Since the early days of DOS (and even with the Mac OS), there has been a slow shift within the operating-system concept from increased functionality to increased featurism, neither of which are needed.
Unless the computer is re-architected from scratch, which will not happen in the next 100 years, we are set on a path of never-ending misery. Windows Vista proves it.
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Let's begin with the way things should have gone.
A new device would emerge from the labs, and it would be accommodated by an OS upgrade. At first the device would be accommodated by clever patches, and then the patch would be incorporated into a release of the OS.
If you were interested in weird new features, such as a GUI [graphical user interface], these would be separate programs that ran under the OS (not on top of the OS).
Until Windows came along, the OS — whether CP/M, MS-DOS, or anything else, for that matter — was constantly criticized by the big-iron mainframe builders (IBM et al.) as not being a true operating system.
This critique was the beginning of the end, and a key to understanding what went wrong.
Nobody running small desktop machines from 1975 to 1990 knew or cared that the OS was merely a file loader. In fact, nobody actually knew what that meant.
Why did you need a complex OS on a microprocessor-based machine running Lotus 1-2-3 anyway? You didn't, but that "it's just a file loader" complaint never ended.
So, IBM — which had been in bed for years with Microsoft's file loader — took a dislike to the situation and convinced Microsoft and itself that something more substantial should be developed.
This happened just as various iterations of Unix began to crop up on small machines. Unix was a real operating system, and, golly, it was neat to use. Instead of running practical programs and actually getting jobs done, you could toy with the innards of the machine with the OS. What fun!
Anyway, IBM began to develop OS/2, and Microsoft figured it had a better idea with Windows, both of which were more than file loaders (although not much more).
Over time, the features of these new OSs became more important than the system's performance or anything else. They would have glowing icons, transparent pop-ups, smooth scrolling and all the things that used to be utilities sold by third parties.
Within no time, Microsoft decided that everything should be part of the OS, although these features had nothing to do with the OS.
The company went to court to argue that the browser was part of the OS. Media players were part of the OS.
One assumes that Microsoft would have argued that the word processor was part of the OS if it didn't have a near-monopoly on word processing already.
In ways nobody could have predicted, what was once an efficient file loader evolved into a clumsy monstrosity that required massive amounts of memory just to run. But did it ever become a genuine OS, or just a file loader with benefits?
It became a clunker, in fact, with a pretty face and a high price tag like a Park Avenue hooker using too much makeup to hide the fact that she's old.
Now we have Vista. It turns out to be nothing like what was promised. What a shock. It has a few new features, but I'd question if it's actually more functional than what we've had before.
As an aside, I'm fascinated by the fact that Mac users all think Vista is great. These are folks who have long since bought into the Steve Jobs notion that the sizzle is more important than the steak.
PC users have traditionally preferred the steak over the sizzle. So what happens now?
We start by playing with Vista and listening to the inevitable complaints and praises. But this OS is not designed to be a good candidate for upgrading older systems. This is something of a new phenomenon.
Thus, people about to phase out old machines might be a little more experimental. And that means trying Linux.
This transition period will not be like all the others. There will be more orphan machines than ever before. It might take years before Vista can achieve even 50 percent market share.
Anything can happen. I'll be watching. Now, let the reviews begin!
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