In the past I used to prattle a lot about “switching” – a concept that nowadays seems silly archaic and outdated. In those days most of us were tied to a single computer – one, singular piece of hardware that was our window to the internet. Chances were that that particular piece of hardware was running a Microsoft operating system, and that the only way you could get online was using Internet Exploder via dialup connection. And it was bad for everyone. The Redmond software giant was a big bad dude – it would throw it’s weight around, embrace and extend new technologies into oblivion, and generally ruin good things for everyone. Funny how things have changed.
Microsoft is a shadow of it’s former self – it’s only scary asset is the huge patent war chest they still use to bully smaller companies. Other than that, they are all bark and no bite these days. Their dominance in the OS market is slowly fading away, and their attempts to enter new markets are laughable. Bing is the default search engine for Internet Explorer but despite that, most people don’t use it or even know what the hell it is. Windows phones, once dominating the smart phone market are now not even relevant. Granted, they are still going strong but they are no longer the movers and shakers of our industry the way they used to be. Even their dominance in the OS market is slowly fading. And it’s not because people don’t use Windows anymore. They do, but they also use other things now.
In the last few years we have seen a phenomenal explosion and proliferation of mobile computers – laptops, notebooks, tablets and smart phones. In this day and age, most people are not tied to a single hunk of hardware hard wired to their desk with spools of tangled cables. Just about everyone owns more than one computing device. Some own more, some own less – depending on relative wealth and resources. But we almost always have to say “computers” (plural) rather than “a computer” when discussing an individuals computational arsenal. At the very least, it is a traditional computer (usually laptop of some sort) and a smart phone – both running different operating systems and existing in different software environments. This is something healthy.
Microsoft’s software monoculture and stranglehold on the OS market was broken not by a revolution, but by the gradual force of progress. Giving up on a OS you know is hard, but nowadays people just don’t have to do that. They just get new systems, but they never need to give up on the old ones – and this is something wonderful. When I teach my class, and see the glowing Apple symbols staring back at me from a large number of desks, it brings a smile to my face. Not because I’m an Apple fanboi, or anything. It’s because this is a sign of health. My classrooms are heterogeneous system now – there are machines there are machines there running OSX, Vista, Win7, iPads and Android Tablets. It’s a healthy mix. When I started this gig, it was more or less safe to assume that every single student in the classroom was running Windows XP – it was vile, incestuous cesspit of stagnation. What’s worse, anything that did not look like XP was foreign, strange and scary. Today, people are actually used to platform hopping. They do it all the time – they jump from their Windows PC to their MacBook, from their MacBook to their iPad and so on.
In the past I always advocated platform agnosticism – not getting married to a single OS, but being proficient in all of them. Back then only us geeks had the luxury of living that lifestyle. Now it is a mundane reality for just about everyone.
Just to show you I’m not lying I took a tally of the machines I hop between on a daily basis:
- The Gaming Rig with Vista 64 bit
- MacBook Pro with OSX Lion
- Dell Latitude D830 laptop with Kubuntu 10.4 (LTS)
- iPhone 4 with iOS 5
This does not include legacy boxes that mostly sit in the corner, unless I’m in the mood for experimenting with them (like my venerable eMac running Tiger) and virtual machines (I have two instances of Win XP – on on the linux, one on the mac, and a stripped down debian instance I sometimes use on the gaming rig as a test server).
On my average day I hop between 4 different operating systems, without missing a beat. Hell, just this minute – as I’m writing this post, I’m on my Kubuntu laptop, I have a WinXP running in Virtual Box in the background, and my iPhone on my desk next to me. More or less, I’m using 3 different OS’s simultaneously.
How about you? What operating systems do you run? How many different devices do you usually hop between on your average day?