Preparing for the post-Windows era.

I spent a considerable amount of time studying the latest major desktop operating systems. I Installed Mountain Lion a few days ago and found it a reliable upgrade to the somewhat lacking Lion, but there wasn't really something that woke my fascination about it. Remember: with Growl, app notifications have been around for many years. On the other hand, IOS's DNA gets more and more transfected into the Desktop OS. Some apps took the looks and the name (Contacts, Calendar) of their mobile counterparts. Functions like AirDrop or AirPlay are literally useless when you're not really into the Apple ecosystem, which I'm not. I own a Macbook Pro and an Ipad. And I'm less and less willing to invest in Apple devices because the amount of closed (and exclusive) integration is increasing with every new generation. Plus, with Android, there is a more than adequate alternative in the mobile domain.

I won't go into many details about the upcoming Windows 8, mainly because it hasn't been released yet. Let's just say that many people agree that while it may prove an interesting option for tablets and any sort of touch-enabled devices, the classic keyboard/mouse experience, essential in a PC environment, was made much much worse. And I totally agree with that. Looking at the release preview, i simply can't imagine how on earth they will sell that unintuitive and clumsy desktop to PC customers and enterprises.

Having used computers for the longest part of my life, starting with the C64 in 1987, going through almost all x86 generations (from Commodore PC-II to Ivy Bridge) and getting my first PowerMac in 2000, I can't think of a time when I was really worried about an upcoming desktop OS. With a few exceptions (WinME, Vista, X10.0) all new OS generations proved capable or at least improved in key areas over the last one.

Today I find myself in a situation where both Apple and Microsoft are taking desktop computing down a road I don't want to follow. To me it seems the "classic" PC chapter is coming to an end with Win8. but to me and I suppose many others, that PC is essential to their lives, their work, everything they rely upon in the digital domain. I am skeptical of the massive push into the "cloud", an entity nobody was really able to define to this date. I am worried about the confidentiality of my data and what it may become in the future. I am not convinced that software I buy in any app store today will still be available to me in a decade.

In conclusion, I had to face the fact that in the mid-term, computing was changing dramatically. Recently, I put myself into a tech time machine by reactivating my PowerMac G4 from 2000 (all it needed was a € 6,00 battery!) and undusted the original OS 9 install media. In 2012, this really felt odd. While the desktop apps were fluid and easy to use, the real pain started when I tried browsing around the internet. Even with the latest Classilla, there was no way to have any sort of satisfactory web experience. The WWW has moved on and left this honourable yet methusalemic OS out of it. While it is obvouis to me that OS 9 isn't well suited at all to support the latest web standards and JavaScript, this observation led to the conclusion that the web (the "cloud" included) won't stand still and wait for the legacy department. Either you adapt to it or you're out. This eventually will happen, some day, to all those sticking with currently modern OSs like Win7. For XP, that erosion process has already started, since it doesn't get any new IE/DirectX versions. And while Chrome/Firefox are still up to date on XP, it is certain that development will cease in the near future. My guess is that 3 years from now, there will be no major browser still being released for XP.

Frustrated by the fact that the two platforms I worked for the most part of my life will evolve into something I am unwilling to adapt to, I turned to the alternative I had rejected for a long long time. I'm talking about Linux of course. My first contact with OSS was around 2000 when I took a look at the PPC version of SuSe 7, it was a brief and horrifying experience. Nothing worked. I left Linux out for a couple of years just to make roughly the same experience with Red Hat on x86 in the mid-2000s. Then came ubuntu, which got my attention, but the move towards Unity eventually killed that too. In the meantime, I had set up a command line ubuntu server as a home NAS and Itunes server and was very pleased with it. It's got probalby the most unexciting CPU money can buy these days: an Atom D410. But it consumes very, very little energy and does its job perfectly. This led me to realise that maybe Linux wasn't to blame. The terrible desktop evironements were. With every new version of GNOME and KDE, more and more stupid eyecandy, wobbling windows and other awful visual effects contributed to a deteriorating, increasingly sluggish desktop experience, desperately trying too hard to copy Win/OSX in the areas they themselves have never been looking and feeling great in the first place.

I really wanted to combine the appeal of ubuntu with its comfortable packet management and system update with a desktop interface that's light on the eye (and the nerves), unintrusive, yet fully functional for today's (and, most important, tomorrow's) web. So I turned to Xubuntu Precise and installed it on my Sandy Bridge desktop workhorse right away.

I must say I was totally blown away by it. Installation was super easy, literally all hardware was recognised, I just had to manually install the proprietary AMD gfx drivers. Even on the laptop HDD with 5400 rpm I used for testing the OS, it felt a lot faster than OS X Lion and Win7, both running on SSD and recent hardware. While the stock themes and icon sets aren't really good, these can be changed with a minimum effort. I am now using the amazing Haiku theme with icons (Haiku is another OS I was looking into, but I feel it's currently not mature enough). Browsing is smooth, the lastest Firefox does this pretty well. On the desktop application side, it's too early to tell, I would like to play around a bit more to draw conclusions. But my first impression of the Linux/XFCE combination were very, very positive.

With comments like these, I would really be excited seeing some bigger manufacturers and developers turn their attention to Linux. Win8 seems to be a major issue for both hardware and software companies. I believe we are not entering the post-PC era, but certainly the post-Windows era. And I am convinced that Linux is more than ready for prime time today. Just get rid of the bloated and ugly major desktop environments. They have been Linux' biggest problem in the past decade. They are a self-serving insult to the eye without offering any kind of functional advantage over lighter desktops. And since many people are moving towards smaller (think about all-in-one PCs growing at a fast pace, or ultrabooks) devices, with less muscle under the hood, there is a historic chance for them to win many hearts.

Anyway these are just my thoughts on these issues. I respect all opinions and would really like to know if you have a different assessment of the current situation and what your future desktop computing plans are.