Couple of times this year I found myself in discussions, defending still using Windows XP. Operating system discussions are weird, being about features whose usefulness is imaginary (I’ve seen infinity times more mentions of ReadyBoost as good feature than computers using it) and never about features being really important.
Because the most important feature operating system can have is to get the hell out of your way and don’t prevent you from getting things done.
Trying to be invisible should be main principle of any OS. The whole definition of OS is to get your software talking to your hardware. Nothing about being in-your-face and coming with kitchen sink of stuff.
However relationship of existing operating systems with this concept seems to vary between accidentally positive and openly negative.
- Windows tends to slip into being invisible (takes couple service packs), which promptly makes Microsoft jump into action and stir the things up. Every other Windows release is horrible wreck, the only purpose of which is to keep you alert, moving and not stay in comfortable shell of good version.
- Linux despises invisible. My experience with Linux started (many years ago) from swapping between two displays back and forth to get through installation process. Modern Linux distributions for desktop can fake invisible for some minutes, but it’s never long or sincere.
- Mac OS doesn’t consider concept of invisible appropriate in its circles. As rest of the company products it strives to hammer sense of belonging into your head. Letting your mind wander to other things for a second is horrible mistake in its playbook (those giants docks look like tombstones to screen space for a reason).
- ChromeOS seems to have stumbled right into invisibility… For the wrong purposes of course. It has nothing to do with letting you getting things done and everything with getting you to do things right way – locked into cloud.
Need to sell
The problem, that OS developers see, with invisible that it is too good for users to leave. If it works then don’t mess with it. So sensible. So bad for sales.
Thus starts the cycle where legitimate improvements are spun with time-proven bullshit, beneficial to sales. On the upward path you find yourself under shower of great (or seemingly great) new things. On the downward path you find yourself in a hole… With only path forward – the wheel rolls toward new version and path back is coincidentally cut off by that excessive hardware that seemed excessive and incredible on the way up… and suddenly became barely sufficient on downwards slope.
Bundle the candy
The biggest joke in OS features is bundled software. It makes perfect weights to carefully balance the motion… To the point that blatant crappiness is openly standard.
Microsoft maintains the most intricate and flexible file copying software, yet refuses to make half decent file manager. Mention of Internet Explorer makes good chunk of web developers hysterical. System utilities alternate between most boring software ever and scraps of third party licensed tech. Both often inferior to standalone products of Microsoft and lone freeware developers out there either.
The invisible operating system is an ideal, strangely at war with goals and practices of those who actually make operating systems. Would we ever see one? One can hope.
And so far Windows XP is as close as it gets. Until the wheel rolls so far ahead I would have to catch up.