When I joined OSNews in 2001, I did it with a great excitment because of my love for… messing around with many operating systems in order to explore news ways of doing things. Back in the ’80s and the ’90s there were a lot of OS projects that would draw the attention of the computer users of the time. But in this decade, it seems that other than Windows, OSX, Linux and a very few other much smaller OSes, the scene is sterile. And it’s only getting worse.Personally, I just can’t stand anymore the endless debates between the Linux, Windows and Mac users. It’s getting old, it’s getting boring. These OSes are already mature, and they follow an evolutionary path with only a few revolutionary steps every now and then (mostly by OSX, and lately with Longhorn — Linux technologies seem to be more conservative in their nature). But thing is, these are just 3 operating systems and there is nothing exciting about them anymore (except the occasional “wow” factor Steve Jobs might bring with his keynote shows).
It’s a lot like liking the Judas Priest music in the ’70s, and then they sudenly become so successful and commercial in the ’80s, that each album seems as commercial and boring and as identical as the previous one. It’s the same with these OSes: they are based on old technologies and they are afraid of making big steps. In fact, they are more concerned on making deadlines (e.g. the cut of WinFS from Longhorn).
If one needs to find some fresh ideas, it’s the the small guys he needs to look at. Not because the small guys are “more intelligent” than the big guys, but because the small guys don’t concern themselves with legacy support or deadlines. They can break everything they want on their OS and only 10-20 people will notice. The big guys can’t afford to do that.
In the ’80s we had at least 6 operating systems that had a good hold of market share each (e.g. AmigaOS, Mac, DOS, GEM, GeOS, Unix flavors). In the ’90s we had Windows and Windows NT, Mac, DOS, OS/2, Linux, AmigaOS, BSD, other Unices and even BeOS, all with some considerable usage share (before Windows 9x got to its 94% of market share and get declared monopolistic). Along with those, you had a gazillion other small, embedded, academic or hobby OSes. We are talking about a few hundrend of them.
Today, it’s the game of the three, plus about 10 more OSes that draw some minor only attention by the media: BSDs, QNX, Symbian, SkyOS, Zeta/BeOS, Solaris, Windows Mobile, PalmOS and some even smaller ones, like VxWorks, Syllable, MenuetOS etc. Overall, I would’t say that there are more than 40-50 active or noteworthy OS projects/products out there today. That’s a far cry from the hundrends that existed in the ’80s and ’90s.
Let’s look at the reasons why this shrinking of OS projects happened:
1. Windows, Windows, Windows… Microsoft even developed an embedded version of its OS and now it’s preparing an HPC one.
2. Linux & BSD are Free and so it’s easier//faster/cheaper to modify them to do a very specific job rather than to write something from scratch.
3. Hardware complexity. Back in the ’90s, having a “network stack” was a big deal and not all OSes needed to have one. Today, you can’t even consider an OS without one. More over, today, everyone wants his USB stack or his 3D acceleration. Writing an OS has become a FAR more complex procedure than it used to be.
4. Embedded OSes have managed to get good features overtime, and so it would make more sense to license them rather than writing your own.
To me, as an editor of the OSNews.com site, it’s getting boring. It’s the same old, same old, every darn day. We have Unix with Linux/BSD/Solaris/*nix on one side backstabbing each other for years, a bastardized Unix with OSX in the middle, and the Windows dysfunctional family on the other side. All the interesting (non-Unix) projects like BeOS or OS/2 or QNX are pretty much dead, or simply, much smaller than they used to be a few years ago. The big-three have destroyed their smaller non-Unix competitors commercially. What’s more sad, is that no big & new really usable OSes have been created since their demise to try and fill their void. After the death of AtheOS (which was moving faster than Syllable is today), only SkyOS seems to be the one that does some interesting things, but it’s still very small and exceptionally buggy (lacking proper stress testing procedures that a company or bigger project would put the OS through). Zeta is nowhere as big either (feels like a big patch over BeOS 6-beta rather than the evolution it should have had since 2000 – the last BeOS 5 release). AmigaOS & MorphOS require special hardware and that’s prohibiting for most people, plus their companies are under a questionable financial status with their user communities killing each other any way they can, making things even worse.
Blah. From where I am standing, it’s all sad and boring.
Wishful thinking: hopefully we will see a new, big, well-done OS soon, that’s not yet another Unix or Linux (although with some POSIX compliance in place for easy app porting, like BeOS & QNX have). We need something fresh. Heck, something new and fresh indeed. Something INTRIGUING. I wanna feel again that same feeling I had when I tried BeOS 4.0 for the first time in 1999 (excitement to the max) or the Mac OS X Jaguar update in 2002 or NeXTSTEP in 1996 (better late than sorry). Boy, didn’t that feel good?
Don’t get me wrong, Windows 2003 Server has been the most stable operating system I have ever run, and it’s blazingly fast too. But it’s not as exciting as the above OSes, because while it’s a good evolutionary step for Microsoft, it’s far from being revolutionary and fresh. It doesn’t come with “Feel Good”(TM) drivers.