Friday, July 04, 2008

When Operating System = Browser

I primarily use my desktop running on Vista UE and my MiLeap running on Ubuntu 8.04 for work and fun. As most of the real work that I do (read programming) is on my Vista machine, I many a times need access to Ubuntu to get some stuff checked in the Linux world for which I find using VirtualBox as the best solution. I had tried Virtual PC before, but I find VirtualBox to be much better product.

When I started using VirtualBox, I had installed Ubuntu 7.04 and later upgraded to 7.10. At the same time my MiLeap came bundled with 7.10 which I quickly upgraded to 8.04 as I badly need a lots of new stuff that was in 8.04 but not in 7.10. Was thinking of doing the same thing with my VirtualBox installation, but then something strange happened. My VirtualBox hardware emulation is actually pretty minimal for Ubuntu installation: 5GB HDD and 256MB RAM. I though for myself, I have the required gcc/g++ (which for my work has not changed much from the 7.10 to 8.04) and the only other thing I occasionally use is Browser aka Firefox. Now the only thing I really care about is a better web experience inside my VirtaulBox Ubuntu installation whenever I need it. I actually do not use any thing else than that: compiler and Firefox. So I merely upgraded to Firefox 3.0 and just forgot about what version of Ubuntu I was using. Later on I started jotting this down in the blog, from Firefox 3.0 on my VirtualBox Ubuntu (which version? what hardware?)

The above was just a description of what I had experienced in the VirtualBox environment. But lets take this further to real (yet mock) usage scenarios. User Joe buys a computer. Joe doesn't care about what kind of processor and stuff like that, the marketing guy on the counter manages to convince him that he has got the best deal. Jeo uses GMail for mail, PicasaWeb for photos, YouTube for videos, Google Docs for docs, spreadsheet and creating presentations and thats it. Jeo needs only these every day. He uses his favorite browser (the one that came with the OS) to access these services (to him they really are applications). Some day he discovers that there are alternative browsers and then installs one of the popular ones. After a few years Ubuntu and Microsoft come up with brand new OSs with tonnes of features and ever increasing hardware requirements. Joe doesn't see why he needs all that, stops buying (or using) new hardware and new OS, and just upgrades himself to the new version of the browser that was just released.

If this is how it works out for majority of users, Ubuntu and Microsoft will have tough time convincing users to try out their next best offering... of course this has a caveat that your favorite browser might stop supporting previous OS releases. As it happened with IE and Firefox 3 (no support for my old Windows 98 machine!).

Leaves me wondering about this cloud computing scenario. It looks to be an interesting perspective. Something that can't exist without the current client OS but soon these will be a thing of past when they will be accessed through low cost devices like ULCPCs... where only a browser upgrade will enhance the user experience. The applications keep improving on the sever side .. no need to purchase/download/install them locally. You only need a fat pipe, and that is becoming cheaper by the day. Sun Microsystem always says "The Network is the Computer"... looks like we are sooner or later headed that way.

On the developer front, this is gonna be another interesting stuff. Google is already providing a lot of APIs to access and build applications for its cloud computing resources. Note that you are here not developing on a isolated machine anymore, you are using a huge computing resource .. and the possibilities are limitless.

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