I just read that Robert Morris died at the age of 78. Among other remarkable things, we was the father of the Unix operating system.
Unix was, and still is, an extremely powerful and versatile OS – the software that powers many financial institutions and government agencies. Mainframes serve as the big transaction-crunching machines, while Unix servers are adept at running specialized applications, often in the scientific and technical realms. Windows, in the meantime, is the choice for personal productivity applications on the desktop or laptop.
It has always been one of the fundamental laws of computing: The kinds of applications you needed determined what type of OS you would be supporting. There even were entire trade shows built around the different OSes – UnixWorld was a big draw in the 1980s and 1990s.
But does this rule still hold true? We have entered an era – thanks to Web services, service oriented architecture and cloud – where it doesn't matter what OS in running on your devices, or in your data center. Furthermore, it doesn't really matter what your cloud or service provider or hosting service is running in theirs. And even IBM's venerable mainframe will run Linux and Windows.
And it also no longer matter what OS is running on client devices. The big sensation for end users – iPad and other touchscreen devices, as well as smartphones – simply turn on and give you access to apps and the Internet. Just as turning on a TV set gets you to the shows you want to watch. No fussing with OS upgrades, updates, booting, and security patches. When these things occur, they're behind the scenes, almost invisible to end-users. Is this something we want to see with enterprise servers as well?
The original intent of OSes such as Unix and Windows was to provide about 75% of the functionality and connectivity needed. The rest was to be filled in by third-party software or enterprise developers, to custom-tailor applications to specific requirements.
But we're seeing more a blurring between the big systems and smaller systems, which are increasingly only distinguishable by their level of scalability. And the OS is something we're thinking less and less about, as we focus on higher parts of the stack.
Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.
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