The End of the Operating System and Local Media

My 14 year old daughter owns no records.  Or CDs as I should say.  At least none other than those given  as gifts by such oldsters as me and the rest of her “pre Internet” family.  I had a part in this, but a small one.  As an IT Director and tech consultant in the 90’s I helped put together what was then a pretty nascent assemblage of networks.  No, I was not a mover and shaker at Bell Labs, but a member of the ground troops that solved problems like DNS, mail handling, routing and the real issues of integrating the Internet into the world.  I did some technical consulting with the first cable broadband network in the US and helped them manage the backend complexities of what a network really was.  But I digress.  Back to my daughter.

My daughter loves music.  Probably more than I did at that age, even though I had stacks of records and boxes of cassettes and a few 8track tapes.  My first car had an 8track…what can I say?  She gets all of her music on demand via the Internet.  She even thinks Pandora is for oldsters.  Wow.  I love Pandora, but she wants the song she wants when she wants it.  The Internet delivers.  Her idea of music is Groveshark or similar.  To her, music comes over the wire via the net.  Always has, always will.

This has some really interesting implications.  First there is no “local media”.  She really owns no MP3s (legal or otherwise).   She has no desire to own such things, as they all exist on the net.  I have a collection of MP3s that I have nursed over the years when I ripped all my disks to magnetic storage and dumped the lot in the landfill.  She takes it one step further.  Why own what you can access any time?  Do you hord water in your basement or take it from the tap as you need it?  She is past the age of file sharing and past the age of thinking of terms of albums.

Not thinking in terms of albums applies at a deeper level.  I tend to expect a certain song next if I listen to a song that I know.  If I hear “Against the Wind” by Bob Seger, I expect to hear “Good For Me” as I have listened to the album a thousand times. No so today’s kids.  My daughter thinks in terms of songs.  I doubt she has ever listened to a complete album in her life (well ok, she has with me as I typically put in CDs on a long trip).  Further, I doubt she could even list the songs in order on some of the albums by her favorite artists. This manifests itself in terms of how she tunes the radio.  If a station starts playing something she is not in to, then it is off to the next station.  After all, why should she listen to something she dosen’t like?  Even in a ten minute car ride, we may go through ten stations.  FM pales in comparison to Groveshark or other on demand services where the consumer can get what they want, when they want and where they want.  The FM tuning battle finally ended when I put a Groveshark app on my android phone and connected to the car stereo via bluetooth.  As long as we have 3g or better cellular service, she can listen to music in a way that suits her.

The same applies to movies.  Movies and television shows exist on Hulu, Netflix and Amazon.  She watches shows not channels.  She watches what she wants, or nothing at all.  When I bought a house for us, I signed up for two years of satellite television only to find that nobody watched it.  After all, what self respecting person in this century would want a channel?  Why would a person let a network or channel programing wonk deicide when and what to watch for a group of people?  We ditched satellite and went all net and never looked back.  Apparently other households are doing the same.  More to the point, these sources of content have the shows she wants to watch (obscure limited audience Japanese cartoons).  Even if you have really esoteric tastes you can fine a wealth of content now to suit you on line.

What this results in is a a lack of local media.  I have terabytes of information after 20 years in the digital age thinking I “own” stuff.  She has nothing.  I have complex backup routines to see that my “stuff” is secure.  She has no stuff other than what exists in the cloud.  Her photos are on a photo sharing site, her music is streamed as she wants it and her video is a few clicks away.  She could function on a 50 gig drive without trouble.  Smaller even.  It must be liberating not to obsess over all your digital “stuff”.  I still have copies of code and projects for clients going back 15 years.  You never know when you will be called in to solve a problem and I can honestly look at code I wrote five years ago and not recognize it.  Yes, I have lots of digital stuff and it pains me to keep track of all of it.  I am an oldster.

What is more fascinating is the fact that the operating system she uses is also pretty moot.  I have run all operating systems since 1994 (all flavors of Windows, Linux as a primary and Mac OSX on a custom hackintosh for the past two years).  In each case she has used the same rig as I and never missed a beat. It simply did not matter what the OS was.  The real question was how to access remote media and how to do basic tasks such as word processing and the like.  Google Chrome OS is pointing in this direction and Sun really had it right when they coined the phrase “the network is the computer“.

The one argument for a particular OS has often been gaming.  Gaming has been the bain of Linux and to some extent Mac for some time.  Not so anymore.  Most of the games my daughter plays are web based.  She can spend hours on Farmville or sugar sugar regardless of the platform she is coming from.  Open Office or the new fork Libre Office as well as flash based web games look pretty much the same on Linux, Windows and Mac.

Windows now has slipped to 87% share of the OS market.  It is still a big number, but it is dropping like a stone.

The major players are starting to get in on the transition.  Apple is increasingly integrating iCloud into its OS.  Google has finally capitulated and made “G Drive” a reality (thank you Google!).  Microsoft has come late to the game with SkyDrive.  Dropbox is trying, but lacks a major OS integrator and may be the Blackberry of cloud storage (the standard for so long, but eclipsed when bigger players moved into the space).  Even the purchase of software has been freed from the media leash.  Google Play on the Android and the Apple App Store have revolutionized how people buy software.  Microsoft, again late to the game, has the “Marketplace” where it hopes to capitalize on the new trend.  In many ways the open source community pushed this along as nothing was ever easier on Linux than installing applications from repositories.  Ok, after 2005 that is.  Prior to that was a pain, but the Ubuntu Software Center is an amazing precursor to even the app store.  The cloud and the electronic purchase of software have further driven local media out of the picture.  Who buys software on a disk any more?  My new mac lacks a CD/DVD drive as Apple sees the trend and is moving on.

Cellular phones are part of the mix.  First off, you no longer have to really ever connect your phone to your computer.  Remember the old days when you had to plug your phone into your PC in order to get your contacts and schedule on the darn thing?  No more.  All the major players (Apple, Google and Microsoft) have phones and phone operating systems that seamlessly work.  Important to this mix is that your contacts and personal information is likely to reside first and formost in the cloud and your computing device and phone are likely to each be clients to this new data store.  Think about that for a bit…your primary location for email/contacts/calendar is now remote…the phone and the computer are simply conduits to access it.  Phones are now data conduits more that phones.  They are like small computers that can also happen to make and receive calls.  It is actually the corporate world that is lagging behind with old implementations of contact management and email systems that can’t work and play well with an open world.

I still associate with a group of “oldster” IT Directors and they are struggling to put the genie back in the bottle.  They want control but all the user/employee wants is functionality.

What all this points to is in interesting future.  Local hard drive space will be smaller (hello SSD!) and remote storage features will be larger…for a fee.  Internet connections will be required to use this paradigm and speeds and coverage will be driven further and further.  Television will migrate to an Internet delivered product and consumers will have a direct relationship with a given channel of content versus a bundler of content (local cable, Dish, DirecTV for example).  Entertainment mediums will have to feature the ability to self select content and then dynamically integrate advertising. Hulu is doing this well now and one of the 2012 presidential candidates is using it well (if your IP address is from a swing state, you get an ad, if not, you don’t).  Artists of all types will be able to self market and connect to their purchasing public without additional layers.  The phone, laptop, tablet and computer will merge into a generic type of device and the operating system that it runs really will be moot.  The pace of change right now is amazing.  It is great to watch!

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Author: jervin

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