This story was originally published on April 15, 2010, and is brought to you today as part of our Best of ECT News series.
Human beings are a naturally curious species, most would surely agree, and for as long as we’ve had cards to punch or keyboards to type on, we’ve wondered what computing technologies the future might bring.
Linux bloggers are no exception — indeed, they might even be created a little more equal in this respect, shall we say, particularly when it comes to their favorite platform.
So it should come as no great surprise that, amid all the legal wrangling and controversies in recent weeks, some FOSS geeks appeared to need a bit of a break. Accordingly, rather than get all worked up over the various pads or patents du jour, many stepped back and turned their thoughts toward the future.
What’s After Linux?’
“What Will Come After Linux?” was the title of the post that kicked off the conversation on the Toolbox for IT blog, where Locutus declared that “the time of proprietary operating systems [is] coming to a close.
“As much as I like Linux and wish that it live long and prosper, I am also one who likes to think about the future,” Locutus wrote. “So I started wondering. What is there that can follow in Linux’s footsteps?”
Haiku, ReactOS, Syllable and AROS are all among the contenders Locutus mentions, setting off a veritable mad scramble in the comments section to debate the relative merits of those and other operating systems.
“It’s called the Web,” opined USER_1968967, for example. “Right now, few people care about the BIOS that starts up your computer. That just happens and then the real OS (Windows, Linux, etc) takes over. I think the same fate will befall operating systems; they will just be a way to get the computer started, but then the real system starts — the Web.”
Then again: “I’m not so sure anything will replace Linux,” wrote USER_1969672. “I’m more inclined to think Linux will evolve.”
It wasn’t long before the LXer crowd got involved too, weighing in with myriad thoughts of their own.
So, what *will* come after Linux — if anything? Linux Girl’s enquiring mind soon wanted to know.
Haiku doesn’t have “the resources or marketing to become the next Apple, but current operating systems could still learn a thing or two from them,” blogger Jeremy Visser told LinuxInsider.
Namely, “the user interface is *always* responsive, even under heavy load,” Visser noted. The system is also based on a microkernel architecture, which means that even if a driver crashes, “the rest of the system keeps running fine.”
Still, “if you asked me to predict what operating systems would look like in the future, I would probably give you quite a pessimistic answer,” Visser added. “I think that future OSes will be more and more locked down, and you will be doing less with them while thinking you are doing more.
“The iPhone OS — which also runs on the iPad — is a perfect example of that,” he pointed out.
“I dread the day that I will have to jailbreak my own desktop PC,” Visser concluded. “Might sound silly today, but the iPhone’s model would have sounded silly before it came out, too.”
‘Linux Broke the Mold’
Locutus “makes a fundamentally flawed comparison,” Slashdot blogger Eldavojohn pointed out. Specifically, “he compares the decline of Linux with DOS, OS/2, AmigaOS, GEOS and Windows — none of which are open source or even freely licensed.
“This is where Linux broke the mold that most operating systems before it had depended on: a closed source proprietary licensing system,” Eldavojohn noted.
Of all the potential replacements listed in Locutus’s post, “none are as refined and generally useful as Linux,” Eldavojohn opined.
Linux is also “embraced on such a large scale in the commercial and military sectors that a replacement would need to encompass that support to even begin to make a dent in Linux’s market share,” he added.
What’s After Windows?
Particularly in the server world, “where you’re powering Google’s massive search server farms or secured systems at the DoD, it’ll be uncountable moons before Linux is replaced,” he predicted.
“Someone needs to come up with a new paradigm that is fundamentally better than Linux in several ways, and then they need to invest a decade in bringing it up to sufficient support standards,” Eldavojohn concluded. “In my humble opinion, the future after Linux is Linux or a fork of Linux that can retroactively utilize old Linux code.”
Indeed, “I think GNU/Linux and FLOSS is a classic model of IT,” blogger Robert Pogson agreed. “It will be around a long time. The question should be, What comes after that other OS? It is the one in decline.”
In the future, “expect to see Microsoft, Apple, Google and everyone else doing the same ol’, same ol’ …,” predicted Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site.
But “how about Java running directly on the cpu instead of being interpreted at runtime in a virtual machine — like this — running Java on a field-programmable gate array,” she suggested.
“What if someone — say Oracle, now that they own Sun — decides to devote the resources to it?” she added. “It would get rid of most of the performance hit of Java, and even make writing an OS in Java from the ground up possible for plenty of people who couldn’t do it in C.
“You could even end up with high school seniors showing off home-brew operating systems as science fair projects, gluing together the various classes that handle things like raw storage, video, keyboards, with their own ideas of what THEIR operating system should look like …” Hudson added.
“Forget Microsoft’s ‘This is my Windows 7’; forget Apple’s App Store,” she concluded. “How does ‘There’s an operating system for that’ sound?”
Make It Work
What will come after Linux? “That is simple — nothing,” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet opined. “Why? Because between Apple, MSFT and Linux, you have just about every arch you can think of covered, that’s why.
“Do you have ANY idea how much money it would take to build an OS from scratch these days?” hairyfeet added. “There is a reason why Apple and MSFT have both used BSD code — it is because it is better than having to reinvent the wheel.”
With “Windows on the desktop, Apple on the consumer devices and Linux on the servers and embedded devices — and most importantly, thanks to the web — everything ‘just works,'” hairyfeet explained.
The next “big thing,” then, “won’t be an OS — it will honestly be something most folks don’t even think about: storage,” hairyfeet asserted.
“I predict that, just as we went from the humble 386 to quad and hexa core CPUs, and from GPUs barely able to render a desktop to onboards that are frankly more powerful than my first four desktops put together, so too will we see what seems like an explosion as flash chips become so plentiful and cheap that all mobile devices become flash-based while HDDs become so huge that having every movie you’ve ever watched or song you’ve ever liked on instant access will be the norm and not the exception,” he opined.
Of course, one could also argue that such speculation is premature.
As Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack pointed out, “We should get to the current destination before speculating on the next one.”
The next BIG thing will not be an operating system – as long as the von Neumann architecture is fundemental to all computers. The next BIG thing will be an entirely different approach to computing. Non-linear, non-deterministic architectures are a possibility. So are architectures based on quantum mechanics instead of electron flow/control. How about non-physical displays? Or conversational data entry with a computer that can teach and mentor as if it was human? Meanwhile, whether it is Windows, OS X, GNU/Linux, or any other operating system, the underlying fundementals are the same.
So how about an omni-present computing system which has no apparent physicality? It might allow you to simply think about what you want, and it will place the result in front of your or in your head according to what you need.
Let’s think about it.