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Ubuntu, the Lion, the Cloud, and the Behemoth

Which direction are the four major players taking? Is the cloud really the next step? Was porridge the best choice for breakfast this morning?

There have been a lot of changes in the way people use their computers lately, and a good many more are in the works. The tidal wave of the iPad and other tablets and e-readers, the pure cloud-based nature of Chrome OS, and the less influential but perhaps far more intimate: Ubuntu’s upcoming switch to Unity. Factor in the changes scheduled for OS X Lion and rumored new features for Windows 8, and it’s safe to say that the times they are a’changin.

In particular, I want to make a few quick comparisons off the cuff, and a few minor predictions. I called that Unity would become standard in Ubuntu back in June, and that turned out to happen (although I gave it til 11.10 to be complete, which may or may not be the case). If you want to read more in depth (read: more boring posts) about my thoughts and ideas about past, present, and future computing, check out this post on my blog, which will continue to contain my day to day thoughts and experiences as I test out my Chrome OS cr-48. Also, Twitter!

There are now four main players in the world of computing, at least in my book. The ever corporate and common but hanging-on Microsoft; hipster cool, simple and perfect hardware Apple, “Don’t Be Evil” but be Everywhere Google, and still up and coming Ubuntu.

Where They’re All Going

Out of those 4 names, 3 of them have given us very clear views of where they are headed.

Ubuntu

Ubuntu is going forward with its usual game that we know and love: Take what’s good and make it better. This is not a bad thing. It’s really rather a good thing. Usually, the Linux community as a whole, and Ubuntu specifically, will see something they like, find a way to make it happen, and then extrapolate ad infinitum until there are more options and features and alternates than you can shake a stick at. That’s what a healthy open source community will do: chew and spit out a different version.

My personal feeling is that most good ideas in all operating systems stem in some way or another, from Linux and Free BSD and other sorts of easily hackable systems and then make their way to a designer’s office who polishes it up and sends out Mac’s dock or Windows 7’s task-bar. We have good ideas, bad ideas, and plain simple lots of ideas.

Specifically, Ubuntu and Canonical have announced Unity as the upcoming shell for Natty. This is different and the same from where other OS’s are going. Other features that have taken clues from Mac OS X and Windows 7 are high degrees of polish and continuity, as well as sharpening up the whole user experience to make a cleaner package which will be more cohesive for all users. 11.04 is really going to be about putting together a lot of good tricks learned from the other systems out there and hopefully making those work with the things that are already great about Ubuntu.

Mac OS X

Lion is a bold step for Apple, but it shouldn’t be a surprising one. They will be implementing the most successful parts of the iPhone and iPad into their desktop operating system. Coincidentally, most of the new ‘big draw’ features read more like a hyped up version of what Ubuntu’s got going on. App store? Cool, alright. Launchpad for Mac? Ok, well, close enough. Multi-touch and mission control? Sounds like a cracked out Compiz profile.

But polish. Everywhere there is polish. Even if I hate some of the choices and don’t like using the OS much, it is so clean! Everything about it feels like a conscious effort was undertaken to enhance the user experience with consistent design and behavior throughout.

Another new feature in OS X Lion is the idea of Modal Computing. This will take the form of all full screen apps, similar to iPad and iPhone apps.

The whole modal computing thing is really the strangest bit. I don’t doubt that they’ll come up with something that works for those users, but it seems a bit silly in they way they present it. However, there will be system wide cohesiveness in how apps draw themselves on the screen, in all apps auto saving, and full application resuming on launch.

AKA, they’re taking better advantage of Unix capabilities than most of Linux is. I wish that our programs and apps resumed on launch. It’s not some magic thing, it just has to be written into every app. Want.

Chrome OS

We’ve all heard a bit about this lately. If you haven’t, Google it (Heh, see what I did there?). Chrome OS will be a dry-bones browser-as-OS, fullscreen, everything in the cloud.

They’re ahead of their time, and I’m not quite sure it’ll work…yet. But it will eventually. There’s just so much goodness about everything always saved, always accessible on any device, and safe from hardware failure.

Until the server has hardware failure. Or the internet. Or etc, etc etc. There’s plenty to pick apart. Many already have.

However, past that first reaction, we have a monumental step being taken in computing. Chrome OS means everything is native, to everything. If an app is designed for Chrome OS, then it’s designed for every modern browser period. Google is pushing full on even foundation for everyone. Period. That is amazing.

Ironically, I think Apple doing all full screen and one at a time is stupid, while I think Google doing it is great. Probably because Google has a better reputation of finding out what everyone wants, and giving away boatloads of options, instead of telling you what you want, and charging you for every second.

Windows

The unknown. Who knows what Windows 8 will be like? I sure don’t.

I do know one thing: They are pushing their users “to the cloud” like mad. They want onboard with this cloud, user-sharing, collaborative, everyone together kind of thing. They want to be in that game, and I don’t blame them. I also think they’ll be successful, at least in the Microsoft sense. Because, the fact is, Microsoft still sets the standard. Apple is often the one revolutionizing industry standards but most presentations are PowerPoint, not Keynote. Spreadsheets are in Excel, not Numbers. Businesses that aren’t worried about being cool or trendy buy Windows computers, and that’s good enough for years and years.

So I think Windows 8 will be a continuation on the same theme.

Where We’re Headed

Obviously, to the cloud. My predictions? Windows wasn’t the first to the party, but they’ll be the ones to push it to the mainstream, while Google will give us the tools to make it actually feasible for everyone, not just Enterprise users. Apple will continue what they’re doing, growing like mad and making loads of cash, but will likely begin to stall out a bit now that things are a bit too tense with Adobe to really continue with the whole “if you’re creative, use me!” push. Now it’s not about being creative, it’s about boatloads of cash in every direction. We’ll see if they can maintain their growing size and their standards at the same time. Meanwhile, back in my world, Ubuntu. Where will we be going?

The same place we’ve always been: sucking up all the other good ideas and piecing them all together. We’ll see a growth of the cloud, and greater accessibility to mainstream software as more develop for Chrome. Oversized and stuck in the past software (still looking at you Evolution, still looking) will be dumped in the upcoming releases like Floppy Disk drivers. The UI will grow… more stringent, to some degree. But no more will we have mismatched colors and resolutions. You might not like how it looks, but we’re getting some much needed polish. Best of all choices still belong to us and that more than anything is where Ubuntu will be two years or five years from now.

Additional predictions? Here.