To Every Operating System ...

Opinion: ... There was a season. The Linux, Mac and Windows operating systems of 2005 are characterized by diversity, openness and innovation.

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.

/zimages/3/28571.gifOracle 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.