As an enthusiast of technology, I have been using & testing nearly all types of software, Operating Systems that I can find to see what they offer me. In fact I have an Intel 6600 quad core with 4 GB RAM and 2 TB hard drive for this alone. During these times I noted my friends go gaga over lot of software I use, purely because it looks great with lot of visual effects. They don't care whether it is helpful, easy to use and secure. They even don't care whether their system is powerful to run them. One instance is when Windows Vista released, one of my friend want to use it purely because it look great to him, compared to the plain old Windows XP. So he spend lot of money in upgrading his machine, that he uses only for web browsing, sending some emails and watch movie's; eventually he got tired of it and returned back to XP. So what people really want from their OS or programs they use? Visual appeal? Or easy to use and functional? Or both?
Hypothetically speaking, if I have unlimited money and a pool of very dedicated and talented developers, what type of OS I would make? To answer this we need to know what we really want.
Let's face it; everyone is being attracted to a cool looking software and OS. Everyone call Apple "cool" and rightly so. Apple's Mac OS is started as a tradition breaker with a pretty looking UI and started a revolution I call as "pretty-OS". Microsoft and Linux followed the leader and created Aero in case of Microsoft, Beryl, Compiz and many more for Linux. These UI offers lot of fancy 3d effects even for simple functionality like Alt-Tabbing. Sorry, if you think I am hitting on everything, no I am not. Having a thumbnail preview on Alt-Tabbing is good. But overdoing it is bad. Ever heard of Aero Flip 3D in Windows Vista or 7; you use [Win] + Tab to start it, and it works much like Alt-Tab with heavy 3d effects. Do you know anyone using this feature? Or an advantage over Alt-Tab other than slowing your ability to switch task, eating some of your precious memory and providing a visual effect that nobody cares.
For the record, I don't hate Microsoft and Windows is a good OS and offers a higher degree of customization than Apple Mac OS does. The developers at Microsoft have done a good job in Windows 7, but it does not mean there is lot of junk / not user friendly elements in it. All this rush to have a "cool" OS makes me think, we are certainly headed down the wrong path. Having no translucent window or no 3d effects does not hamper my work or fun I am having when I use my computer.
What irritates me more is that my friends wanted to have Windows Vista / 7 for Aero desktop, it is not the added security or robustness of the kernel that attracts them, it is the "cool" UI that attracts them. They don't care about the reliability or the cost of upgrading the hardware, only visual effects matters to them. Sadly, the corporate giants know about this truth and are exploiting them. I mean having visual effects that helps in your day to day task is good and any company spending more time to design such UI & implement them rather than junk like Aero flip 3d means we are stepping in the right direction.
We are like the young girls who faint at MJ concert, when we heard about iPhone and with a good reason too. Without an argument we all agree iPhone is amalgam of good hardware and good OS, combined with great user experience. iPhone 3G has done great even in countries where people struggling to get a good 2G service, especially in India. Now all software giants are going over multi-touch, hand-writing recognition, voice recognition and other techniques that reduce the use of keyboard; which is a good sign. Why there are even research projects to control your computer using thoughts to help paraplegic patients. Computers has made us lazy and paralyzed us and nothing would make us happy than computing at the speed of thought.
Having multi-touch is better than having to search for keys in a keyboard and can be put to good use, but voice recognition no way. Before you can flame, read on. Voice recognition looks and feels cool, if you are sitting in a silent place, with no noise and mostly nothing could beat the fun one can have with talking to his computer. But the reality is different. Do you have voice recognition software in your smart-phone? Had you tried to use it in a crowded place, or while travelling in a car or train? Have you tried to use it while you are walking in a street? If you had, you will know how hard it is. All you can do is shout loud "Call Mom" a couple of time, ignoring the look people around you give, hoping your phone can recognize the command with all the noises around. Think about all the trouble the researchers had to go with different accents and pronunciations and now add filtering noises around you and identifying that it is you who is giving the command and not the person who is sitting near you trying to reach his Mom, it is just near impossible to make it work for day to day use. I personally don't see a future for speech recognition technologies in day to day application. Touch, yes; Thoughts, yes; Speech, a big no.
Cloud / Anywhere Computing
When Google launched it Internet-OS Google Chrome, the idea of about having an OS where you store and use internet based programs brought many controversies. Some people like that fact of having a minimalist OS, with which you can do your daily computing and store you documents online without worrying about backup or hard drive crash. These files can be retrieved anywhere, it is like a huge hard disk that you can connect and access files as long as you have an internet connection. The counter argument is the constant requirement of a broadband and without a proper internet connection you will be missing almost all your files. The question of online privacy and security also plays a role in the counter argument. But considering the growth of broadband and usage of mobile application, having an OS or software that allows you to store your documents online is not a bad idea. You can have a hard disk and sync your files to the online storage and access it anywhere is a cool concept that is gaining popularity.
Also consider that usage of Orkut, Gmail, MySpace, Facebook, You Tube, etc, you will find that going online is not only a trend for current generation but also the future. I want all my future software / OS to have a good mixture of Internet-OS and the current desktop we use today, by fully integrating online service into the OS itself.
No one can complete an article like this without touching gaming. The future of online OS will face it biggest hurdle in the form of gamers. Most games are built for Microsoft DirectX; it is not hard to see Microsoft dominating the OS segment. Trust me when I say this, it is the gamers who help Microsoft to keep its market share in OS segment. Even with games for consoles are lot nowadays, there are still majority of the people play games on their computer. So any OS that are built in the future has to have a good support for modern games.
So the answer is...
The below is the wish-list for my Future OS
Light and Fast
Instead of taking ages to boot, hogging up memory for application and service I don't use, having a visual effect that has no use, I would rather have an OS that uses less resources, faster and elegant to use.
Like I said, I want a clean and pleasant interface with no fancy visual effects that no one cares. Having touch functionality is good and I would like to give a try to thought computing capability once it is fully developed.
Instead of carrying laptops or memory sticks, I would love the option of going to a place, just login to any system with my user account using my Gmail or Hotmail Id and retrieve my documents or use my cloud based applications to edit documents, send emails and show my presentation. I would also like to have a familiar interface on all my devices say computer or mobile or a touch Pad.
Instead of paying a full price for software, that I am going to use few hours a month, I would like an option to rent applications like movies. I hope everyone in using internet will be aware of online advertisements. Like that, software can offer it free with advertisements or small subscription fees to allow me use it for few hours. Like if I want to use Photoshop to edit some pictures, I will buy 2 hours subscription and use it to edit my photos. After 2 hours the software is unusable and the subscription needs to be renewed. This will cut down the cost of software and will go easy on my pocket. Also, it might even reduce piracy.