There. I said it.
For a while now I've been getting quite frustrated and annoyed by the writing I've read in various places about the idea of a WebOS (or this view), Cloud OS (if you're Microsoft), Google OS, Yahoo OS (yuck--too many "o"s), and so on.
There is no Web Operating System. There will be no Web Operating System.
Computers need operating systems but networks don't (not at the OSI layers I'm interested in, at least). A Web Operating System is a myth propagated by people who either don't understand the Web, don't understand operating systems, or both. A good example is this TechCrunch story where mimicking a desktop interface is confused with an operating system.
Anyone who thinks so is on crack and I just didn't know how to explain it until recently. But, as usual, the moment of clarity came when I was talking to someone else and not paying attention to what I was saying until the words were already out of my mouth--a problem that has landed me in hot water more than a few times.
Luckily, two of my coworkers caught on to what I was saying and managed to help put it into context a bit. First off was Matt McAlister (who runs YDN, the group I work in). In The Business of Network Effects he does a good job of explaining how businesses and services in a network are fundamentally different from those which are isolated islands.
Recalling a brief conversation we had a couple weeks ago, he says:
Jeremy Zawodny shed light on this concept for me using building construction analogies.
He noted that my building contractor doesn’t exclusively buy Makita or DeWalt or Ryobi tools, though some tools make more sense in bundles. He buys the tool that is best for the job and what he needs.
My contractor doesn’t employ plumbers, roofers and electricians himself. Rather he maintains a network of favorite providers who will serve different needs on different jobs.
He provides value to me as an experienced distribution and aggregation point, but I am not exclusively tied to using him for everything I want to do with my house, either.
Similarly, the Internet market is a network of services. The trick to understanding what the business model looks like is figuring out how to open and connect services in ways that add value to the business.
The web is a marketplace of services, just like the "real world" is. Everyone is free to choose from all the available services when building or doing whatever it is they do. The web just happens to be a far more efficient marketplace than the real world for many things. And it happens to run on computers that each need an operating system.
But nobody ever talks about a "Wall Street Operating System" or a "Small Business Operating System" do they? Why not?
Ian Kennedy followed up to Matt's post with The Web as a Loose Federation of Contractors in which he says:
I like Jeremy’s illustration - an OS gives you the impression of an integrated stack which leads to strategies which favor things like user lock-in to guarantee performance and consistency of experience. If you think of the web as a loose collections of services that work together on discreet projects, then you start to think of value in other ways such as making your meta-data as portable and accessible as possible so it can be accessed over and over again in many different contexts.
Lock-in is what vendors like Microsoft and IBM had relied on for years and years. Today's on-line lock-in is focused mainly on things that are less concrete: your social graph or the list of television shows you like to watch, for example.
But when you stop and look at how technology has changed and opened in response to networks, the Internet, simple/open protocols, view source, and self-serve business systems, there's a clear pattern emerging. Strong forces are at work here--strong enough that you're better taking advantage of them rather than fighting them. You will lose. I don't care if you're Microsoft, Google, or even Facebook (the latest golden child).
Open beats closed. Simple beats complex. Freedom of choice beats being told what technology to use.
The idea of starting now (or recently) to build up a full blown "stack" of services for the next generation of web-based applications (the kind that run on the Internet) and deciding to market it that way seems rather insane to me. You're using strategies and tactics from the previous war. It's last year's thinking (where "last year" is about 2001).
That may work in corporate IT shops (which are known for their brain-dead approach to software projects), but on the big bad Internet, it's a very different story.
The web is open and decentralized. Everything is one click away. Remember that.
Mashups are not toys. They're a good illustration of this point... a hint of the future.
Posted by jzawodn at August 20, 2007 02:09 PM