Meeting of the Minds (or the OS’s)

In my opinion, one of the reasons that George Lucas’ earlier Star Wars film efforts were so successful is because they portrayed his vision of a ‘used future’–one where its inhabitants weren’t totally amazed at the fact they were traveling by light speed in space ships the size of Texas. They just used technology because it was there. What part of this are we employing today? Which teaching and technology trends are here to stay and won’t evolve or degenerate because the future is here and now and we just use it without geeking out about it?

James brought to my attention that the folks at Apple are up to their old (but good) tricks again. They’ve released a new version of their Boot Camp software that allows MS Windows to run on their hardware. Newly added is support for Windows Vista. I anticipate there will be a day when we will be so used to technology that it won’t matter THAT much what OS (Operating System) a computer has on it. We will just walk up to technology and begin interacting with it. Bad technology will devolve and good technology will progress…much like natural selection in ecology.

For years, you had to take Apple’s expensive and trendy (albeit cool) hardware in order to run their OS. Now that is changing. Rumors have it that there will soon be a legal way to run OS X on the same hardware that we’ve been running Windows on for years. Hobbyists have already accomplished that, so a legal way would be really cool, but it remains to be seen. If so, that would be a big explosion on the personal computing market and a slap in Microsoft’s face. If you were MS, try to imagine how you would feel if you/your company spent millions of $$ in research and design on a delayed product where its predecessors have been a staple of computing for over 90 percent of the market and then all of a sudden your customers have a choice as to what software they get to run on their computers. Imagine that, a choice!

Operating systems don’t just exist on full blown client computers. They are living everywhere computing itself exists…from Cell phones to DVD players and game consoles. An operating system is meant to provide the link to a computer’s hardware and software that needs to run on top of it. Pure operating systems are in the minimalist category. They don’t and historically didn’t provide a user interface or much of one if at all in the early days. Only those groups or companies with initiative behind them made them user-friendly. In the early days, computing elitists tended not to care if their machines looked spiffy or slick on-screen. As long as they could get them to do what they wanted, they didn’t care how they presented themselves to humans. They also tended not to crash so much either. Memory and hard disk space was expensive so engineers were trained to squeeze every bit of optimization out of the machine that they could. Good game software engineers were praised if they could get their animated sprites to somehow move without flickering or slowing down and software enthusiasts worshiped them for their efforts.

Now since computing has extended itself more to the masses, the trends and techniques behind conserving computing resources are not being addressed so much…mostly because hardware is less expensive. Economics dictate thusly: why should a software engineer get paid more money to spend more hours on software optimization when for less money the hardware requirements for a software project can be raised? This has given rise to the bloatware movement…more software is being developed without regard to pure necessary functionality; only what corporations believe their customers will pay money for and the need to get it to market as soon as possible (or before the competition).

Unfortunately, this has extended to the OS market as well. Most operating systems do the same things, just in different ways. As long as a novice user can find and run their software to get their job done, the operating system’s interface and peripheral feature sets could be considered just extra eye candy.

Several years ago when I started working here one of my repeating music tunes I listened to whilst working the day away was a popular geeky tune by a Canadian comedy troupe called “Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie”. They released an album called the Geek album and one of the songs on it was called “Every OS Sucks.” In the end what they are paying homage to is the fact that computing in its purest form need not be eye candy or sell extra features that users don’t necessarily need. In my opinion, the same goes for software itself. In its purest form it would be ideal if computing consisted of just getting your work done without flash or bloat, and make it a fun experience. We’ll see what happens.

At any rate, I thought it would be fun to share an old favorite of mine to cap off the post:

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