The battle for the desktop is over, at least for the end user, and there is no winner. For programmers the story is a bit different but that’s not our current focus. For the average user, like me, the desktop OS is rapidly fading into insignificance. Instead, the desktop is becoming a portal to provide access to our “stuff” and the rest doesn’t really matter. It’s a bit more complicated but that’s the fundamental trend.
Perhaps I’m dating myself but I was a huge fan of IBM’s OS/2. It was robust, multi-tasked well and had a User Interface (UI) that was easily programmed through a command line interface (REXX). I find it interesting to note that, as the wheel of time rolled forward, Microsoft added many of those features to Windows, such as PowerShell. At the time these were the important features of a desktop OS.
With the demise of OS/2 my focus shifted to Linux. It offered many of the features and capabilities of OS/2 in a different package. Linux is robust, flexible and open. However, while there are many choices, Linux on the desktop has not become a driving force.
Apple, with it’s many, loyal followers is an excellent desktop. Like Linux, Apple OS X and iOS are UNIX variants and Apple has enforced a well-developed and consistent UI. Apple represents the largest challenge to Microsoft on the desktop.
In today’s world the required “features” of a desktop OS have changed and the desktop is being reduced in significance by the lowly smart phone. I feel it is smart phones that have ended the desktop battles and it’s not because smart phones (Android, Apple or other) are robust UNIX variants, or because of a superior UI, it’s for a different reason… mobility.
Mobility killed the desktop with its need for data anywhere and synchronization. Your desktop calendar doesn’t do much good if you can’t see it from your phone. Likewise, your contacts, pictures and crucial documents are much less useful if confined to your desk and thus to your desktop. Mobility has driven data portability and access which has driven the Cloud.
The end result is that the desktop has diminished as a platform and increased as a portal. It used to be that your desktop was your compute platform. Now it’s an integrated entity with connections to the cloud and user accounts to ensure portability of your data. It’s the focus on mobility that has ended the desktop battles simply because it no longer matters; the desktop is just part of a larger picture.
To be fair, there’s still a bit of a tug-of-war going on. Microsoft learned the hard way, a few years back, that massive UI “mobility” and/or “touch screen” redesigns don’t go over well with end users. Too much change. Microsoft tried to push the OS to be far more “phone like” and got tremendous push back. To me, that’s when the desktop battle ended because the focus had shifted. Instead of the standalone desktop focus there was a shift to a connected, mobility environment.
So now you grab your Android phone, your tablet, your iPhone or iPad, your ThinkPad or Microsoft Surface. It doesn’t matter. While there is not yet convergence, and there might never be, there are far more similarities than differences. Input-output (keyboard vs touch) and display size (phone sized all the way up to multiple displays) dictate differences in what the OS must deliver but fundamentally, for the average end-user it doesn’t matter. They want access to their “stuff”, regardless of where they are and they would like it in as consistent manner as possible and the desktop OS is no longer a factor.