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In the last few years there have been many changes in the world that were so expected that only few people talk about how they will change the future of personal computers. First of all I would like to summarize these changes and then analyze 4 different approaches on the future operating systems that are already in place by 4 different companies.

 These changes are: 

  1. People move their tasks on the web. This means that they will not be buying expensive hardware anymore in the future. There will be a shift from buying local hardware to renting remote resources (CPU, storage). Of course this will need better and more stable bandwidth. Even tasks like playing games which are very CPU-intensive can and will be moved to remote servers (see OTOY about remote rendering as an example).

  2. Remote resources are becoming widely available. There are several choices now and practically anyone can have a few machines running on Amazon EC2 and a few terrabytes of storage on S3. While this is for the technical people, there are services built upon them that allow easy implementation.

  3. Information is getting standardized. Most people use the computer for surfing through websites, reading RSS feeds, hearing to music, viewing videos, photos and doing office work. All these tasks can be done (and will be easier to be done) through a browser. So there will be only a few cases where desktop software will be needed.

  4. All the above tasks are being done on the new mobile phones like iphone, nokia smartphones, blackberry, palm, etc. by a lot more users.

 The last point is the most important one. The reason is simple: People are getting comfortable with operating systems that use on their mobile phones for everyday use. They use their phones for all the stuff that a PC is for. So they are getting used to an operating system. It’s very common nowdays that someone will come and ask you how to do a task on PC that he is doing on his phone (e.g. Upload some photos).

 Saying so, you can easily imagine who the 4 players will be in the next operating system war(?):

 Microsoft, Google, Apple, Nokia who all approach the game in a different way.

 Microsoft is the major player in desktop operating systems. They also have a good mobile operating system which has been out for years and is used by many people. On the other hand their web based applications are not widespread and not so good as the applications offered by Google.

 Google is the major player in the field ot internet apps. During the last years they are taking great steps to expand their consumer base (Google apps, new SDKs/APIs, Android, etc.). However they have done nothing for the mobile phones yet. It is very critical for them to succeed with their upcoming Android operating system for mobile phones and then I am quite sure they will be launching a desktop OS as well.

 Apple is the player in the middle. They have a desktop operating system which is being used by far less people than Windows but they offer a great experience for mobile users through their iPhone device. Iphone and its operating system is great for both inexperienced and experienced users but still the users are way fewer than those who use Nokia phones.

 Nokia is the king of smartphones. Like Google they do not have a desktop operating system but I believe that they are considering of creating one. They have more and more people using their mobile operating system every day and that makes them a strong player.

 So what could a next operating system offer?

 My view is that future operating systems will be a very simple and lightweight software that could even be offered in a way of a “firmware” to desktop and laptop computers. It will allow users to browse the web and use web apps and also bundle with some basic applications just like mobile phones do. Most chances are that this operating system will be totally free and users will be renting remote CPU and storage. That way a new market is going to open. A lot of applications will be offered for free and charged based on the resource utilization. Even games I would say (e.g. Play 2 hours of World of Wordcraft and pay depending on the rendering quality you request to be delivered during your gameplay).

 Who will win the game?

 The game will be won from the company that creates the most profitable app marketplace along with a profitable resource renting model. I really believe that Apple’s app store was a great move but that’s not enough. If Apple had the penetration of Nokia with their iPhone they could definitely dominate the market at this time. I also suspect that marketplaces like the one from Apple will be introduced from all these companies (Nokia already has one for games). There will be a huge competition over the 4 companies (especially Google and Microsoft).

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