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Editorial

Operating Systems Are Irrelevant 811

Posted by michael
from the slightly-ahead-of-his-time dept.
zincks writes "David Gelernter (Yale Professor of Computer Science, and Unabomber target) has a story in the NY Times which states, (1) Operating systems are relics of the past, (2) We should be able to access data anytime/anywhere, by (3) seeing a stream of 3D documents(?), so (4) he's written such software, and (5) that's all you should care about so it doesn't matter that it runs under windows. This is a fantastic (definition: based on fantasy : not real (?)) vision of the future by a premier technologist."
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Operating Systems Are Irrelevant

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  • by Vaulter (15500) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:24AM (#4616187)

    Hmm, an interface that is completely independant from the underlying OS, network, etc, etc. I think I may have heard of that before. What's that? In 1986??? Oh yeah.

    • by ajs (35943) <ajs&ajs,com> on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:44AM (#4616375) Homepage Journal
      X is just a hardware abstraction layer. This guy is talking about something radical and new. A way of abstracting the data beyond the constraints of platform and UI. Something that you could describe in a simple way that would allow you to locate data anywhere, interpret it in a way that made sense for you and render however and wherever appropriate. It could be the building blocks for a whole new way of communicating.

      Oh, wait. That was the World Wide Web. Never mind.
      • by Angry White Guy (521337) <CaptainBurly[AT]goodbadmovies.com> on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:53AM (#4616428)
        Kinda like having an XML Layout sheet tatooed on your forehead then running headlong into documents.
      • by cloudmaster (10662) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:08AM (#4616532) Homepage Journal
        Bah, *you* don't have an article in the New York Times. Maybe if you get this "extensible markup language" idea covered by a national media source, then we'll take you seriously. Until then, let the professionals deal with device-independent information presentation.
      • by Fastball (91927)
        Doesn't it?
      • by r_j_prahad (309298) <r_j_prahad&hotmail,com> on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:31AM (#4616691)
        Yup. Sure sounds like paper to me. Simple to describe. Locate anywhere. Interpret it how I want. Render whatever's on it.

        Plus, there's almost no smell as comforting to the soul as the smell of an old book.
        • Re:Oh... paper. (Score:3, Insightful)

          by digitalsushi (137809)
          If you tear the pages out of that book and plaster Ben Franklin all over it with green ink, I can assure you, the smell it changes to is much more comforting.
      • by siskbc (598067) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:34AM (#4616733) Homepage
        Host:If you could do anything to save the world, what would it be?

        Contestant 1: I would make world peace, and we can all frolic like little bunnies and everyone will be happy!

        Host:What a great a great answer! Contestant 2, what would you do?

        Contestant 2, who looks surprisingly like David Gelernter:I would make an OS, except it's not an OS, it's a magical OS that runs the same everywhere, and can read all data, and somehow convinces asshole companies to do away with proprietary file formats. So it's like Java, and XML all together, and kind of like that browser OS based on Mozilla too. Oh, and it won't be slower than dookie. I promise.

        Host:Christ, and I thought "World Peace" was a dipshit answer.
        • by Jsprat23 (148634) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @01:03PM (#4617487)
          Heck with a Miss America Pageant on crack. To me it just plain sounds like David Gelernter is on crack.

          David(all spaced out): Let me tell you a story, a story about your life and the intangible web that connects you to every part of your life. But first, Sister Moonbeam, would you please serve the stuffed shrooms brother Bill gave to us? When you want to make a call, your soul will astral project into a substream of conciousness containing the number of everyone you've ever met, ever will, and some you won't ever meet. This is not a phone book, but a new pardigim for data recall.

          If only the Times asked for full disclosure. Hmmmm.
      • by DopeRider (611535) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:45AM (#4616820)
        a stream of time-ordered files that can be reorganized instantly into substreams by topic

        Slashdot?

      • by Anonymous Coward
        The main point is not that there is no need for OS's, only that his UI will be abstract enough to where you don't need to know the desktop metaphor to use the computer. He believes that organizing information according to the 3 dimensions of time (past/present/future) are the most "intuitive". Where I disagree is that people don't always look at the world in terms of time's dimensions, but in terms of essences. For example, we all supposedly believe that we are the same particular person throughout time (I'm still me, just like I was yesterday), so time is irrelevant in that context/sense. If I'm typing a paper, I don't want to have to look at the "story" of how it was 2 days ago, I want it to be permanently changed by saving my modifications. If I want to know how it was 2 days ago, I would back it up. The desktop metaphor doesn't have to be dead just because it's not a brand-spanking new fad. Most problems with the metaphor come from not being consistent with the metaphor: since when do I have to throw a book into the trash before I can take it off my desktop? (hint, hint, MacOS!)

        P.S. Linux rules ya mutha! (sorry, couldn't help myself...)
  • by Lomby (147071) <{hc.inodrabmol} {ta} {aerdna}> on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:24AM (#4616188) Homepage
    Access to documents anytime/anywhere?
    Even when the OS of the server is taken down by the Slashdot effect?
  • by obdulio (410122) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:24AM (#4616193) Homepage
    Microsoft will be subject to careful scrutiny for abusive activity.

    It's a joke, isn't it?

    • by shadow303 (446306) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:45AM (#4616376)
      They'll be scrutinized, they just won't be punished.
    • by ti1ion (239188) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @12:04PM (#4616980)
      Not only is that line a joke, but the whole article is a joke!

      The headline for the article does not make sense because the body of the article clearly states that the OS *does* matter and that OS should be Windows! Did we miss that?

      His argument is that Microsoft has won. Give them your money and allow them to do what they wish to your PC, just use this guy's document management system to view content -- which, if you did not notice, requires that you run *all* MS software (Outlook, Word, Excel, etc.)!

      What a crock! Who the hell needs this *individual's* document management system if we are all supposed to use MS software? We would already have a universal system by virtue of *everyone* running the same software!

      This guy is just trying to make money the easiest way he can.
      • by 0x0d0a (568518) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @02:20PM (#4618203) Journal
        This guy is just trying to make money the easiest way he can

        Yup. Lets look at the story submission text:

        * Yale Professor of Computer Science

        Yup, Yale sure is CS central

        * Unabomber target

        This is his selling point for himself?

        * Operating systems are relics of the past

        subtext: No, I didn't just rip off Gosling's old speeches that failed to come true...

        * We should be able to access data anytime/anywhere

        This is such a fricking overused and pointless buzzphrase in the tech world that it's ridiculous. It's like a politician's "what about the children".

        * seeing a stream of 3D documents

        Yeah, everything gets better when it's 3d. Uh, huh. Very 90s.

        The man is obviously an ass. Given the "irrelevant OS" and "3D documents" crap, it sounds like he harvested a bunch of random mid 90s research papers.
        • by Tom7 (102298)
          You really shouldn't judge a professor by his New York Times article. It's not a technical article, and it's not intended for the tech-savvy Slashdot audience. It's supposed to 'wow' your average computer user or perhaps drum up some buzz so that he can get better funding. Just because he's a dreamer doesn't mean he doesn't have any idea what he's talking about.

          Also, your sarcastic comment about Yale being "CS central" is way off mark. It's not a top-tier school (I think they're ranked in the 20s or so for graduate school), but it is a strong program and they have several really good people there.

          I don't agree with what he's saying, either, but that doesn't make him an ass. If you want to make a fair analysis of his research, you should maybe check out one of his research papers at citeseer.
        • > "The man is obviously an ass. Given the "irrelevant
          > OS" and "3D documents" crap, it sounds like he
          > harvested a bunch of random mid 90s research papers.

          I agree completely. This is just more "the network is the computer" snake oil, repackaged in a "you're not cool unless you agree with me, if you're cool you'll 'get' what I'm saying" kind of rap. If I remember correctly, Sun tried this line of BS for years, and everyone -- I mean everyone -- basically laughed them back to their senses.

          Here are my problems with this Gelertner guy's ideas:

          1. First, he pins a large part of his argument on the idea that hierarchial data storage (i.e. directories and files) is somehow antiquated, silly, and inefficient. However, a couple of hundreds of years of information processing using increasingly refined methods (first using paper, pen and ink and then, in this century, increasingly automated means) has demonstrated the power and effectiveness of the paradigm. One could point out that the WIMP interface and the filesystem/directory/file paradigm represent the highest expression of human organization of information. One might also point out that SIX THOUSAND YEARS AGO the Sumerians were using a similar system to record transactions using cuneiform and clay tablets. Virtually every single human information processing system since then has incorporated the basic idea of a document (scroll, folio, parchment, clay slab) stored in a bin (basket, crate, locker, book, file cabinet). And, all of these methods were in some way hierarchial.

          One can even make a case that the "file cabinet" paradigm duplicates internal, instinctual human methods for organizing ideas. Consider: we think of things in sets and subsets, don't we? A baseball is a type of ball, which is a type of sphere, which is a three dimensional shape, and so on... But you see what I mean.

          2. Let's consider his basic idea: organizing documents and files on a timeline rather than a hierarchial system. So, you'll go into his 3-D viewer, and zip backwards and forwards in "time" to see documents and files you've got stored. Now, you have to remember WHEN you've created a document rather than what it's about. How is this supposed to help you locate information? There's no way around it; he is going to HAVE to provide some sort of hierarchial organization or his system will be completely useless.

          Again, humans think about information in terms of sets and subsets, and we understand new information in terms of information we already have -- placing it in directories in our heads, in a way. Building a system that works differently will make it unpleasant for humans to use, and eventually, human-type modifications will be made leading back to the current paradigm.

          He could incorporate a database which would let us look for related information, but this still wouldn't be as good as a hierarchial structure, because it wouldn't let us get a "top-down" view of our data, drilling down by layer. We'd be limited to the searches we're capable of formulating. See what I mean? If he tried to beat this by creating broad category based searches, he would eventually end up with something very similar to the dreaded directory and file approach, albeit in a virtual, database-ish form. In my view it's inescapable. It keeps coming back to the way in which we think.

          3. FINALLY, getting back to the "the network is the computer" problem, people just don't want to have their data on some remote server where they can potentially get locked out of it. NO ONE is going to buy into this sort of thing. People want strong, general-purpose computers which STILL WORK if the cable goes out or they forgot to pay their bill that month. They're just not going to enjoy the dependence on remote data stores Mr. Gelertner thinks they will.

          Anyway, this is just my opinion. But I think his ideas are a bunch of hooey.
  • Hmmm (Score:4, Funny)

    by gowen (141411) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:24AM (#4616197) Homepage Journal
    (2) We should be able to access data anytime/anywhere, by (3) seeing a stream of 3D documents(?), so (4) he's written such software,
    Why am I reminded of the following lines of dialogue by Woody Allen?

    Socrates: I guess I should never have suggested having a philosopher-king.

    Simmias: Especially when you kept pointing to yourself and clearing your throat.
  • Changed a bit (Score:5, Informative)

    by OmniVector (569062) <egapemoh ym ees> on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:25AM (#4616200) Homepage
    I remember when i first heard about this guy on Big Thinkers. He had some far fetched ideas about completely tossing the desktop out of the window.. I like some of his concepts with desktop management, but at the time of the broadcast of the show, he mentioned tossing the concept of normal *files* and folders too. It seems that might have changed a bit, as it was too radical.
    • by tkrotchko (124118) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:32AM (#4616268) Homepage
      "He had some far fetched ideas about completely tossing the desktop out of the window"

      Linux has some far fetched idea about completely tossing Windows out of the desktop.

      Funny, eh?
    • Re:Changed a bit (Score:3, Insightful)

      by shren (134692)

      ...at the time of the broadcast of the show, he mentioned tossing the concept of normal *files* and folders too. It seems that might have changed a bit, as it was too radical.

      I'm pretty sure that files will eventually go the way of punchcards. A file is just a spot on disk you can write to. When it comes to real data, nobody really keeps data in files anymore. It's all in databases. A file doesn't give you transactions, concurrency protection, or easy backup through replication. A database gives all this and more.

      One of the things that we can curse microsoft for is giving a bad name to an operating system (Windows) with an integrated database (the Registry). The Registry is a horrid implementation of a rather good idea.

      • Re:Changed a bit (Score:5, Interesting)

        by 0x0d0a (568518) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @02:36PM (#4618324) Journal
        The Registry is a horrid implementation of an *awful* idea.

        You want to make a centralized database *cache* a la the MacOS desktop file, go for it. I don't like the idea of having a single, nontransferable crucial chunk of data that's a single point of failure. It's idiotic that you can't simply copy an installed application on Windows to another computer.
  • by babylon93 (611333) <c0d3cr33p@noSPAM.hotmail.com> on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:25AM (#4616201) Journal
    Now I'll have a real use for those old Nintendo accessories I've been hanging onto.
  • Good ideas (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NineNine (235196) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:26AM (#4616216)
    Really, this guy has some very good points. It's past time for people to move beyond OS to a higher level, more abstract use of information, not computers. The computer, in and of itself, is largely irrelevant. People want information is a useable way. They don't care how they get it. Good article. I'd love to try the software if the web site was working.
    • Re:Good ideas (Score:4, Interesting)

      by sporty (27564) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:38AM (#4616322) Homepage
      There was something on TechTV not too long ago, maybe it's the same guy, similar to this.

      His views were more geared on less file based, PIM and document stuff, but more idea based. If you have your resume, it's not a document, but your resume. Your phone numbers aren't in an organizer, but are phone numbers belonging to people, which aren't in an organizer either.

      If you needed to find stuff, you hprolly would have a very simple interface. Sounds like some sorta OOP OS and Enviroment. Kinda interesting.
      • Re:Good ideas (Score:3, Informative)

        by red_dragon (1761)
        Sounds like some sorta OOP OS and Enviroment.

        You mean, like OS/2? [ibm.com] What you described is exactly what IBM said users would be able to do with OS/2, and was basically true depending on what applications you used.p>

    • Re:Good ideas (Score:4, Insightful)

      by HamNRye (20218) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @02:23PM (#4618225) Homepage
      Well, this guys ideas are crap. He spouts some non-crap at certain points, but that is all non-crap widely spouted by the population at large.

      The OS is obsolete/irrelevant?? No, perhaps current OS design is, but an OS will never be. The engine in my car is just as irrelevant. I don't care about cam shafts and camber, I just want to get from point A to point B. But navigation software with GPS is still useless without my car and its motor.

      His concept is tired. The Natrifical Brain http://www.thebrain.com has been out forever and sounds better than his 3D narritive and focusing a "beam of information" on pages moving down a timeline. Honestly, when looking for your resume do you say, "Hmmm, I last updated that in 2001, right after I got all of those e-mails about purchasing Viagra." Not me, I look for resume.pdf.

      His later points (which seemed a bit OT) about Microsoft has won, they do great stuff, Linux is cool, but we already have Windows(?), is laughable. He comments "There is no technical reason to move to linux." This shows that he really does not understand the pitfalls of the windows platform and does not appreciate how poor OS and application development has created the situation that he now so loudly decries.

      Why should I need to read my e-mail one place, my calendar another, and my spreadsheets in yet another?? This is the question he is trying to answer. How does *nix store mail?? Plain text. Log files?? Plain text. My latest novel?? Plain text. And on and on and on. None of my information is in a file format that cannot be read by grep, parsed by perl, etc...

      Also, the author says nothing about the CLI. The CLI is going to be sooooo important in the next wave of computing... The CLI is how you issue terse one-off commands to the computer. The over GUI'ed would of Microsoft and Apple are the relics. When we have a shell that can understand structured english, and an input device that makes entering/saying these commmands easy (keyboard is good enough IMHO), well....

      Example:
      You are looking for a quote from Bobby Kennedy. You know it is on your HDD somewhere. Do you, Click start -> Find -> Files and folders, click the advanced tab, click the radio button that says you would like to search for files containing, click a drop down to say you want to search in the data folder, click a box and tell it the text to search for is "RFK", or type find -d C:\Data -t "RFK".

      Microsoft BOB was supposed to be a good idea too. Fast Find was supposed to work (doesn't). Finding text within an open document is still terrible.

      Final note:
      If his comments "over the decade of Microsoft's hegemony, computing power has grown cheaper and cheaper. Innovation has thrived. Our software is innovative; it has not been suppressed." Wait so the hardware has gotten better and cheaper, Innovation has thrived, but we are still working with "Relics" in the "Mouldy Basement of Computing" with an OS ~2,000 Tech years old. Yep sounds innovative.

      "but Longhorn won't be available for two years. We needed one-screen narrative information management yesterday. Our software is up and running today." Yep, sounds innovative. And I do believe that your browser is capable of one screen narritive information management via XML and XSLT.

      No our computers should not behave like a steelcase file cabinet, but it shouldn't behave like a FIFO stack of papers and notes strewn all over the floor either. "Where's the 1996 accounting report??" "Hmmm, check about an inch and a half up from the bottom of the stack of papers over there." Mine eyes behold efficiency.

      ~Hammy
  • Very Idealistic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SerpentMage (13390) <ChristianHGross@yah o o .ca> on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:26AM (#4616219)
    You know I own a car. And cars have gotten to the point where when I buy it typically I do not have to consider the road. It is irrellevant...

    OR, is it relevant after all? Lets see in Germany I would get a sports car, Switzerland big luxury, Canada SUV because of the snow, Southern France Convertible, ....

    My point is that while we do not make a big deal of the road or conditions, it does influence our buying decisions. And saying that it is irrelevant is just a pipedream...
    • by dpilot (134227) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:16AM (#4616601) Homepage Journal
      Maybe he is being very idealistic. Maybe he is being unrealistic. Maybe this thing will flop and fall into the bunghole of history.

      But it's still good that he's doing it.

      Someone has to question how things can be made better. Perhaps the worst thing about Microsoft is that the Windows desktop has pretty much stopped that questioning. This works in two ways, by Microsoft deliberately squashing competition and by people getting too comfortable inside the MS box. (including GNOME and KDE)

      Nor is it an adequate argument that the Windows interface (even as embodied by GNOME and KDE alternatives) is "good enough" just like the steering wheels and clutch/brake/gas pedals of a car.

      Back in the early-mid 90's there was a company trying to introduce Pen Computing - flat screens operated by a stylus. (I think the company may have been Go, but I'm not sure.) They were put under by a piece of vaporware called, "Pen for Windows" that never materialized, at least not until that Microsoft Innovation in the past month of Tablet-XP. (or whatever it was reported as on /.) Microsoft squashed a concept for almost a decade. Maybe the hardware wasn't advanced enough yet, maybe it would have been a Newton. But maybe it would have been a Palm. Now we'll never know. What other innovations are we missing until Microsoft deems it 'time'?
      • by Spyky (58290) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:56AM (#4616900)
        What other innovations are we missing until Microsoft deems it 'time'?

        I'm no Microsoft apologist, but I really disagree with that statement. It was the market that decided that pen computing wasn't ready when the Apple Newton was around. Later the smaller and cheaper Palm Pilot took the market by storm.

        My point is: the Newton was not unsucessful because Microsoft did anything to kill it. Palm was sucessful without any help from Microsoft. Microsoft is not the technological super-being who dictates who survives and who fails in the market. Some of Microsoft's own "innovations" have failed quite spectacularly, Microsoft Bob anyone?

        Addmitedly, Microsoft has the significant advantage of having an awful lot of money and commanding quite a bit of media attention whenever it does anything. Will this be enough to make notebook sized pen computing sucessful? Only time will tell. But blaming the failure of a particular item, this "Pen for Windows" which you lack any details about, on Microsoft, instead of on the people who failed to develop it well, or market it properly is just senseless MS-bashing.

        -Spyky
        • by dpilot (134227) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @12:19PM (#4617110) Homepage Journal
          I don't blame Microsoft for the failure of Newton.

          I do blame them for the failure of Go! (If that was their name) Back at the time, I was in the OS/2 crowd, and the failure of Go! was a well-talked-about 'example' of the Microsoft way of competing. Basically, they were working to bring a pen-based product to market. Microsoft preemptively announced, "Pen for Windows" and Go! lost their funding as a result. Maybe they would have failed inthe market, but they never got the chance.

          As for "Microsoft is not the technological super-being..." Back in the 90's when Venture Capital was flowing, the key question for software startups was, "What is your Microsoft strategy?" There were companies started with the goal of eventually being bought out by Microsoft. (This information was from business/trade/news magazines at the time.) So maybe they're not the super-being, but they do have paranormal market powers that may not always be beneficial.
          • by reg106 (256893) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @01:04PM (#4617499)
            Yup, the company was GO, and the book about it is:
            Startup
            by Jerry Kaplan
            Kaplan had the idea for pen computing and founded GO to pursue the dream. The book is based on his personal diary and gives a pretty good view of starting a company, seeking capital, expansion, and ultimately failing. (And this was a good idea, not a dot.com) You get to see some nasty moves by a number of the other players, including Microsoft, Apple, and (I believe) Intel, among others.
            I highly recommend the book!
          • "I don't blame Microsoft for the failure of Newton.

            I blame Leibniz.
        • by occam (20826) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @01:43PM (#4617855)
          Actually, MS did put Go directly out of business. The original poster is (slightly) incorrect though. MS did not just announce one vaporware product, I believe they announced as many as three different, codeveloping (!) vaporware products well in advance of any scheduled debut (i.e., MS reacted and crushed the nascent market with nothing except marketing). None of the three product announcements ever materialized. How's that for FUD?

          Go already had shipping product but corporate interest and, more importantly, sales waned rapidly *after* the MS announcements. Go died just as it was releasing its strongest platform yet.

          This was MS at its peak "best" during its heyday. With the new "laissez faire" ruling, MS is probably now going to have a revival.

          Go had some very interesting technology (OS, multilingual handwriting recognition, hardware) which was eventually lost in a corporate buyout by AT&T (where it then was sold to some Asian (Korean?) firm where it stagnated and died as far as I know).

          Go is probably one of the most prominent examples of MS FUD destroying innovation (though there are plenty others).
  • by sczimme (603413) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:27AM (#4616224)
    (1) Operating systems are relics of the past,
    [snip]
    (4) he's written such software, and (5) that's all you should care about so it doesn't matter that it runs under windows.


    So every operating system but Windows is a relic of the past? I'll second the description of this as 'fantasy'.

    (The NY Times site seems rather unresponsive at the moment...)
  • Misleading title (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zigg (64962) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:29AM (#4616243)

    Okay, that article is just an advertisement. I'm surprised that some editor at the Times let that pass for a column.

    Let me summarize for the impatient. "Operating systems are irrelevant, except for Windows, which we should be thankful to Bill for, because it made everything more accessible, and he's oh-so-visionary. Buy my stuff, which is an incarnation of the vision that Bill wants to realize in Longhorn. Also, Linux is irrelevant."

  • (6).... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Tsali (594389) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:29AM (#4616244)
    (6) ?????
    (7) Profit!

    Ka-ching!

    • Re:(6).... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Mr Guy (547690) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:23AM (#4616631) Journal
      Actually this is a highly accurate explanation of the problem with his ideas.

      Far be it from me to say someone so much more educated than I is a complete idiot that doesn't understand no one WANTS to stop using operating systems because they are what PAYS for the technology.

      Yes, even Linux is supported because people are willing to pay for the server space and bandwidth. These people, and universities, are getting something out of their association with Linux.
  • by wiredog (43288) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:29AM (#4616250) Journal
    Having read the article thoroughly, this startling news shows the flaws in the brewing Open Source Zeitgeist that is gripping the software community. Have you considered that providing software for free to countries such as China is essentially tacit support for oppressive regimes?

    Far-fetched? Think about it: With MySQL, the People's Army will now be able to do multiple queries on their tables of democratic activists in Olog(n) time instead of lengthy searches in card catalogs. The bureaucratic overhead previously allowed activists enough time to flee the country. How about building cheap firewalls so the people can't get the unbiased reporting that CNN provides? Or using Apache to publish lists of Falun Gong people to their police forces instantly? I doubt that never crossed your minds when you were coding away in your parents' basements. Consider putting that little thought in your mental resolv.conf file.

    If that does not concern you ( which it probably doesn't, since the lashout.org paradigm is publishing articles about how not to pay for things ), consider something else. When China eventually goes to war with Taiwan, we want to be able turn their command and control facilities into the computing equivalent of a train-wreck. One of the advantages of Windows never mentioned in the article is the ability of Microsoft to remotely deactivate Windows XP in the case of a national emergency. Thanks to GNU/Lunix, Taiwan will be on a collision course with the mainland in the near future.

    Which throws into question Mr. Stallman's motives. A known proponent of socialism, the Chinese government and RMS are natural allies. Could it be a back door to Stallman's dream of an über-Socialist United States? We may never know for sure. Next time you consider contributing to an open source project, ask yourself this question: don't you want to make sure your work isn't used for nefarious purposes? Will you risk having blood on your hands?

  • by SailorBob (146385) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:31AM (#4616267) Homepage Journal
    David Gelernter [yale.edu]

    Professor of Computer Science
    B.A., Yale University, 1976Ph.D., The State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1982
    Joined Yale Faculty 1982

    David Gelernter's research interests include information management, parallel programming, software ensembles and artificial intelligence. The coordination language called "Linda" that he developed with Nicholas Carriero (also of Yale) sees fairly widespread use world-wide for parallel programming.

    Gelernter's current interests include adaptive parallelism, programming environments for parallelism, realtime data fusion, expert databases and information-management systems (the Lifestreams system in particular). He is co-author of two textbooks (on programming languages and on parallel programming methods), author of Mirror Worlds (Oxford: 1991), the Muse in the Machine (Free Press: 1994 -- about how thinking works), and a forthcoming book in the "Masterclasses" series about aesthetics and computing. He has published cultural-implications-of-computing-type pieces in many newspapers and magazines, is contributing editor at the Manhattan Institute's City Journal, the National Review and is art critic at the Weekly Standard.

    Representative Publications

    • Lifestreams: An Alternative to the Desktop Metaphor, with Scott Fertig and Eric Freeman. Proc. CHI'96 (April 1996: paper and ACM video).

    • Adaptive Parallelism, with Nicholas Carriero, Eric Freeman and David Kaminsky. IEEE Computer, Feb. 1995.

    • Coordination Languages and their Significance, with Nicholas Carriero, Communications of the ACM, 35 (2), February 1992, pp. 97-107.
  • GNU/Linux (Score:3, Funny)

    by ACNeal (595975) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:32AM (#4616269)
    When can we get this, so RMS can shut up?

    I, for one , can't wait.

    "They should be called GNU/3d Documents, because if it wasn't for the GNU/Linux OS to become a relic, no one would have thought to make somehting else. It is obvious that this technology only exists because GNU caused the creator to come up with the idea."

    Ok, maybe he won't shut up.
  • And also... (Score:5, Funny)

    by NiftyNews (537829) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:34AM (#4616284) Homepage
    And also, he would like a pony.

    No, make that two ponies. No, eight. No, a pony should be available wherever he goes at any hour of the day.
  • Hummm.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hrieke (126185) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:34AM (#4616288) Homepage
    The whole artical read as a huge advert.
    Guess /. isn't the only one placing ads as stories...
  • by webmosher (322834) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (rehsombew)> on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:34AM (#4616291) Homepage
    While I didn't read the article (I see enough NY Post commercials on TV). I assume this guy seems to think the O/S is "all the pretty windows". I think the common person's viewpoint of the O/S is also the same, but when we get down to brass tacks, the O/S is what holds those windows on your desktop. File system access, memory management, task/process management, interfacing drivers to hardware. THIS IS THE O/S!! I doubt seriously that these floating 3-D documents will do little good if you can't even drive signal to your video card.

    Perhaps this person should exhalt a new outlook on user interface design (ex: extending Windows, or KDE or Gnome), and not dismiss the O/S.

    And for those ready to flame on my inclusion of Windows, Gnome and KDE on the same sentence, realize that these are all essentially window/interface managers, and not operating systems. Yes, MS bundles their manager and O/S in an unpackageable package, but the interface you see in MSWindows is not the MSWindows O/S. That is like saying a BASH shell is the O/S of Linux/UNIX.

    • by Java Pimp (98454) <java_pimp@y a h oo.com> on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:11AM (#4616547) Homepage
      No, Dr. Gelernter knows the difference between an OS and a GUI.

      By reading the article, you would have realized that Dr. Gelernter is stating that we need to distance ourselves a bit farther from the OS than we are now. Current user interfaces are tied too closely to the nature of the operating system. Instead of having a user interface that is centered around the OS (let's see, a tree of files and folders that just mirrors the filesystem directory structure) to access our information, the interface needs to be centered around the information itself. Then, the OS managing the information does become irrelevant. Not useless, just irrelevant... to the user. We won't care what it is or what it's doing as long as we get the information we are interested in.

      We shouldn't need to know we need a network connection to do email, IM, whatever... We should be able to just say, "computer, what's the score?" and it would get the information for us. This type of interface IS a radical change from what we've been doing for the last 20+ years. Will people accept it? People fear change so it will probably take a while. But it will happen.
      • by Locutus (9039) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:52AM (#4616870)
        You hit the nail on the head, it's Microsofts protecting it's monopoly that's preventing any new model from rising. To protect the Windows OS monopoly and therefore protect their application( MS Office ) monopoly, the OS must be relevant.

        Just like C++ and object oriented frameworks threatened Microsoft/MS Windows in the early 1990's by abstracting the OS API's, OpenDoc threatened them in the mid 1990's by abstracting the OS AND greatly reduced the barrier to entry into the application space. The full force of the FUD machine and purchasing power put the cork on those two ideas. Granted, OOP made a decent comeback with Java and Troltech is making a living at a C++ framework but we still require huge applications with redundant features to read/write documents.

        I've seen and used OpenDoc and the concept of data-centric computing is smart and far easier to use. The problem persists as to what to do about Microsoft's continued slowing of progress?

        BTW, I've helped a few small business's in the early 1990's in streamlining how they used computers( PC's ) and it was the OO desktop that saved the day. Where OS/2 could be installed, it was or else it was HP's NewWave OO desktop manager. In both cases, I implemented data-centric templates of folders and data objects/icons so the use concentrated on the DATA for the task and not what application needed to be started and where that file needed to be saved to, etc. The Data-Centric method worked and worked well.

        The browser is kinda like the OpenDoc container but without the Bento filesystem to hold all the different apps(Parts) data. The Inet becomes the replacement for the Bento filesystem. I don't think plug-ins can use other plug-ins in a standard way so that for instance, one spell-checker plug-in could be used in the text/html editor AND email plug-ins...

        LoB
  • by path_man (610677) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:35AM (#4616296)

    Every few months some article or "expert" comes out and says that the OS doesn't matter. If that were the case, we'd all be accessing each others data ubiquitously.

    Let me list two reasons why Operating Systems DO matter. First, unless someone changes the capitalist society in which we live, market forces dictate that companies do things differently than their competition. This means making changes to improve, speed up, or make more simple the way in which we use computers. Guess what kids? The OS is the gateway to the computer.

    Second, all computers follow a set of rules or protocols under which they operate. It's been shown time and time again that even when these rules are created by committee, agreed upon, ratified, and broadly implemented, some company or other decides that their way is better than the standard. For better or for worse, we will never get all the different computers that are out there to follow the same sets of rules. How does this pertain to the OS? Once again, you must know the underlying OS to understand how the rules work.

    Now I will cede that there are ways to abstract the OS -- we do this every day. GUIs, Browser-based clients, Java, etc. make universal the experience for everyone who uses a particular application. But saying that the OS doesn't matter is about the same as saying that as long as a structural engineer understands how the pavement works it doesn't matter about the bridge that runs underneath.

  • Advocating MS plans! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by UndercoverBrotha (623615) <codemonkey2600 AT yahoo DOT com> on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:35AM (#4616300)
    Well, he is pretty much thinking along the lines of Microsoft, which is gradually shifting to an OS that really does not exist but gives you the functionality you need based upon the services you require.

    For example, if you need to write a Word Document (yeah yeah XDocs in Office11), you would boot up your computer which basically would make a call to a Web Service that will show you what you call the desktop (i.e. presentation layer) of your OS today e.g WinXP, Win2k, etc.

    You need to write a Word Doc? Do you subscribe to the Word Web Service? If so the menu item in the program group will be there (Start-Programs-blah blah), you consumed it when your WebServiceOS came up, because you subscribe to it so you can go ahead and make a word doc. Thus, whatever data you need will be accessible when you want it, for a certain price that is.

    Theoretically, this may seem like a great idea, software as a service, revenue for MS, you get only what you want i.e no bundled overpriced office products, but then again...oh nevermind.

    And oh yeah, you can get your documents anywhere in the world since your profile will be associated with your ".NET my Services" account, so as long as a computer is using this next OS, which will probably come after longhorn, you have what you need everywhere..all you have to do is Consume and Subscribe! Theoretically although the vendor is Microsoft, is XML over HTTP really Microsoft Windows? No! Lets just call it MSWSVOS (Microsoft Web Service Virtual Operating System)...your .Net wallet has been charged, thank you.
  • Movie crap (Score:5, Insightful)

    by red_dragon (1761) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:36AM (#4616310) Homepage

    Whoa, there. Was this guy watching Johnny Mnemonic [imdb.com] while drugged up beyond belief? His drivel about being able to "see a stream of 3D documents" reminds me of the virtual surreality user interfaces in that movie. I wouldn't be surprised if he started spouting off unintelligible mutterings about "hacking the Gibson" and "finding the garbage file" [imdb.com], too.

  • by bytesmythe (58644) <bytesmythe@gmai l . com> on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:40AM (#4616343)
    A few quotes from the article: We built our system on Microsoft Windows because Windows is a reliable, solid, reasonably priced, nearly universal platform - and for the software future, "universal" is nonnegotiable.

    And...

    Each [of linux and Windows] is nonetheless still solid enough to be a good, steady platform for the next step in software.

    This does not indicate a future in which operating systems are really irrelevant. In fact, it would appear to be the opposite. Now, the operating system may appear to be invisible to the end user, but that isn't the same thing. People like Alan Cooper have been pushing for this kind of computing interface for ages.

    The underlying operating system must be transparent, and rock-solid, fast, correct, and efficient.

    Again, from the article:

    nearly universal platform - and for the software future, "universal" is nonnegotiable.

    Why does the OS have to be universal? The operating system may become invisible, but a properly written interface will be portable. No one will have to know how to use the "operating system" that powers their hardware, but they may figure out that some are more reliable at running their Interface Of The Future (TM) than others.

  • Irrelevant? (Score:3, Funny)

    by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:42AM (#4616355) Homepage Journal

    They are? Uh oh..
    WIOj23 902*@+++
    NO CARRIER

  • Technical reason? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by phritz (623753) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:43AM (#4616357)
    He says there's no 'technical' impetus to switch from Windows to Linux. Ummm . . . isn't that one of the best reasons to switch? I'm personally not that large of a fan of Linux, but: If the OS is irrelevant, wouldn't you want to base your revolutionary-futuristic-3-d-narrative-data viewer app on a free, stable, open source operating system?

    Or perhaps . . . just perhaps . . . he's more concerned with making this product available to the biggest market share. Not really so much concerned with advancing computer science, as with making money? Maybe?

    The New York Times: Free advertising space for anyone with a PhD.

  • Where to begin (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rppp01 (236599) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:44AM (#4616367) Homepage
    This article is a joke. This guy seems to know very little about nothing.

    THE end of the Microsoft trial is great news whatever you think of the defendant - because the trial was all about the past, and we in the technology world have no more time to waste on that topic.

    The past? Idiot. Idiot! Fool. If we don't look at our past and learn from it, we are gonna repeat it, and make the same damn mistakes in the future. What MS did only affects everyone in computerdom out there. Ask Be Inc, or Netscape, OS/2 or Linux companies what they think of about this being something we should forget about? No, it was about our present, and future. XP wouldn't be the POS it is if there was more competition.

    Meanwhile, operating systems are lapsing into senile irrelevance. An operating system connects the user (and the user's software) to the ensemble of machines we call a computer. But nowadays users no longer want to be connected to computers. They want to be connected to information, a claim that sounds vague but is clear and specific.

    But wasn't that the goal of computers from the beginning? To enable a 'paperless world' where we could input and receive information from a centralized location. Um, mainframe, anyone? And how is the OS irrelevant? Maybe to him it is, and to the home user, but to developers, hardware makers, and administrators, the OS is very much the heart and soul of the computer. It determines whether the software will run- the software that obtains the information you demand.

    This kind of information management is simpler, more powerful and more natural than the Steelcase-inspired software we've got today - the files, the folders, the desktops and all those other high-tech office accessories straight out of 1946.

    You know, I still use a file cabinet. As far as I know, they are a great resource when the network goes down, or a hdd crashes. I support large companies that still use them. Just because it is old, does not mean it is no longer needed, wanted, or relevant.

    We built our system on Microsoft Windows because Windows is a reliable, solid, reasonably priced, nearly universal platform....

    Well, one out of 3 ain't bad. No comment on what everyone else will point out here.

    Of course, another operating system, Linux, is also clamoring for attention. Linux and Windows are both children of the 70's: Linux grew out of Unix, invented by AT Windows is based on the revolutionary work of Xerox research. In technology years, these loyal and devoted operating systems are each approximately 4,820 years old. (Technology years are like dog years, only shorter.)

    Anyone know what he is talking about here? So, Windows and Unix are almost 5000 dog years old. How is this little piece of info helping his argument. Can anyone help me out here. I don't see it. I think he is trying to make linux look like the old beast of the ancients, when it is actually newer than Windows is. I mean, Windows the OS didn't happen till 1993 with NT 3.1- linux was 'born' in 1990. Prior to 93, windows was an OE.

    • Re:Where to begin (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dmorin (25609)
      The past? Idiot. Idiot! Fool. If we don't look at our past and learn from it, we are gonna repeat it, and make the same damn mistakes in the future.

      The MS trial was about business and politics. From a technology standpoint it was, indeed, pointless. One of the key points was whether it's ok to bundle an internet browser in the OS. If that is the thing to do logically from a technology standpoint, somebody should do it and move on. Even the distinction between the two is a pointless one to make, technologically speaking. It ground you in the concepts of "this is an OS, these are the functions of an OS...this is an app, these are the functions of an app...." when in reality, technology should be free to stand all that on its head if it makes sense.

      And how is the OS irrelevant? Maybe to him it is, and to the home user

      I think that was his point -- that it *should* be irrelevant to the user, but isn't.

    • by reallocate (142797) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:19AM (#4616615)
      All the jerking knees around here ignore the fact that, increasingly, we can't look to either Microsoft or Linux and open source to develop new amd innovative ways for people to use computers. Why? Microsoft's ability to infuse real innovation into the market is constrained by the universality of Windows. The open source community spends considerable amounts of time and intellectual capital in internecine warfare about licensing dogma (rather akin, in its irrelevancy, to medieval priests debating angels dancing on the heads of pins) and appears to contain a strong element that believes that users should change to accommodate computers, not the other way around.

      As I take it, his basic point seems to be that both Windows and Linux are based on OS concepts developed at least 30 years ago:
      • "Data" and "Code" are separate and inviolable
      • data resides in specific files, acted upon by executable code residing in other files.
      • Someone, or something, must remember the association between data in a given file, the action the user wishes to perform with/on that data, and the name of the file that contains the appropriate executable code.
      • Interface design attempts to reduce the learning curve associated with command line control of an OS by use of small visual clues that reduce the need to memorize or look up file names and command structures.
      • The Windows, Mac, X, etc., GUI's follow identical paradigms.


  • What is he smoking? (Score:3, Informative)

    by anonymous cupboard (446159) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:44AM (#4616373)
    An OS is primarily a layer for hiding the hardware and scheduling tasks. It means that application software dosn't give a monkeys which hd or video card I have or anything else.

    Sure we should agree that there are much better ways to present higher level abstractions such as presentation and storage of informatio, however in the end it must sit on an OS.

    As to which OS, perhaps users shoudn't care if each system was able to provide a similar set of services, however in relity operating systms tend to specialise somewhat. For example the Win speciality is the BSOD!!!!

    No seriously, there are two questions to be asked here:

    1. Should the user have to care about the OS? and
    2. Does the user have to care about the OS?

    Whith specialised system like the engine management system in a car, I as a user don't give a damn. The only interface is presented by the application (throttle, etc). With a general purpose system like a PC, the user is exposed to the system in a number of ways, indeed Linux (and other Unixes) are slightly better in this respect because at least the GUI and the desktop are not integrated into the OS.

  • by (trb001) (224998) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:50AM (#4616407) Homepage
    Microsoft, people say, has driven up prices and suppressed innovation. But this is a ticklish argument at best: after all, over the decade of Microsoft's hegemony, computing power has grown cheaper and cheaper. Innovation has thrived.

    He's comparing apples to oranges...Microsoft is software based, they haven't designed any hardware (joysticks and future DRM technology not-withstanding). If you look at software, it HAS been stifled a bit...there are very few innovations in the OS market over the past decade. Windows has, just recently, incorporated functionality that Unix had 20 years ago.

    Hardware has been where innovation has taken place. More transistors on a wafer, faster memory seek times, faster hard drive rotation, larger hard drive capacity. These are the big changes in computers, not the software.

    --trb
    • by GT_Alias (551463)
      I think a case could be made that Microsoft at least drove some of those innovations. When computers started moving beyond the MS-DOS days into Windows (good 'ol 3.1), suddenly using a computer was something that anyone who could handle a mouse could do. Sidenote: It might have been kind to credit Apple with executing the idea first, though Microsoft eventually left them behind (in terms of sales and market share).

      Once people started buying these 386's and what not en masse, demand for more powerful software increased, which demands more powerful hardware, etc etc etc.

      So no, MS's R&D department didn't figure out how to clock chips up to 3GHz, but they did a whole lot to create the demand for that kind of hardware.

  • Machine Beauty (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dmorin (25609) <dmorinNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:55AM (#4616444) Homepage Journal
    I just recently read his book "Machine Beauty" which had a great premise that any geek will understand -- that technical/machine/engineering/science can be just as beautiful as any piece of art. He goes on to define machine beauty as "power through simplicity" and cites examples of recursion, object oriented programming (in concept, not a specific language), and the Turing Machine as good examples. Much of the book is about why Windows won out over the Mac, even though the Mac had more beauty. (In short summary, his argument is that people flat out did not trust the beauty of the Mac, they *wanted* their machines to be scary and complex, and thus Windows actually made them feel better about using the computer.)

    The thing about his style is that he seems to believe that the way to get people to listen to him is to say something radical that can be wildly misinterpreted, and then get on the soapbox. He's also well known for saying things like the entire educational system in this country sucks and has to be rebuilt from scratch. So it's no surprise to me that he says the OS is irrelevant. In theory it's his way of getting people to at least look at their assumptions and question them. I mean, come on, how many people do you run into every day that tell you "Yes, I agree, Windows sucks, but why fight it?" WHY FIGHT IT? Because it sucks. Gelernter's point is that you should always be on the quest for the "powerful yet simple" solution to the problem.

    In a rather interesting chapter of the book, he offers a variety of drawings for new desks. After all, who said that the traditional setup is the best one? So he creates a variety of stacks, slants, and other combinations that might work better for people.

    I think the OS *should* be irrelevant. Awareness of it makes things complicated. Imagine if the rules of a Turing machine were different depending on what computer you ran it on, and on some computers its rules just didn't hold at all. Computers will be simpler when somebody can just say "Email" and not have to worry about Outlook, or POP, or any of that nonsense. That's my two bits.

    duane, listening to old dr. dobbs mp3's he found referenced on slashdot last week

    • I think the OS *should* be irrelevant. Awareness of it makes things complicated.

      First of all, I don't think you can lump everyone together. If you are talking about the end-user of something, the OS shouldn't be a big deal. Think of PDAs or cell-phones. But to people who work on those things, the OS is very important. You can't just ignore it.

      I think a lot of people consider a complex interface to be the same thing as a complicated one. Come on, people are complex creatures. It is a matter of education. 30 years ago, a computer mouse would have been considered complex to most people, as evidenced by some people who still have trouble using them, and have to look down at their hand sometimes. (I have seen several older people do this, who haven't used a computer much at all). But kids can figure out how to use it quickly. Typing is a skill that people didn't used to have, but nowadays kids are learning it young. Saying something is "complicated" is relative. An activity can be complex, but once you learn it it is quite easy. I personally don't think that interfaces to computers should be simple. They are complex machines. Now if you are talking about a single-purpose thing, then the interface can be made simple. For complex machines, I don't think you'll get there. You will still need something to interface to the OS, so you'll need something to translate complex -> simple (or maybe vice-versa).

      Imagine if the rules of a Turing machine were different depending on what computer you ran it on, and on some computers its rules just didn't hold at all.

      The rules of interfacing to the Turing machine are simple, but the logic behind it is not. I don't think you can just lump and OS and applications that run on it together.

      Computers will be simpler when somebody can just say "Email" and not have to worry about Outlook, or POP, or any of that nonsense. That's my two bits.

      Nonsense? How do you think email works? What you are describing is the interface to email. Are you suggesting a universal email program? Not everybody wants the same thing in email. I still use Pine for crying out loud. Again, computers are complex machines, and are configurable. There is a reason there are many variations of programs out there, because none of them satisfy everyone's requirements. I think THAT is the beauty of computers, they are so complex and configurable. Why would you want everything to be the same? Utopia? Hardly.

    • Re:Machine Beauty (Score:3, Insightful)

      by aphor (99965)

      This is for anyone in general who is sympathetic to the Yale crackpot.

      "Awareness of it makes things complicated." No, awareness of "it" makes things simple. You can use an OS in a state of Zen, in the same way a swimmer uses the water. Being aware of the flow of cause-and-effect (karma) is enlightenment. The four noble truths are just as relevant in computers as any other breathing activity a person can engage in.

      1. Dukkha: There is suffering. 2. Samudaya: You observe how the suffering arises. 3. Nirodha: You know that things that arise, will die with their supporting conditions cease, and so the suffering will end. 4. Magga: Because you are aware of how the suffering will cease, you know what to do to avoid the suffering by becoming aware of how you link to the causes of the suffering.

      It is the awareness of how things are that allows you to extinguish the suffering with the most elegant (in)action. It is the dawning of awareness that relieves you from the gravity of the seriousness of your problems. So it is in life, and so it is living with software, and so it is living with software called an OS. It is all just the ebb and flow of causes and effects as the causes of other effects.

      People will say a tool is less effective if you are acutely aware of it and that it should be "an extension of yourself." I disagree, and one should struggle to shed identification with tool-things, including your own body, and use the tool without reliance on a connection to your fantasy "self."

      Even the most simple things are difficult if you appreciate them fully! Once you decide to stop polluting your own life, you can begin to appreciate the mess you will always be in. Longing for a "transparent system" is the old existential idea of "crystal palace" and will only expose the fact that you have no purpose through which this conduit will conduct you. What's to say you will be able to handle any "email" once the MUA hides the fact that it arrived through disparate and incompatible means? Dude, you're still going to have trouble swallowing that bad news... Let go of your tanha (thirst/lust). If you feel impeded because you aren't sure what to do next, then stop! Don't do anything! Be cool with that! Not everyone should be zooming around through cyberspace the same way.

  • Irrelevant (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 4of12 (97621) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:55AM (#4616446) Homepage Journal

    Yes, from one perspective, you could say operating systems are irrelevent.

    That's presupposing that whatever operating system is in place provides the needed infrastructure for managing processes and scheduling hardware access in a reasonable way. Doesn't matter whether it's Windows, MacOS, Linux or OS/2.

    By the same token, my travels from home to work depend on my car, not on the roads.

    And it's true that what my body contacts is the car, not the road (motorcyclists sometimes have it rougher, I suppose).

    If the roads are well-maintained, plowed in the winter and other cars obey the traffic laws, I'd almost begin to believe that cars were more important and roads were irrelevant.

    But if my super highway developed a large pothole, that illusion would disappear quickly.

    Likewise, if the owner of the road decided to erect a toll booth and exact some money from me for use of the road, I'd begin to appreciate the importance of roads.

    Operating systems: only when they work right do you not notice them.

  • An interface that is completely independant from the underlying OS?

    HTML? VRML? PDF? XML? JAVA?

    These all seem to be what this guy is calling for.
  • by goombah99 (560566) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:03AM (#4616493)
    There seems to be an eternal conflict between what is the province of the OS and the app. The same arguments keep happening. When I first started programming computers in the early 70s unix/vms/prime the OS on the mainframe defined your interaction.


    then along came the micros like the altair8800. With these there was no operating system per se. Usually you just loaded interpeted basic from a bootloader and then managed your disk or tape using program you wrote in basic. For example PIP was the name of a program for reading files on a floppy. you loaded pip off tape and then you could access the floppy. when you were done you got rid of PIP. there was no OS only indiviual ad hoc programs. You could say the programming envionment was the OS but givine that your programs were doing peek and poke instructions instead of using an API i'd say there was no OS.


    then with the rise of more memory and disks, apple, commodor, trs-80, and IBM started to emulate the mini-computers which had those VMS/CPM/DOS operating systems. then we graduated to Windows and macOS with real APIs.


    then what, well along came the Browser, and the idea that one could replace the OS and APIs with a new sort of middleware that would be platform independent. Mosiac and netscape could open text files, and even do many operatiung system inteaction functions like telnet. (KDE extends the metafore to launching programs from a browser inteface).


    the other fork was java, which combined a programming language with all the high level functions needed to act like an OS. in other words it was both a language and an API rolled into one. Sun began to talk about how JAVA was really a new kind of OS. you no longer needed to worry about what the computer or OS running underneat was. JAVA was you environment.


    so now someone is saying OSs are dead. whoopee. I've seen it before.

  • by Locutus (9039) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:11AM (#4616550)
    It's been something like 8 years since OpenDoc's component based applications it the net and I think it is the concept this guy speaks of( can't get to the article ). The idea was that you had a file format which allowed application data to be stored together with many applications all in one file. The applications were small, specific apps which were more like plug-ins for a "container" application.

    The whole idea behind OpenDoc was that your data was what was important and YOU, the user, could mix and match small lightweight applications to create your own "super" document. The application or "Parts" developers would have to provide a free viewer for their data format so that you could email your "super" document to someone else and they could read it's contents by downloading the viewers.

    The concept of document-centric, also called data-centric computing isn't new it's just the one very large monopolist must protect their operating system and make sure the "application" remains relevant. Document-centric computing abstracts the applications, greatly reduces the application size since they are now made of many smaller plug-ins, and most importantly, it reduces the barrier to entry into the market. Two or three coders could whip up a pretty good spell-checker Part or html editor Part as opposed to a full blown application containing the spell-checker, graphics editor, text editor, etc, etc.

    This kind of stuff won't show up until Microsoft is gone or irrelevant. IMHO.

    LoB
  • by peter303 (12292) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:11AM (#4616551)
    The "memory enhancement" experts going all the way back to ancient Greece have long known that spatial cues are a powerful way of organizing human memory (especially in males). So any information organization metaphor that is spatial or geometrical would exploit this principle. That would mean the "desktop" or "office" isnt that bad, though there might be better ones. Perhaps rooms in a house or streets of a city (geocities@yahoo) might be more tangible than a desktop, but probably not worth the change involved.
  • by avdi (66548) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:12AM (#4616562) Homepage
    ...and now everything looks like a nail. And the things that can't be made to look like nails he sees as unimportant.

    It's a common enough malady among geniuses that have been too long surrounded by people telling them how smart they are.
  • by tswinzig (210999) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:14AM (#4616581) Journal
    I knew this sounded familiar, so I did a search for his name on Slashdot. Yup.

    Here's a similar article from December 2001 [slashdot.org].

    And another from July 2000 [slashdot.org].

    And I predict another one will be posted in October 2003.

    Thank you.
  • Narrow view (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HiQ (159108) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:18AM (#4616610)
    Nice article, but the guy has a bit of a people-centric view. OS's are not only important to people, but machines are communicating as well. Think of computers communicating, but also networking hardware, machinery in processing plants, equipment in planes, trains & automobiles, ships, telephone systems etc.. There things are dependant on timing, realtime processes etc. A nice 3-d data view is completely irrelevant. The OS becomes even more important
  • by peter303 (12292) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:23AM (#4616632)
    About 18 years ago Jeff Raskin and Canon Inc. built a computer called the Canon Cat [shauny.de] based on some of these principles. The Cat memory was basically one massive flat file you could search, order, compute, or edit with a few simple universal commands. (I thought it was too massive for my limited brain.) The architect Jeff Raskin has a footnote in P.C. history as the guy and computer project who Steve Jobs took over when Steve was trying to regain power at Apple after the Apple III and Lisa diappointments.
  • by ShmuelP (5675) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:38AM (#4616764)
    I've had a chance to talk to some of these guys last year, and I've used the system a bit. We also talked about some of this in a UI design class I took.

    Scopeware (the system he built) is actually pretty interesting. The premise (or part of it) is that people aren't good at filing things in a hierarchical filesystem. Instead, the system simply keeps everything in one long hierarchical sequence, and tries to provide more intuitive ways of searching it.

    Specifically, it tries to emulate piles of papers on a desk. New stuff is at the top, but you can kinda scan the edges of a lot of the documents at once. If you need to find something specific, youo can "flip through" the pile until you find it. I believe that you can define criteria such that different piles are built automatically from the same set of documents. In a sense, this is similar to Evolution's VFolders - you don't move emails from your inbox to another folder, but set up virtual folders based on predefined searches.

    In this sense, the OS and filesystem are irrelevant, just like the OS is irrelevant to (pure) Java programs, and just like the filesystem is irrelevant in most email programs (Evolution, Kmail, Outlook). Of course, the data is stored in files within directories on a disk managed by an OS, but given that there is a completely different method of accessing that data, who cares?

    In a sense, this is actually similar to Unix's "everything is a file philosophy", except that here it would be expressed as "everything that's important is a document.

    Scopeware itself is a server that stores all documents, emails, etc. for a group of people. It then manages access to them, and sets up these "piles" for everyone who runs a scopeware client.
  • by MarkWatson (189759) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:41AM (#4616786) Homepage
    Several years ago, David Gelernter's colleague Eric Freeman (and a lawyer for his company) gave me permission to write a simple version of Lifestreams for a book example (the ill-fated Java Programming for Windows that was just being published when Microsoft went soft on Java).

    I never did write that example, but I looked into Lifestreams enough to think that it is a very valid metaphor for accessing information.

    Lifestreams orders information by date - imagine that you remember writing a memo just before Easter vacation this year. Then, you would scan documents created around that time period, and hopefully find it in a few seconds.

    Obviously, in this example, you could just sort old email, word processing documents, etc. by date using Konquerer, Mac Finder, Windows Explorer, whatever, but Lifestreams understands many file formats and unifies this entire process.

    -Mark

  • by Saxerman (253676) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:45AM (#4616819) Homepage
    What a pointless little feel good piece by someone who wants to launch us into the computing future by vaulting off the giant shoulders of Microsoft. "Cast off your shackles of the past and embrace the future!", he calls to us. Oh, except for Windows, we need to keep that. Why? Because:

    Windows is the marketplace victor and has now won a decisive legal imprimatur. There is no technical reason for us to move to Linux; why should we switch? Why should our customers?

    Oh, because Microsoft has a Monopoly and we should just accept that because:

    Windows is a reliable, solid, reasonably priced, nearly universal platform - and for the software future, "universal" is nonnegotiable. We need to run the system on as many computers as possible and manage the maximum range of electronic documents.

    Ah, gotcha, they already have a monopoly, and we all kinda need one anyways because we all need to run the same software so we should all just stop this pointless flame war complaining about lack of choices because choices break apart our vision of a unified digital playground of knowledge. So everyone run Windows because our new visionary software only runs on Windows because:

    Windows is a reliable, solid, reasonably priced, nearly universal platform

    Although we already said that, but we thought we should say it again because its really important. So is everyone ready to stop wanting choices and merely accept the new hand crafted future built just for us so we can stop working on our own visions because this one is the very bestest and is the one true software we all need because we all need the same software for this to work... blah, blah, blah.

    Phew. Ok, breathe... and exhale. Good. We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

  • by rlowe69 (74867) <ryanlowe_AThotmailDOTcom> on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:50AM (#4616855) Homepage
    We rely on the courts and antitrust laws to keep Microsoft from abusing its enormous power. We need Microsoft itself to be the universal stepladder that lets us climb out of our hole and smell the roses.

    So everything will be grand if only we put Microsoft between us and our hardware? Please. Making a Microsoft operating system into a 'universal stepladder' will only tempt them to abuse this power further. Let's not turn this guy's vision into an us-against-them issue. This vision (and its implementation) is long overdue.

    It's interesting that this guy is flag-waving for Microsoft in the first place. After all, he is competing against Microsoft's own 'window manager', which will become moot if his vision comes to fruition. If what he says is true, in two years he will then compete directly with Longhorn's UI.

    Each is nonetheless still solid enough to be a good, steady platform for the next step in software. But Windows is the marketplace victor and has now won a decisive legal imprimatur. There is no technical reason for us to move to Linux; why should we switch?

    What is really needed is a nice OS layer that gives support to these new user interfaces (that replace windows managers). Linux is a nice open solution to this problem. What happens to this guy when Microsoft comes out with their own new-and-improved GUI for Longhorn? Microsoft closes their OS (not window manager) API and its game over.

    Who knows, maybe he's just trying to get a job on the Longhorn project. But if he's going to try to compete directly against Microsoft, I don't see how he can possibly win. He'll find out first hand how powerful Microsoft really is. He would be wiser to develop for an open platform, and beat Microsoft from the side instead of from the top.
  • What a silly idea! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by manyoso (260664) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @12:00PM (#4616928) Homepage
    Bill Gates from the article, "Why are my document files stored one way, my contacts another way and my e-mail and instant-messaging buddy list still another, and why aren't they related to my calendar or to one another, and easy to search en masse?"

    Hmm, let's see ...

    Because your documents are different than your contacts which are in turn fundamentally different than your email which are in turn fundamentally different than your buddy lists. Yes, they are all data. So are books, CD's, audio-tapes, which are all quite different. Both in terms of media and interaction. This is such a silly question. Why on earth would you want a 'Universal' viewer for your data...?! This would necessarily lower it to the common denominator, but then it is the differences that make these kinds of data useful.
  • by avandesande (143899) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @12:03PM (#4616973) Journal
    Are computers really going to change that much in the future? Any technology goes through an s-curve of innovation.. Then it levels off. How different is you car now than from 50 years ago? Although there are changes/improvements in ergonomics/pollution/reliability, the format is the same.
    Do we really need a change in the basic desktop format? Why would I want a 3-d desktop? The fact of the matter is what is now available enables 99% of the users to do what they want to get done. The problem with computers is finding problems to solve that fit the computing parigdigm.
  • by limekiller4 (451497) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @12:16PM (#4617083) Homepage
    From the article:
    "We built our system on Microsoft Windows because Windows is a reliable, solid, reasonably priced, nearly universal platform - and for the software future, "universal" is nonnegotiable. We need to run the system on as many computers as possible and manage the maximum range of electronic documents.

    Each is nonetheless still solid enough to be a good, steady platform for the next step in software. But Windows is the marketplace victor and has now won a decisive legal imprimatur. There is no technical reason for us to move to Linux; why should we switch? Why should our customers?"

    I think it is amusing that David Gelernter, the author, is clamoring for a new paradigm in the way that we look at information yet buttresses his argument for using Windows as a platform by saying Windows is the old paradigm. I guess my best answer to Mr. Gelernter as to why he should port to Linux is "don't." If it is a good idea, we will. And if the information is really entirely removed from the operating system with which it is stored, then this is merely a matter of implementation. If it isn't, and we can't, then you really haven't done what you've set out to do, have you?
  • by Tim12s (209786) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @12:42PM (#4617275) Homepage
    What he really wants is ultimate coordination of information via the super human intellect. The OS is just and OS. It is typically always transparent. I never see my OS actually writing files, managing memory, other than through the basic application management interface that allows me to install/remove applications. The applications themselves are what matter. (Otherwise the copying of files continually from one directory to another would be fun and using more memory is fun... yay.... i... *DONT* think so).

    Our current society is based upon the capitalistic market forces to solve supply and demand decisions because the socialistic models do not work. (Well, thats debatable. The socialistic models under a massive oppresive soviet system doesnt work, but I believe in some european countries it works?).

    Typically, this capitalism vs socialism brings up many fears of the coldwar when one tries to migrate towards socialism. There is inherintly nothing wrong with the socialism paradigm. The fundermental flaw lies in the inability for the human mind to organise and coordinate on such a massively perfect scale the logistics behind a truely utopian socialistic society.

    Bringing this into relevance, one must consider the perfectly centralized vs haphazardly distributed nature of information.

    It is obvious that if all human information stored by companies, governments, scientific, personel information, etc, were to be stored in a single storage system, then it could be perfectly sorted, arranged and the searching of the information would be maximal and perfect.

    This provides two problems:

    Who is going to search, store and coordinate said massive volumes of information? (Future AI)

    Ethicly, do you want your entire personal details and history to be stored in one accessable place. This opens up abuse by authorities (Q:Why would authorities want to abuse others in utopia?). There is a fundamental loss of freedom in the contiual tracking of every move of individuals within society. How do you know your location is being constantly tracked.

    Information is currently decentralized across the many industries. The information revolution started to occur with the internet and search engines. The next information revolution will occur with the perfect coordination of information but will society accept it?

    -Tim
  • I have Beta Version (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lo_fye (303245) <derek@gDALIeekunity.com minus painter> on Thursday November 07, 2002 @12:49PM (#4617336) Homepage Journal
    His product is called Scopeware.
    I am a beta tester.
    It is kinda cool. Basically it turns your personal computer, or all the computers in an enterprise into a searchable internet. It indexes everything -- documents, powerpoints, email, mp3, jpg, etc etc.
    You can search once, and it'll bring up all the results in order of time created, or relevance. So, you can see email that are related to documents and powerpoints -- and they are related by the search term.
    HOWEVER, the index file takes up to 1/3 of the original filesize!!!
    To index my 300 Gig home network could take up to 100 Gig.
    Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
  • by edbarbar (234498) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @12:58PM (#4617435)

    It seems pretty clear after reading the article that he is talking about a file system (perhaps directory system aware of content formats) that would be interesting if it could work. Want to find a document? Type in some key words and there it is. This is certainly an improvement over Explorer, and a definite improvement over *nix search methods.

    Bringing some automagic searching capabilities to my desktop would be a good thing. Trouble is, to get his article published he had to color it with grounded opinions on the anti-trust trial and Linux, which it appears some on /. find unsettling.

    Because of this, his ideas have to be attacked, but they seem worthy of an attempt and relevent.
  • by duck_prime (585628) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @01:19PM (#4617637)
    One of the secrets to Microsoft's success was to de-commoditize the OS; remember the hoopla surrounding Windows 95, the songs, the celebrities, the massive lines outside of Fry's? They turned the win32 api into a gala multimedia event. It was so successful, that it took this Gelernter chap to remind us that all an OS is is a hardware abstraction layer.

    Point being, the OS is *supposed* to be invisible to the user, and nearly irrelevant.

    This is why Netscape had to be crushed -- they wanted to make the browser the platform.

    This is why Java had to be crushed -- they wanted to implement "write-once-run-anywhere". (There is a whole career-field of experts dedicated to figuring out why a HARDWARE VENDOR like Sun would push this, but that's a different post ;)

    I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that the Be OS idea was right... store everything in a database, potentially allowing any number of front-ends. Let's separate data from the display layer, and let people run their "Windows skin" or "Unix skin". Why not?

    I'd like to see an ANSI standard Operating System. Hmm...

    Final disclaimer: These are my silly ideas. Please treat them gently, as they are only half-baked.
  • David Gelertner (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mumblestheclown (569987) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @02:40PM (#4618363)
    This thread will not be read by anybody and if it does, I'll probably be labelled a troll. I don't care. I have to say this:

    David Gelertner doesn't know what the hell he is talking about.

    I had him for a class at Yale (got an A, so I'm not bitter). He was going off about his journaling os or whatever the hell it was (sorry, it's been several years). It was SUCH bullshit. Everybody in the class basically signed up to see this semi-celebrity professor, and everybody more or less had the same impression. The guy is a complete fraud.

    Look, I don't mean to sound insensitive, but the Unabomber thing was probably the best thing that happened to his career. I mean, he sits there making pie in the sky os predictions not more complicated than any first year cs student could make and acts like the sun shines out of his ass for it.

    I don't dislike the guy personally. He's a bit of a slob, but he's ok. it's his really bad academic work that I take issue with.

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