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Cisco's IOS vs. my vision of an Internet Operating System
Robbie Allen sent me the following email, which he gave me permission to quote:
I think Robbie's comments are right-on. The web, and particularly the implicit or explicit naming schemes associated with URLs, can provide a unified view of services, and not just web pages. (This is also what Netscape was evangelizing as the "webtop" back in 1997.) I also agree that web versions of desktop applications are increasingly mirroring the originals. What's more, client-side technologies like Flash make possible what Macromedia calls Rich Internet Applications that have much more responsive interfaces than browser-only applications.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg. The real reason I use the term "internet operating system" (see my archive site for instances) is because we're seeing new network-based services that go beyond both the web and the traditional desktop application. P2P file sharing, distributed computation, location services, search, identity management...the list goes on and on. And what is an operating system but a software layer for managing access to services and devices? I'm sorry that Cisco has tried to trademark the term, but it's merely descriptive. Cisco's IOS is really closer to a BIOS layer than it is to a complete internet operating system.
What's more, while what I'm talking about is certainly an "internet application platform"--that is, a platform for purely internet based applications--it's also a set of services that will feed in to traditional applications as well. As I noted in my keynote at the O'Reilly Mac OS X conference, iTunes is a good example of the new paradigm. It helps a user to manage a local data store, but look how much outreach there is into network functionality:
I love David Stutz's phrase for all of this: "software above the level of a single device." Right now, everyone is writing this kind of software as a kind of one-off. The real paradigm shift will come when services are standardized sufficiently that their existence can be reliably assumed by developers. My contention is that this platform can be amalgamated from multiple sources, in the way that a linux distribution is amalgamated, rather than created whole cloth by a single vendor. However, I don't think that this is a foregone conclusion. In fact, the biggest single strategic question for enterprise software vendors today is who will control this new platform -- whether it will be a single vendor who grasps the opportunity to provide a unifying layer, or whether it will be an internet-style system based on open standards.
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