Before talking about the platform which might become the most important Multi-OS platform in the future, let's take a look at two other failed attempts at creating a Multi-OS platform. The first attempt was OPENSTEP, a platform which was available for Solaris, Windows, and in its incarnation as NextSTEP as its own OS, which was available on several hardware platforms. The reasons for the failure are quite numerous: OPENSTEP was too alien on a platform like Windows and it had its completely own look and feel, meaning it was too hard for a user of a native platform to get used to it. Not many applications existed for this platform and the company Next was too small to push it.
The second attempt was the AVA Desktop. After the introduction of the JAVA Desktop on Linux, Sun ported it to Solaris and was thinking loud about porting its components to Windows to achieve a similar working experience across several platforms, but this remained a wish, and these days Sun changed its business directions like socks, dropping this idea. However, maybe such discussion will appear again, when the Looking Glass project becomes more mature and will become a toolkit for a complete platform.
Now finally I want to introduce the most promising Multi-OS platform: KDE 4.0. What is so exiting about it? KDE4.0 is based on QT, which, as we've already seen, is suited for Multi-OS development. However, KDE 4.0 is much more. KDE consists of thousands of programs, many of them quite high quality, so if a user installs KDE 4.0 on his OS he has potential access to most of them. Technologies like Phonon help to develop Multi-OS applications, because all the access to multimedia codecs, which are different on every native platform, happens through the Phonon layer, so the application does not care if it is Quicktime on Mac, GStreamer on Linux, or DirectShow on Windows. Applications communicate with each other via DBUS. Applications itself are so called KParts, which can be combined into new ones. Copy/paste and drag/drop work across the platform. Look and feel can be configured to resemble the native platform, so a user can quickly get into it.
So what are the advantages and disadvantages to have a complete Multi-OS platform beside the native platform?
1. Compatibility across all OSes. Using the same office suite, the same instant messenger, the same groupware regardless of the operating system allows sharing all data without compatibility issues.
2. Painless switch between different OSes. Once the user understands the basic look and feel of the platform he can use the same programs, which might look a bit different, but are called the same (all the Windows users I met were not able to surf the Internet on a Mac, because they had no idea that Safari and Camino were web-browsers) and behave the same. Again compatibility is very important in the case of switching platforms, because all user data can be transfered, without any potential loss through convertion.
3. Since KDE 4.0 is open source and provides tons of applications, an average computer user does not have to buy expensive computer software for basic tasks; hence he can save money for software which really demands special functionality of the OS, which a cross-platform application cannot provide.
4. More programers who are using different OSes can write application software which is available for all desktop users.
5. Multi-OS platform can be ported to less widespread systems like Haiku, AmigaOS, MorphOS, and SkyOS giving the users of these platforms lots of software for their daily work.
1. While QT mimics quite good the look and feel of a native platform, it still can be recognized as alien, which is highly unwelcome especially by Mac users, who react very sensible to a different look and feel than Cocoa or Carbon. This is especially valid in times when Apple changes the look and feel of the platform (usually with a new MacOSX release) and QT still mimics the old version. But this consistency arguement is true, if only few applications have different appearance, but what if the majority of the applications has different appearance? Is it the common appearance then and the native applications start to look differently?
2. Multi-OS platform can offer only the least common denominator, so the applications cannot use special advantages of the particular OS. This is true, but we're not talking about highly specialized software packages, which really demand some special functionality of the OS, but such applications like an office suite. I'm not saying that everybody should use KOffice, but several different office suits can be created based on Multi-OS, which serve every taste. So a demanding user can use a suite which is as powerful as Microsoft Office, while a less demanding user can use a suite which is as design oriented as iWorks. There is no reason why such applications cannot be cross-platform; they do not require any special capabilities from the OS. The last office suite which was really optimized for an OS, was Gobe Production suite and even that one was ported to Windows.
3. But what about integration with the native platform which was so important in previous cases? Well, the close integration with the native platform is not required, because we have a whole ecosystem with plenty of applications, so communication outside the platform is becoming a nice-to-have and not an absolutely necessity.
We see that it makes a lot of sense to have a Multi-OS platform besides the native platform. Sure, there are disadvantages, but in my opinion most of the people can live with the fact that some applications behave slightly different then the rest. Imagine what will happen if KDE4.0 becomes such a winner like Firefox; a lot of people will use plenty of open source software, first on Windows, but then they see that they can easily switch to any other platform. This will be the moment when finally Windows will face a serious competition on the desktop.
About the author:
Currently I'm located in Bracknell, UK and I work for a major EDA company. If you want to find out more about me and my interests, please read my blog at kloty.blogspot.com (only in German), where you will find my profile and some other interests beyond operating systems.
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- "Multi-Os platform, 1/2"
- "Multi-Os platform, 2/2"