all you can say that now–though rightly so I think you can argue that the web is too desktop oriented too :-).

Watch out. There’s more change to come. That’s for sure.

Loren Heiny (1961 - 2010) was a software developer and author of several computer language textbooks. He graduated from Arizona State University in computer science. His first love was robotics.

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