Facebook and the demise of the OS

In the era of Web 2.0, collaboration and customisation are the king and queen.
Read time 4min 50sec

Never mind the Google-Facebook-Microsoft wars and who`s killing which social networking app, I`m beginning to wonder if we`re not looking at the imminent demise of the operating system. Or at least, the wholly proprietary version of it.

Think about it: even as people are going super-nuts over social networking and the widgets and apps that go with it, there is a distinct trend emerging from all of it.

The same trend that swells the bank accounts of those who make cellphone covers, those little cute sock things for carrying your iPod, the iPods themselves... In a world full of sheep, we crave the personal touch, the ability to take a mass-market product and make it our own, even as we follow the crowd.

Google`s OpenSocial platform and everything that comes with it might be grabbing all the headlines, but have you ever thought about how strangely similar to the evolution of the Linux operating system all of this is?

Long live the king

We are living in the era of Web 2.0 in which collaboration and customisation are the king and queen of a massive, populist kingdom. You want it? You got it, or better still, here are the tools and go make it yourself. It`s the kind of environment that allows you to make a fish tank for your home page on Facebook, but also has those with a bit of savvy thinking in terms of sharing and selling music or movies.

Rather than collapse like a human into an existential crisis, the network carries on regardless and joins the dots wherever it can find them.

Pamela Weaver, ITWeb contributor

It`s also the kind of environment in which the uber-geeks of GNU/Linux have been operating for almost two decades. People propose projects or changes, they debate (argue about) them, some people go off on their own and work on the code before floating it out online to their buddies. They then test it out, hone it and finally release it out into the world or, in this case, the operating system.

It`s the kind of process that has seen Ubuntu Linux running on a six-month update cycle for most of its life, with the exception of one occasion when it was felt a little more work was needed and, rather than send bad code out, it was delayed... can you imagine that happening in the mass-market OS world?

The way things stand right now, it`s looking increasingly like the social networking phenomenon is creating cyberspace`s version of the mind-body problem. Only rather than collapse like a human into an existential crisis, the network carries on regardless and joins the dots wherever it can find them, making meaningful connections where previously there were none, and ignoring the body (operating system) that gave it life in the first place.

As end-users become more accustomed to being able to control their "stuff", customise it, develop it, tweak it, are they going to begin to expect the same levels of transparency from their operating systems?

Shifting allegiance

As more users flock to Facebook, dragging and dropping and moving things around the way they like them, will operating system loyalty fly out the window? In terms of Web services such as Google Apps or any number of projects like BaseCamp, Sun`s virtual workplace project and even SAP`s "Imagineering Unit" which, as we speak, is releasing widgets to work on top of its heftier core software - and choosing to see how they will spread virally - it`s becoming all about the browser.

Creator of Mandrake (now Mandriva) Linux, Gael Duval is inclined to agree - working as he is on creating an entirely online operating system called Ulteo, which he claims will eventually be "my digital life made simple".

Virtualisation and the rise of user-driven content and apps, along with increasingly powerful hardware, are seeing to it that operating system agnosticism is a growing phenomenon. You could argue that Apple is already there, abandoning as it has the "computer" from its title and becoming the poster child of a world that had effectively given it up for dead 10 years ago. All because they made it about the apps and the hardware.

It`s bend or break time. Just look at how consumers are reacting to everything from iPhone lockouts to general DRM software - they don`t like it, they don`t want it and, increasingly, they know how to break it.

Collaboration is both a boon and a worst nightmare to those seeking to market and develop new software and applications. It allows them to get their collective thinking caps on to create new and interesting products. It also forces them, at last, to accept the power of the consumer, who can now also make use of the same environment.

I`m guessing (okay, hoping) that this more fluid, anthill-style/self-organising/ad-hoc/what-you-will environment will see an upsurge in the use of Linux on the desktop; it`s becoming easier for anyone so-inclined to customise and develop their own flavour.

But, then again, there is safety in numbers - and if the traditional OS developers actually go with the flow, we`re likely to see a completely new attitude to the operating system over the next couple of years.

That`s if Microsoft can take its eye off the Google ball for a few minutes... did somebody say "Netscape"? Live and learn, baby. Live and learn.

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