To Every Operating System ...

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2006-01-02

To Every Operating System ...

It was an exciting year on the operating system beat, with prominent new releases for every season.

While the proliferation of platform options weve seen this year has made the OS landscape more complicated, this diversity is spurring competition and much-needed innovation.

Fortunately, most of the vendors and projects that made this year so interesting have seized upon openness in the form of free and open-source software—or, failing that, of open standards—as a method for balancing diversity and innovation while maintaining an important layer of compatibility.

As TVs favorite ex-convict might remark, its a good thing—after all, theres far too much room for improvement in operating systems to leave ourselves parked at 1 [insert vendor name here] Way.

We started off the year in January with a Solaris winter. Version 10 of the long-in-the-tooth server operating system was the first new Solaris version since 2002. The update was a rather big one, and not just in terms of new features. In fact, I was impressed enough with Solaris 10, and with Suns bid to begin releasing it under an open-source license, that I named Solaris my best product of 2005.

Oracle chooses Solaris as a development platform. Click here to read more.

Winter gave way to a NetWare spring, in which NetWare—another OS old-timer—reinvented itself under the name Open Enterprise Server, a set of services that runs atop either NetWare or Novells SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. At this point, Id call OES a good start, but whether the one-time NOS king can manage a future coronation will depend on how well Novell manages to nail the details of its open-source transformation moving forward.

In the predictable next phase of my year-end-column gimmick, we turn to summer, when this year minds turned to thoughts of Tigers—one for the desktop and another for the server room.

Apples OS X 10.4 really impressed me, not just for its attention-grabbing Spotlight search feature (which I think is implemented at least as well as Beagle or the Google Desktop), but for its all-around polish.

Although I want to roll my eyes when I even hear myself think the following, the Mac mostly does "just work."

With that said, its tough for me truly to take Tiger seriously as long as it remains caged in Apple-only hardware. I know that many of the Mac lovers in the audience will protest that OS X works well only because its made to exist as an Apple appliance, but Im hoping that the companys smart move to support x86 will be a first step toward an unbundled OS X—sooner rather than later.

Next Page: Windows and Linux.

Windows and Linux

Microsofts next-generation client, Vista, didnt ship this year, as had been the plan back when it was known as Longhorn.

However, on account of the companys September Professional Developers Conference, a couple of sneak-peek Vista community technology preview releases and overall cleverness value, Ill say that the fall is Microsofts.

Its tempting to poke fun at Microsoft, but our pals from Redmond are No. 1 not just for their toughness but for their smarts, as well.

Sure, the year thats passed has certainly been a tough one for the aging and too-frequently malware-infested Windows XP, but Windows Server 2003 is a sharp and well-put-together product, and Ive been pleased with what Ive seen in early tests of Release 2. (Stay tuned for a Windows Server 2003 R2 review early next month.)

I havent assigned a season to Linux because there seemed to be a Linux for every season. From the buttoned-down and enterprise ISV-certified Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server distributions to the relative Wild West of Gentoo Linux, vendors and noncommercial organizations have managed to twist a potpourri of available free-software components into shapes to suit a wide range of user communities.

Perhaps the most deeply rooted and quickly expanding of these communities is that surrounding Debian GNU/Linux, which released Sarge, its first major update since 2002, this year.

As a noncommercial project, Debian has grown in relative quiet. But you should expect to hear more from Debian, both on its own and under the badge of its various derivatives, such as Ubuntu Linux.

Ubuntu, in fact, has caught many peoples attention with the friendly, more approachable face it has brought to Debian, both in terms of look and feel and of community.

But just as compelling—although perhaps less noticed—are the efforts that Ubuntus backers are putting into cross-project collaboration tools, such as the Rosetta application localization, Malone bug-tracking and Bazaar code repository efforts.

Like it or not, every one of the projects and vendors Ive mentioned here is now operating in an environment of expanding openness—organizations and users are learning not to accept anything less. And collaborative efforts like these will bear fruit for all of ITs stakeholders.

Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at

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