Novell’s Nat Friedman told InternetNews.com: “The basic concept here is that the standalone operating system is dead.” Friedman is Novell’s Chief Technology Officer. He added: “The days in which people buy operating systems on their own and then build a stack from there […] will look like home-built automobiles in the future – people aren’t going to do this anymore.” This is not the first time some big company predicts the end of the traditional operating system.Novell entered the appliance space yesterday, with the launch of an appliance-friendly version of SUSE Linux. Such an appliance-friendly operating system has been pre-configured for the application that will run on top of it – parts of the operating system that are not relevant to the application it is supposed to run are not included. The JeOS Novell will be launching is based on SLES 10 SP2, and will only include the parts necessary to allow it to boot; you can then load up the application, make a snapshot of the image, and distribute it as a VMware or Xen image. Friedman: “I meant what I said: The standalone operating system is dead and we really see the future of the server operating system as being embedded in appliances, so you’ll see more from us on this topic.”
For some reason, this reminds me a lot of the hype surrounding the Network Computer, a concept backed by Oracle, Sun, and Acorn back in the second half of the 1990s. A Network Computer was more or less a diskless node, following the Network Computer Reference Profile, which used network booting to pull its operating system from a server. Since they contained less hardware, they were supposed to be easier to maintain and cheaper to buy.
Oracle’s CEO Larry Ellison had high hopes for the initiative, but it failed to live up to the expectations. PCs were coming down in price during those days, which meant that one of the advantages of the Network Computer slowly but surely eroded away. In addition, the internet was still too slow during those days (dialup, mostly), and as such, could not sustain the speeds needed to network boot operating systems and applications. These days, you can pick up diskless nodes and thin clients for relatively low prices, and they make good X terminals.
I am usually quite weary of claims about some concept’s demise or death. They are usually made by people who actually have an interest in that concept’s death, not by independent people. In any case, I’m not selling my operating systems just yet.