Evolution of the Operating System

In Nature, we believe that diversity of living things allows the survival of the fittest to gradually change the ecosystem as conditions change. This is happening in information technology. Moore’s Law and corollaries which describe the production of every more powerful, compact and inexpensive devices in display, computation, storage, memory and networking are relentlessly allowing smaller and cheaper computers to do amazing things for people. There is no longer

  • a need to have a large heavy expensive box nearby for computation,
  • a need for cabling to tie computing devices to the network,
  • a need to have any single stack of software to do everything, and
  • a need to use a particular kind of processor in IT.

In the beginning, Intel was first to market with suitable microprocessors and made a sweet deal with IBM to ride the personal computer train to monopoly. In the beginning, M$ was first to make a similar sweet deal for DOS, a crude OS, for IBM’s personal computers. In the beginning, mobility was out of the question. We needed large heavy boxes and cables to replace the mini-computer and eventually, the mainframe, for almost all computation. Now, processors smaller than a coin do just about everything we needed from the bigger boxes except memory and storage. Those too have been miniaturized by the same processes that drove microprocessors.

The Wintel monopoly kept the lid on change for decades as the money rolled in and “partners” were signed up to the organization. In the last couple of years and for the foreseeable future the power of microprocessors not developed by Intel and running software not developed by M$ have been outflanking Wintel on smart phones, tablets and other intelligent devices not seen primarily as personal computers. However, these small cheap computers have evolved and acquired most of the desirable features of personal computers. For about what we used to pay for a heavy box strung with cables, we now have devices that are small, cool, quiet, free of cables but still able to connect by cable or wirelessly to networks and peripherals. The small microprocessors from ARM designs still don’t have the power of the current Intel parts but they have enough power for what people do and they cost less and use less energy. They can run all day on a small battery.

We can describe the new ecosystem of personal computers with numbers. The Intel-like PCs shipped about 350 million units in the last year. The small cheap computers running ARM shipped more. According to Canalys1,2, in Q2 2011, these numbers follow:

PC format Units shipped (million) Share (%)
Desktop 27.7 13.5
Notebook 49.1 23.9
Netbook 6.9 3.3
Tablet 13.7 6.7
Smart Phone 107.7 52.5
Total PCs 205.15 100
Wintel 68.63 33.4
Android/Linux on ARM 55.84 27.2
  1. Wintel share of global PC industry falls to under 82%
  2. Android takes almost 50% share of worldwide smart phone market
  3. 82% of desktops, notebooks and netbooks
  4. 50% of smartphones and 20% of tablets
  5. desktops+notebooks+netbooks+tablets+smart phones

Canalys considers desktops, notebooks, netbooks and tablets as PCs. I take it a step further and declare smart phones are PCs, too. I have touched one, briefly, before my wife took control…, and it does all the things I need a PC to do.

So, I declare M$’s monopoly over. In 2011, it had its last gasp. It quit growing on x86 and is going nowhere on ARM or smart phones.

UPDATE SJVN has an article out with a similar theme.

“In the long run, the question isn’t going to be “Which desktop operating system is going to be the winner?” No, it’s going to be, “Which mobile operating system will be the winner.””

I don’t quite agree with that. I see a very diverse ecosystem in the future with many systems working together. There will be a need for “desktop” systems for a long while:

  • huge screens just are not mobile…
  • there are heavy tasks that just work better with storage and computing power close together…
  • thin clients can work with large displays and still be cool, quiet and unobtrusive…
  • desktop systems and notebooks can shrink quite a bit if we get rid of huge hard drives, power supplies, and CD drives. I expect a lot of the mobile tech will invade the desktop/notebook space…

see Is XP finally dying or is it the PCs it’s been running on?

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
This entry was posted in technology. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Evolution of the Operating System

  1. oe wrote, “we don’t have enough LINUX users to justify a thin-client and server setup“.

    The benefits of thin client are so great that even for a single user it may be justified. I am considering setting up my wife on one and I may also once my Beast is repaired (mobo near death). My wife has a proper office with doors that close so she can chatter/listen to her YouTube clips with privacy and comfort. Unfortunately her PC has a noisy aluminium case and also heats the room noticeably. In these hot days of summer, we try to minimize use of the central air conditioner so we could save big money by setting up Beast in the server room downstairs while the heating in her office is cut in half. Her box runs about 100W and the thin clients that I have are about 10W so we could reduce heating in her room by 90W. Beast runs about 120W headless so we would not save any power but the heat/noise would be greatly reduced. Beast is very powerful so what she might lose on performance with full-screen video she will gain in snap. Beast has 3 500gB hard drives in RAID 1 so she will be able to do many things twice as fast. Beast has a 95W quad-core CPU. She’s been using Debian GNU/Linux for months now and only has occasional problems finding stuff in the file-system.

  2. oe says:

    I definitely see the point your making, unfortunately, it’s a Windows shop….you have to go out of your way to get a GNU/Linux (or Mac, or BSD) machine both in authorization and funds to buy the hardware and then once you have it it’s more like self-help, you have to administer the box (no support “over the wire”, c’mon, this is Linux, it could be done w/o generating excessive workload on the IT staff), keep the log, and they stick you on a different VLAN of the “others”. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough LINUX users to justify a thin-client and server setup…yet.

  3. There are trade-offs to suspend/reboot. Stuff is constantly being read/written on a daily basis which can eventually cost you if memory/storage fails. The worst case I ever had was every “A” in the source code was converted to an “I” when a bit got stuck. I knew nothing about backups in those days and I had to modify the whole source code to fix the mess. It was my second job in IT…

    A better way to operate in my humble opinion is to leave the app run in ECC RAM on a GNU/Linux terminal server and shut down the thin client or monitor. The server does the auto-saves to more reliable hard drives, too. A system might have 100 clients and one server. There’s quite a power savings, better performance on the better hardware and it’s more reliable.

  4. Well, migration started long ago and it has not slowed down. The restrictions you see are in your own mind. The world is moving to web apps and the browser as the client. That is platform-independent and GNU/Linux wins on price/performance. Many businesses are putting all new development on servers and GNU/Linux thin clients. Those that don’t are going to be locked into ever more complex systems running that other OS and at a competitive disadvantage in the long run. We shall see how it sorts out but the real world is not the USA and people everywhere want smaller cheaper computers something they cannot get with that other OS.

  5. oldman says:

    “Anything that other OS can do GNU/Linux can do better in my experience. ”

    It s not a matter of the OS its the applications Pog. FOSS is not enough for many people. You can talk all you want about geek crap like boot times, but IMHO they arent really worth much when you have to go through the hassles of changing your entire environment. And changing is a non starter when the type of application that you are using either doesnt exist or has no good replacement.

  6. oe says:

    At work again I finally got issued a net connected GNU/Linux box, and a Vista PC. Both run the same hardware. The Vista machine, per directive, MUST be rebooted each day to allow for upgrades, security patches, application upgrades (Adobe bloatware, anyone?). What a pain to have to close down all the applications and documents at the end of a workday. At home I know the XP machines we had and the Vista 7 machine the sister in law has get SLOW after suspending for a week with no reboots. The Linux machine? There the help desk policy allows suspend to disk hibernation or warm suspend, which is great for productivity – you can leave every document and program open where it is and just suspend the whole works. Patches and apps updates according to the help desk need no reboots, the only thing that does is a kernel upgrade which can be finalized at the convenience of the user. Needless to say this allows you to hit the ground running the next day, no “bootup and login” coffee break needed…..

  7. 99.1% is wrong by most measures. see, for example, Wikipedia. They show 80%. You are 19 points out.

    We all know the retail bias to that other OS is the main reason for that. If only GNU/Linux were on the shelves, the situation would be reversed.

  8. Contrarian says:

    “66% of web servers don’t use that other OS”

    You are using that as a sign of superiority? Careful. I noticed where some 99.1% of desktops do not use Linux, making it a real clunker by your criterion. 87% of the servers in the world do not use Linux either. It must perform rather poorly.

  9. Booting time is time wasted and is a benchmark of starting up. Anything that other OS can do GNU/Linux can do better in my experience. It is irrational to believe that M$ can do anything in IT better than the world.

    Look at the numbers:

  10. 66% of web servers don’t use that other OS,
  11. ASUS puts Expressgate on all their motherboards for PCs,
  12. On a netbook GNU/Linux trounces “7”
  13. M$ has nothing on GNU/Linux when it comes to updating a PC: OS, applications, and drivers all with a single command.