November 1998


By Fred Henning


By Fred Henning

Operating Systems are the life blood of a computer. They are the software that tells the Central Processing Unit (CPU) and all of the other components how to behave. Operating Systems, besides Windows, go by names such as UNIX, DOS, AIX, etc. *

This is not an article on why you will need to go out and buy a new PC by next Christmas, unless you upgrade to Windows98 - Windows 2000 or another Microsoft program that needs more speed, more memory and more hard disk space.. It's not to tell you that you will need to learn still another program. This is just an informative article based on my readings of some of the recent industry news and musing about the future.

Although I am continually reminded that Microsoft is too big and that the Windows operating system is on too many PCs for there to be a change, I can only suggest that Apple owned the PC market and Lotus owned the spreadsheet market at one time. People thought they were too big to be supplanted!

I believe that change can happen and as long as the PC user doesn't need to learn something more complex to run their programs. Most people don't care about what operating system is running the PC. If it costs less and doesn't crash and "experts" say its OK, it's OK.

Bill Gates (Microsoft) was speaking recently at Indiana University (carried on C-SPAN). He was asked about the future of the Windows Operating System and the Federal anti-trust action. Gates also stated that Microsoft needs to provide feature rich software at a competitive price, capable of being used on various operating systems. Gates said the issue of a PC operating system and Windows may be a moot point in a few years. Today the JAVA Engine and LINUX (a UNIX operating system for PCs) are alternatives that appear to be growing in popularity and Microsoft needs to be a player.

ORACLE (a supplier of Enterprise data base software) just announced it would provide an integrated Operating System that would allow PCs to use its data base program without having to run a Microsoft operating system.

Gateway computers has quietly acquired AMIGA. AMIGA has had a true 32 bit multi-tasking operating system since its introduction in 1984 (yes! 84). AMIGA has held a loyal following in the Television Industry where it had been the Special Effects and Graphics 'tool of choice'. Gateway could easily upgrade the operating system to 64 bit by selecting a compatible or custom CPU chip. The AMIGA operating system has many of the features that make UNIX so efficient and robust. (Although Windows can do most of what the AMIGA operating system can do the AMIGA just does it better, with less memory and CPU horsepower.)

Recently I wrote about SUN providing its SOLARIS operating system free and commented on LINUX as UNIX freeware for a PC. Since then a number of major players in the PC market have taken a financial interest in the largest LINUX distributor/developer.

After I had written this article, the news about AOL acquiring Netscape and the alliance with Sun came out. This is still another example of how important the Internet and the Browser are today. Even if AOL were to have no feelings regarding Windows or desktop Operating Systems Netscape and Sun do and the combination of these players and the 14 million plus desktops that they now control are significant. (AOL is also CompuServe and Prodigy.)

How can you run programs designed for Windows on a non-Windows PC? The fact is that the programs are being modified to run under a Browser (Netscape and IE). Browsers, like Netscape, already exist for many Operating Systems. Networked PCs will be the first to change because there will be a cost and performance benefit. Windows may not go away but it won't be the only way! There are too many PC enthusiasts and professionals that see too many problems with the Windows operating system.

The Browser has given us a breath of fresh air. For the past few years the world has been using Browsers to access Web Sites that run on UNIX, AS400, Windows-NT, SUN, AIX, etc. servers and it has not been a problem. The next logical step is to re-evaluate the choice for PC Operating Systems.

* For the very technical, you can look at the specifications for the PC you need to run Windows and then look at what the periodicals say. Usually the periodical will tell you that Microsoft's minimum is too minimum. You will need to add a lot more memory and get a faster machine. UNIX, AMIGA, etc. Operating Systems use a concept that only calls the small Operating Systems Programs into memory when they are needed. This results in less memory being required and less of a chance for the programs to be upset. This means your computer won't be locking up because the little program isn't there long enough for other programs to affect it. These Operating Systems also behave better because they don't try to do everything Microsoft keeps on adding. Even if you don't need functions, they are loaded by default and most of us don't know what is actually needed, so we accept the defaults.