Sunday, April 01, 2007

  What an Operating System Is

So, Vista has Zero-Day exploits. So, OSX Tiger just got a 64-point critical security megapatch. It seems like every add-on and accessory to our operating systems of choice brings with it security issues, viruses and program errors. How can Windows and OSX keep up?

The answer, of course is simple. They need to stop.

While I was disabling Dashboard on my Mac the other day something occurred to me. An operating system is a shell used to manage files. It opens, executes, renames, deletes and locates your files. The fact that OSX can't locate all of the files on it's attached hard drives actually means it doesn't meet the minimum requirements for being an OS. For the love of GOD, if an operating system can't access or show you all of the files recorded on your storage devices, what exactly is it doing?

Operating systems have become - both for Apple and Microsoft - an ever growing mutant abomination of music players, image utilities, web browsers and disk utilities. Each added doodad brings with it an unavoidable reduction in speed, security and reliability. Linux has several really sleek and powerful operating systems, Red Hat among them. Yet the reason that these operating systems seem sleek and powerful has little to do with LINUX. It is the fact that these operating systems are young, simple and have a small footprint that makes them seem powerful. Ever wonder what Windows 3.11 would run like on my 3.3Ghz PC? Files would open so fast that my computer would actually go back in time. 3.11 was small and text based. It used little memory and had few extras - unless you count Mine Sweeper.

Both Microsoft and Apple have seen the increase in processor power and memory size as license to pull all the stops on their OS footprint. OSX is larger than almost any application I can purchase for the Mac. Want to run Maya? Have enough memory to run Maya AND Tiger? What Vista and the nascent Leopard have become is not so much an operating system but an appliance. That's right, Apple and Microsoft are desperately trying to turn our computers into VCRs.

Ask yourself this: how many freeware or shareware applications that you use daily actually reproduce some function already available to you on your PC or Mac? Let me make a partial list for you: Winamp, WinDVD, Audion 3, filebuddy, CuteFTP, Amp Calendar, Atomic Clock. I could go on but the internet is a crowded place already. Given that our operating systems already play music, organize our files and FTP (sorry Tiger) why do we resort to these third party applications? Because our operating systems don't play music, organize our files or FTP worth a damn. The operating system which is supposed to be a front end portal to our files is now designed to replace our third party files. The logical outcome is to simply manufacture a machine that has no software other than the OS and the OS does everything. Only problem, it would - by design - suck.

Given that applications exist that perform a given task better than the OS ever could and given that we prefer our own applets to the appendices provided by Apple and Microsoft and given that these included applets reduce or degrade our operating system's ability to function, why not simply leave them out? It is clear that the current hodge-podge makes boot times interminable and in the case of OSX prevents it from performing even the most basic fetch functions. It is time that we said - enough!

We need to scale our operating systems back to a point where they can, well, operate. Then we can load our machines with all the silly applets we want. Hell, we already treat our favorite applets like pets. Microsoft and Apple should obviously still produce all manner of gizmos like iTunes, Windows Media Player and Dashboard. They just should load at boot. Imagine a world where that spiffy new Gojillion Ghz machine actually performed the way you imagined a 3.3ghz computer with four gigs of ram actually should. Your only trouble then would be coping with the sonic booms created by applications opening on your desktop.

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