Sunday, 2 December 2007

The Operating System is the Network...

Discuss the statement: "Global communication has developed to such a degree that the true operating system is the net itself, where the individual operating systems are just its nodes". Do you agree? What if the operating systems are heterogeneous (not the same brand)? How is such a "super operating system" managed? If you agree with this statement, can you list concepts and examples? If you do not agree, how do you regard operating systems and networks?

John Gage, one of the fifteen founders of Sun Microsystems, first coined the phrase "the network is the computer" and I agree; the true operating system is the net itself and the individual operating system (OS) are just its nodes.

At first glance it would seem that the heterogeneity of operating systems within the network does not matter - if I sign up for a free email account on the web I don't care which OS the provider uses. I am more interested in storage space and availability. However, Kropf, Plaice and Unger identify "a need for a web operating system which would make available to all sites on a network the resources available on that network" (1997). This moves us away from connecting to the network through the same node (i.e. the PC in my home) every time; instead we would just connect and let the network decide (through its 'super' OS) which node we connect to, and then have all the resources of the network - storage, communication - at our disposal. Of course Linux and Windows Server nodes will always exist so "should a given version not be capable of dealing with a particular request for a service then it can pass it on to another version" (Kropf, Plaice & Unger, 1997). The super OS must be able to recognise that a particular application is incompatible with the node I am working on and make another node available. Heterogenous OS matter very much in this vision of the future.

How is such a super OS managed? Web Operating Systems do already exist. One excellent example is YouOS ( The YouOS website defines the web operating system as the "liberation of software from hardware" (WebShaka Inc., 2006). Of course the need for hardware still exists but this will come from massive server farms rather than individual personal computers. The Web OS will automatically take care of storage and archiving of data, leaving the user free to concentrate on their computer - related work or leisure pursuits. One of the keys to management will be API's. Currently I have to go to one website to check my personal email, another to check my work email, a third to manage correspondence for my MSc. Through the Web OS I will be able to configure connections to all these resources and only ever have to log into the network to access them all. The super OS is managed through collaboration, open standards and the personal desire to design and create a utility or tool that will solve a problem, rather than large software companies dictating what we need. Of course, Google, Microsoft and the rest would like to be the company that controls our access to the network - but that starts to get a little Orwellian.


Kropf, P. G., Plaice, J. & Unger, H. (1997) Towards a Web Operating System [Online] Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education, Toronto
Available from
(Accessed 2nd December 2007)

WebShaka Inc. (2006) What is YouOS? [Online]
Available from (Accessed 2nd December 2007)

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