10 OSes on the Move

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted Dec 15, 2009


It's certainly been quite a decade in the world of enterprise operating systems: There have been some spectacular winners, like Linux, and few epic failures, like Microsoft Vista. With the end of the decade little more than two weeks away, now seems a good time to take a look at what the future might hold. So to mark the end of the Noughties and the start of the Tens — or the Noughties R2, as they probably say at Microsoft — here is a highly subjective list of 10 OSes that will (or in some cases won't) be making the news during the next 10 years.

OS Roundup: SCO and NetWare face extinction; Ubuntu may or may not hit the big leagues. Who else will win or lose big in the coming decade?

On the way down:

10: SCO Unix — Are you still here?

Like an infernal zombie from Call of Duty 5, SCO is the company that refuses to die. For most of the decade it's been suing IBM and Novell on the grounds that Linux contains its IP. Back in 2003, this was significant, as it had the potential to undermine enterprise confidence in Linux. Since then, SCO has lost multiple hearings and filed for bankruptcy. Somehow it's still dragging itself along the floor with its tongue, and more legal action is promised in the future. Is there still such a thing as SCO UNIX? Can't remember; moreover, don't care.

9. Novell NetWare — good while it lasted

During much of the eighties and nineties, NetWare was all that Novell could think about, and this lavish attention helped turn it on to the network operating system. But as NetWare started to show its age, Novell looked around for something younger, and it is now intimately involved with SuSE Linux. This was the decade in which NetWare all but disappeared from the headlines, and it surely won't be long before most people have forgotten it even existed.

8. OS X — The Zhu Zhu hamster of OSes

This year's hot toy is the Zhu Zhu hamster. Next year they'll be out of fashion, and all the kids will want something else. Apple's white PCs running OS X are essentially Zhu Zhu hamsters for students and graphic designers — or people who wish they were — and the company made a fortune in the latter half of the decade supplying them. In the coming decade, Zhu Zhu hamsters will be nothing more than a fad that's passed, and so, one suspects, will OS X.

7. Solaris — Only Oracle knows what the future holds

From being the company that powered the Internet at the start of the decade, Sun declined gradually over the past 10 years before its existence as an independent company was brought to an end by Oracle. Now Oracle plans to "spend more money developing Solaris than Sun does now," but what will happen to the OS and its outstanding technologies is still unclear. "The only people I hear talk about DTrace and ZFS as competitive features are Sun Microsystems sales representatives," said Jim Zemlin, head honcho at the Linux Foundation earlier this year. And how many Sun reps still have their jobs? Sun's fortunes in the next decade look set to mirror those of UNIX generally — good technology but in decline.

Could go either way:

6. Ubuntu — Linux for the rest of us

Running Linux on a desktop in the early part of this decade was not a job for the faint-hearted, and certainly not for "normal" people. Ubuntu helped change that, making Linux a viable alternative to Windows for your average chap (or chappess.) But although Ubuntu is a well-known name, the reality is it has a tiny user base. In the coming years it could easily end up losing out to bigger distros with more marketing muscle. Or even to Windows.

5. iPhoneOS — Smartphones done right

High-end phones have traditionally had awful operating systems, but Apple changed the game when it introduced the iPhoneOS with the iPhone in 2007. This sparked the mobile OS market to life, and competitors have rushed to the drawing boards in an attempt to come up with something in the same class, so far without success. However, iPhoneOS is far from perfect, and the coming decade is likely to see iPhoneOS come under intense competition from more open platforms like Google's Android and perhaps Nokia's Maemo.

On the way up:

4. ChromeOS — The shape of things to come?

You just know that Google would like nothing better than to bring Microsoft to its knees by undermining its entire desktop OS business. We've seen only a sneak preview of ChomeOS — Google's operating system for running cloud-based apps, but Google has an endless supply of money, so you can't help thinking ChromeOS is the start of something significant — an OS that appeared in this decade that will make it big in the next.

3. Windows Azure and VMware vSphere — ever heard of cloud computing?

Clouds on the horizon, clouded thinking, head in the clouds — the tail end of this decade surely saw more cloud-related puns that at any other time in human history. Cloud services and cloud computing are already big, thanks in no small part to Amazon and Google, but Microsoft and VMware seem determined to add their names to that list with Windows Azure and VMware vSphere over the next 10 years. And who would bet against it?

2. Windows Server — still going strong

Boring? Certainly. But Windows Server has been a permanent fixture of the past decade. In that time Windows has taken an increasingly important place in many data centers, despite more obvious enterprise OS alternatives, such as UNIX and, more recently, Linux. Windows Server has been beefed up considerably with the release of Server 2008, Hyper-V and 2008 R2. In the past quarter, enterprises spent more on Windows servers than Linux and UNIX servers combined for the first time ever. Annoying, for many, but basically true. Windows Server isn't going away.

1. Red Hat Enterprise Linux — silly name, smart software

At the start of the decade you'd have to have been pretty brave to build your enterprise IT infrastructure on open source software. Now, for many organizations, it's a no-brainer, and Red Hat stormed ahead to take a commanding lead in the enterprise Linux space as increasing numbers of companies switch from proprietary UNIX to its fully supported and certified Linux. No one gets sacked for choosing Red Hat Enterprise Linux these days, and if the company can stay independent, it could just be the big winner of the next decade.

Well, that's my predictions for the next 10 years. As ever, your comments are welcome: What have I missed or written off prematurely? Have a great holiday season, and thanks for reading OS Roundup this past year. OS Roundup will return in 2010.

Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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