Is the Traditional Operating System Dead?

First, this story is dry. I mean, who cares about the operating system their running as long as it allows them to do what they need. Am I right? We are more interested if we can “like” a post on facebook or see the latest perfect chocolate cake on Instagram. It’s hard to make a post about operating systems interesting. But bear with me, this article may just enlighten you or at least you’ll learn how a truck driver spends his off time waiting for his hours to roll over so he can drive again.

This question has been coming up lately as the relevance of Windows and Mac OS seems to be declining. The rise of what I call the “pseudo-OS” ,like those of Android and iOS, have made phones and tablets relatively powerful in the grand scheme of things. While I am more likely to recommend a regular PC, for what I call “real computing”, more and more mobile devices are capable of handling these tasks.

In fact, today it’s hard to think of a task that really requires Windows or Mac OS to complete. One can do all their internet browsing and social media(ing?) on their phones quite easily with all the available apps out in the wild. In fact there are apps out there now that you can’t even use a PC or Mac to access like Instagram.

So I guess I should start with “pseudo-OS” and what they are all about. Well as, I have said, these OS’ tend to be locked down on mobile devices. Android, iOS and Tizen are all examples of these. They are operating systems that are less configurable than a regular Windows or Mac desktop and are limited to using the applications found on their respective app stores.

There are benefits to systems like Android and iOS however. These mostly have to do with security. Having a locked down store for downloading applications is a great way to keep dodgy software away (though not completely sometimes). Also having many aspects of the devices locked is a benefit to security as well since applications can’t slip code in where they aren’t supposed to do so.

A full operating system like Windows, Mac OS or Linux (Debian, Fedora, etc.) has access to a software/app store (at least nowadays – this wasn’t always the case) but also a plethora of other applications by other companies specializing in different types of unique software. Windows and to a certain extent Mac OS and Linux also provide access to triple-a gaming that often can’t be found on lesser powerful devices that often run the “pseudo-OS’” mentioned earlier.

However with the ability to use all these different programs there becomes a problem with security. Inherently, with a system that can use all kinds of programs from anywhere that is also not locked down like Android or iOS, it becomes important to become wary of what you download and install. Since these programs can run at a much lower level they can do nasty things to computers.

But with the sales ever increasing with notebooks with Google’s Chrome OS (Chromebooks), that rely heavily on Google’s cloud services over an internet connection, and the recently announced Windows 10 S, that will only run applications downloaded from the Windows Store, are we seeing the end of the traditional operating system as we know it?

I think in the consumer space the traditional operating systems of old are diminishing in their relevance. The traditional PC has been seeing a decline in sales for years now and for the most part on the consumer side of things the PC enthusiast is what’s keeping the PC alive. That is likely why AMD decided to launch their enthusiast and gaming Ryzen CPU’s first instead of their data-centre and APU chips.

That said when it comes to PC sales the bulk are being sold in the commercial sector to offices all around the world. It turns out a lot of the software companies who sell us their services or products still rely heavily on traditional operating systems to fulfill their tasks. Let’s be honest here, can you really see yourself doing spreadsheets and word processing on a tablet or phone? Sure in a pinch you can but it’s much easier to complete these tasks with a larger screen, keyboard and mouse. Sure there are wild cards out there that are more than happy to just use their tablet or phone for these things but they are in a small minority, at least at this point.

Another fact we have to look at here is that the sales of tablets and smart phones are declining as well. One of the best known producers of tablets and smart phones, Apple, has been seeing declining sales on their iPad devices and to help curb this recently dropped the price of their iPad’s and added more power under the hood hoping to rekindle the tablet spark in their customers. It remains to be seen if they are successful or not.

So on one hand we are seeing the decline of personal computers along with the traditional operating system. On the other hand we are seeing a decline in smart phone and tablet sales and thus the “pseudo-OS” along with them.

Confusing, no?

These trends can be explained for the most part and don’t really rely on what kind of operating system they are running.

Personal computers used to be where everyone went to communicate and do their social networking. That just isn’t the case any longer. Smart phones have become powerful enough that they can do all these things.

But then why have smart phone sales dropped? Well as it stands now most consumers have powerful enough phones to do what they want already and, in a lot of cases, are loathed to sign up for yet another contract just so they can afford to buy the latest Samsung or Apple devices that cost upwards of nearly $1000 CAD. Why buy a phone when the one they have is working just fine?

So is the traditional operating system dead? No, not completely. As long as there are commercial users of these things the traditional operating system will never die.

Will “pseudo-OS’” take over on the consumer side? Yes for the most part they will. Right now you can get flavours of Android, such as Remix OS that will run on many personal computers. Many rumours are going around that Apple is interested in dropping Mac OS altogether in favour of iOS on all it’s devices.

There will always be niche sectors for the traditional operating system. One of the largest niche’s is gaming. Many games out there require high-end hardware to run at reasonable speeds and quality that just aren’t available on the mobile market or “pseudo-OS’”.

As much as it makes a computer enthusiast like me shudder to think that we are looking at a future of these newer operating systems it’s also becoming a necessity to run these as they are mostly more secure that a traditional operating system like Windows or Mac OS.

The operating system is dead! Long live the operating system!

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