A few months ago, I ended up installing Linux on a few of my computers, leaving Windows on the others. This isn’t the first time, either, having tried various distributions of Linux time and time again since about 2007. Each time, I’d learn a bit more about the particulars of the OS as someone must learn with any OS when they are new. But always there would be something critical to my desktop or laptop needs that would drive me back to Windows.
Recently, the checklist of features and software I want on computers has been easier to meet, and I have reached the point where that transition from Windows to Linux was quick and painless. This is in no small part thanks to the Linux ecosystem improving, but I also suspect that what I and others want out of a computer is changing such that which OS we choose is less important. Think about what you do on your computer day to day or month to month. How much of this is unique to your OS, and how much of it is instead determined by your programs and the Internet?
In my case, moving from one OS to another was made easier by the fact that over time I have shifted towards cross-platform programs and alternatives that weren’t much different from what I was used to.
Lack of software support can keep people stuck on one platform, but fortunately there is a lot of great cross-platform software. This can be thanks to file formats such as PDF which allows us to use a variety of readers to view, but software such as Firefox or Chrome, or even an IDE such as Eclipse, are available on just about everything now which makes life easier.
When your program of choice isn’t available, sometimes it is not too much trouble to get by with an alternative. For example, VLC may not be my favorite video player, but as long as it can play the video I want then I am not going to complain. On the other hand, some software alternatives might not work for compatibility or company policy reasons. The office suite Libre Office, and the photo editor The GIMP, may be great for some but not an option for others.
The Web & Cloud
As opposed to programs, part of the reason it seems so easy to get comfortable on any OS these days is that much of our time on computers is not spent interacting with the OS and its native software, but instead with our favorite Web browser. Firefox and Chrome look and feel the same on every OS, and through them we are able to get to whatever content we want.
With the shift from dedicated email clients and DVD software to Webmail and video streaming, for some an OS is increasingly becoming just another place to install your browser so that you can access the Web. Cloud storage and software is also making not just the OS, but also the hardware used, less important than ever before.
Chromebooks and Tablets
Because my needs are not yet fully aligned with the Web, I haven’t gotten into Chromebooks or tablets yet. However, as I write this I’ve realized that this may be where the majority of consumer computing ends up. As more and more of our work, entertainment, and utilities can be accomplished on the Internet rather than through dedicated programs, there’s little doubt that large, powerful hardware and OS-specific features and programs will not have much of a place in our homes. Chromebooks may be a bit ahead of their time, but in the future consumers might treat an OS as just another portal to the web.
How much do you think this impacts the future of enterprise software, if at all? What steps are your company taking to be a leader for Web, mobile, and cloud applications? And how much importance do you put on your OS of choice? I would love to hear your thoughts in our comments section!