Linked by David Adams on Mon 4th Oct 2010 19:32 UTC, submitted by Idefix
OSNews, Generic OSes Once upon a time, operating systems used to matter a lot; they defined what a computer could and couldn't do... Today, there's only one operating system: Unix (okay, there are two, but we'll get to that). This is why I contend that the OS doesn't matter - or that we need to take another look at the word's content, at what we mean when we say 'Operating System'.
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RE: JLG is right
by Neolander on Tue 5th Oct 2010 06:15 UTC in reply to "JLG is right"
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The first sentence of your comment pretty sums up what I think of the article : I rode the first part...

What matters is the experience you get,

...and thought it was a good start. After all, an OS is an interface between human users and a complex machine. Then something horrible happened : the second part.

the high level stuff, not what's under the hood.

The implicit transition going on there basically says that user experience is all about high-level components. And THAT is shocking.

Because saying that is basically saying that...
-Responsiveness of the system (depending mostly on low-level components and especially the scheduler) does not matter to the user. Clicking a button and waiting for minutes before something happens because a random background backup task eats all I/O and CPU time is okay.
-The security model (enforced at kernel level) does not matter either. The user/admin model is perfect for desktop and mobile space applications. If an application has access to all of the user's precious data or only has to ask for an extremely vague "privileged access" to get access it, it's okay as long as the UAC window is nicely designed.
-Reliability doesn't matter. Losing all data when a random awfully done low-level layer crashes, as on most Linux desktops with Xorg, is a fact of life. So does enduring a lengthy reboot as a consequence of a random crash, like on many smartphones today. Spending hours of work making self-healing OSs like MINIX that can endure almost every single low-level component crashing without the user noticing is a waste of time.
-Flexibility doesn't matter. Portability of OSs across multiple platforms, while taking the need of each platform (power management, imprecise pointing devices, screen size...) into account, having for that to recode only a small part of the OS and no applications, while keeping performance near-optimal, would surely not give manufacturers a major advantage against their competitors.
-Performance does not matter. Phones that take minutes to boot and last less than one day on battery are something perfectly normal. Why waste time on optimizing low-level code that gets called all the time when we can spend that time implementing laggy kinetic scrolling (laggy because we didn't take the time to fix our touchscreen input driver's insane latency) ? What's the problem with people needing top-notch hardware in order to use Word and the file explorer ? And waiting so long before applications dare to start up after being clicked (because very poor performance hurts responsiveness too in the end...) ?

It's true that people don't *see* other OS layers than the UI and programming tools directly. But they experience their success and failure everyday, without being able to tell exactly what went right or wrong inside "the computer".

Because of this, and because low-level layers affect all the system, it's also very hard to diagnose a low-level problem before fixing it. If button positioning is not done properly by the GUI library, you know right away who the culprit is and where to have a look in its code, but if a deadlock between the mass storage driver and a graphic driver that occurs only when launching a specific game and pressing a specific button at a specific time causes the whole system to crash, go and reproduce the bug, then find out what's going on ;)

Work on low-level OS components is hard, and not very rewarding because people only see it in an indirect fashion, and only geeks will ever tell you "thank you for fixing file I/O". Higher-level components are much more funny to work on. But no matter how much ecologic house design is an interesting subject, building them on solid ground and in a flood-protected way remains important, and it's the same with personal computers...

Edited 2010-10-05 06:23 UTC

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