The State of the Internet Operating System

I’ve been talking for years about “the internet operating system“, but I realized I’ve never written an extended post to define what I think it is, where it is going, and the choices we face. This is that missing post. Here you will see the underlying beliefs about the future that are guiding my publishing program as well as the rationale behind conferences I organize like the Web 2.0 Summit and Web 2.0 Expo, the Where 2.0 Conference, and even the Gov 2.0 Summit and Gov 2.0 Expo.

Ask yourself for a moment, what is the operating system of a Google or Bing search? What is the operating system of a mobile phone call? What is the operating system of maps and directions on your phone? What is the operating system of a tweet?

On a standalone computer, operating systems like Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux manage the machine’s resources, making it possible for applications to focus on the job they do for the user. But many of the activities that are most important to us today take place in a mysterious space between individual machines. Most people take for granted that these things just work, and complain when the daily miracle of instantaneous communications and access to information breaks down for even a moment.

But peel back the covers and remember that there is an enormous, worldwide technical infrastructure that is enabling the always-on future that we rush thoughtlessly towards.

When you type a search query into Google, the resources on your local computer – the keyboard where you type your query, the screen that displays the results, the networking hardware and software that connects your computer to the network, the browser that formats and forwards your request to Google’s servers – play only a small role. What’s more, they don’t really matter much to the operation of the search – you can type your search terms into a browser on a Windows, Mac, or Linux machine, or into a smartphone running Symbian, or PalmOS, the Mac OS, Android, Windows Mobile, or some other phone operating system.

The resources that are critical to this operation are mostly somewhere else: in Google’s massive server farms, where proprietary Google software farms out your request (one of millions of simultaneous requests) to some subset of Google’s servers, where proprietary Google software processes a massive index to return your results in milliseconds.

Then there’s the IP routing software on each system between you and Google’s data center (you didn’t think you were directly connected to Google did you?), the majority of it running on Cisco equipment; the mostly open source Domain Name System, a network of lookup servers that not only allowed your computer to connect to in the first place (rather than typing an IP address like, but also steps in to help your computer access whatever system out there across the net holds the web pages you are ultimately looking for; the protocols of the web itself, which allow browsers on client computers running any local operating system (perhaps we’d better call it a bag of device drivers) to connect to servers running any other operating system.

You might argue that Google search is just an application that happens to run on a massive computing cluster, and that at bottom, Linux is still the operating system of that cluster. And that the internet and web stacks are simply a software layer implemented by both your local computer and remote applications like Google.

But wait. It gets more interesting. Now consider doing that Google search on your phone, using Google’s voice search capability. You speak into your phone, and Google’s speech recognition service translates the sound of your voice into text, and passes that text on to the search engine – or, on an Android phone, to any other application that chooses to listen. Someone familiar with speech recognition on the PC might think that the translation is happening on the phone, but no, once again, it’s happening on Google’s servers. But wait. There’s more. Google improves the accuracy of its speech recognition by comparing what the speech algorithms think you said with what its search system (think “Google suggest“) expects you were most likely to say. Then, because your phone knows where you are, Google filters the results to find those most relevant to your location.

Your phone knows where you are. How does it do that? “It’s got a GPS receiver,” is the facile answer. But if it has a GPS receiver, that means your phone is getting its position information by reaching out to a network of satellites originally put up by the US military. It may also be getting additional information from your mobile carrier that speeds up the GPS location detection. It may instead be using “cell tower triangulation” to measure your distance from the nearest cellular network towers, or even doing a lookup from a database that maps wifi hotspots to GPS coordinates. (These databases have been created by driving every street and noting the location and strength of every Wi-Fi signal.) The iPhone relies on the Skyhook Wireless service to perform these lookups; Google has its own equivalent, doubtless created at the same time as it created the imagery for Google Streetview.

But whichever technique is being used, the application is relying on network-available facilities, not just features of your phone itself. And increasingly, it’s hard to claim that all of these intertwined features are simply an application, even when they are provided by a single company, like Google.

Keep following the plot. What mobile app (other than casual games) exists solely on the phone? Virtually every application is a network application, relying on remote services to perform its function.

Where is the “operating system” in all this? Clearly, it is still evolving. Applications use a hodgepodge of services from multiple different providers to get the information they need.

But how different is this from PC application development in the early 1980s, when every application provider wrote their own device drivers to support the hodgepodge of disks, ports, keyboards, and screens that comprised the still emerging personal computer ecosystem? Along came Microsoft with an offer that was difficult to refuse: We’ll manage the drivers; all application developers have to do is write software that uses the Win32 APIs, and all of the complexity will be abstracted away.

It was. Few developers write device drivers any more. That is left to device manufacturers, with all the messiness hidden by “operating system vendors” who manage the updates and often provide generic APIs for entire classes of device. Those vendors who took on the pain of managing complexity ended up with a powerful lock-in. They created the context in which applications have worked ever since.

This is the crux of my argument about the internet operating system. We are once again approaching the point at which the Faustian bargain will be made: simply use our facilities, and the complexity will go away. And much as happened during the 1980s, there is more than one company making that promise. We’re entering a modern version of “the Great Game“, the rivalry to control the narrow passes to the promised future of computing. (John Battelle calls them “points of control“.) This rivalry is seen most acutely in mobile applications that rely on internet services as back-ends. As Nick Bilton of the New York Times described it in a recent article comparing the Google Nexus One and the iPhone:

Chad Dickerson, chief technology officer of Etsy, received a pre-launch Nexus One from Google three weeks ago. He says Google’s phone feels connected to certain services on the Web in a way the iPhone doesn’t. “Compared to the iPhone, the Google phone feels like it’s part of the Internet to me,” he said. “If you live in a Google world, you have that world in your pocket in a way that’s cleaner and more connected than the iPhone.”

The same thing applies to the iPhone. If you’re a MobileMe, iPhoto, iTunes or Safari user, the iPhone connects effortlessly to your pictures, contacts, bookmarks and music. But if you use other services, you sometimes need to find software workarounds to get access to your content.

In comparison, with the Nexus One, if you use GMail, Google Calendar or Picasa, Google’s online photo storage software, the phone connects effortlessly to these services and automatically syncs with a single log-in on the phone.

The phones work perfectly with their respective software, but both of them don’t make an effort to play nice with other services.

Never mind the technical details of whether the Internet really has an operating system or not. It’s clear that in mobile, we’re being presented with a choice of platforms that goes far beyond the operating system on the handheld device itself.

With that preamble, let’s take a look at the state of the Internet Operating System – or rather, competing Internet Operating Systems – as they exist today.

The Internet Operating System is an Information Operating System

Among many other functions, a traditional operating system coordinates access by applications to the underlying resources of the machine – things like the CPU, memory, disk storage, keyboard and screen. The operating system kernel schedules processes, allocates memory, manages interrupts from devices, handles exceptions, and generally makes it possible for multiple applications to share the same hardware.

Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco
As a result, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that “cloud computing” platforms like Amazon Web Services, Google App Engine, or Microsoft Azure, which provide developers with access to storage and computation, are the heart of the emerging Internet Operating System.

Cloud infrastructure services are indeed important, but to focus on them is to make the same mistake as Lotus did when it bet on DOS remaining the operating system standard rather than the new GUI-based interfaces. After all, Graphical User Interfaces weren’t part of the “real” operating system, but just another application-level construct. But even though for years, Windows was just a thin shell over DOS, Microsoft understood that moving developers to higher levels of abstraction was the key to making applications easier to use.

But what are these higher levels of abstraction? Are they just features that hide the details of virtual machines in the cloud, insulating the developer from managing scaling or hiding details of 1990s-era operating system instances in cloud virtual machines?

The underlying services accessed by applications today are not just device components and operating system features, but data subsystems: locations, social networks, indexes of web sites, speech recognition, image recognition, automated translation. It’s easy to think that it’s the sensors in your device – the touch screen, the microphone, the GPS, the magnetometer, the accelerometer – that are enabling their cool new functionality. But really, these sensors are just inputs to massive data subsystems living in the cloud.

When, for example, as an iPhone developer, you use the iPhone’s Core Location Framework to establish the phone’s location, you aren’t just querying the sensor, you’re doing a cloud data lookup against the results, transforming GPS coordinates into street addresses, or perhaps transforming WiFi signal strength into GPS coordinates, and then into street addresses. When the Amazon app or Google Goggles scans a barcode, or the cover of a book, it isn’t just using the camera with onboard image processing, it’s passing the image to much more powerful image processing in the cloud, and then doing a database lookup on the results.

Increasingly, application developers don’t do low-level image recognition, speech recognition, location lookup, social network management and friend connect. They place high level function calls to data-rich platforms that provide these services.

With that in mind, let’s consider what new subsystems a “modern” Internet Operating System might contain:


Because the volume of data to be managed is so large, because it is constantly changing, and because it is distributed across millions of networked systems, search proved to be the first great challenge of the Internet OS era. Cracking the search problem requires massive, ongoing crawling of the network, the construction of massive indexes, and complex algorithmic retrieval schemes to find the most appropriate results for a user query. Because of the complexity, only a few vendors have succeeded with web search, most notably Google and Microsoft. Yahoo! and Amazon too built substantial web search capabilities, but have largely left the field to the two market leaders.

However, not all search is as complex as web search. For example, an e-commerce site like Amazon doesn’t need to constantly crawl other sites to discover their products; it has a more constrained retrieval problem of finding only web pages that it manages itself. Nonetheless, search is fractal, and search infrastructure is replicated again and again at many levels across the internet. This suggests that there are future opportunities in harnessing distributed, specialized search engines to do more complete crawls than can be done by any single centralized player. For example, Amazon harnesses data visible only to them, such as the rate of sales, as well as data they publish, such as the number and value of customer reviews, in ranking the most popular products.

In addition to web search, there are many specialized types of media search. For example, any time you put a music CD into an internet-connected drive, it immediately looks up the track names in CDDB using a kind of fingerprint produced by the length and sequence of each of the tracks on the CD. Other types of music search, like the one used by cell phone applications like Shazam, look up songs by matching their actual acoustic fingerprint. Meanwhile, Pandora’s “music genome project” finds similar songs via a complex of hundreds of different factors as analyzed by professional musicians.

Many of the search techniques developed for web pages rely on the rich implied semantics of linking, in which every link is a vote, and votes from authoritative sources are ranked more highly than others. This is a kind of implicit user-contributed metadata that is not present when searching other types of content, such as digitized books. There, search remains in the same brute-force dark ages as web search before Google. We can expect significant breakthroughs in search techniques for books, video, images, and sound to be a feature of the future evolution of the Internet OS.

The techniques of algorithmic search are an essential part of the developer’s toolkit today. The O’Reilly book Programming Collective Intelligence reviews many of the algorithms and techniques. But there’s no question that this kind of low-level programming is ripe for a higher-level solution, in which developers just place a call to a search service, and return the results. Thus, search moves from application to system call.

Media Access

Just as a PC-era operating system has the capability to manage user-level constructs like files and directories as well as lower-level constructs like physical disk volumes and blocks, an Internet-era operating system must provide access to various types of media, such as web pages, music, videos, photos, e-books, office documents, presentations, downloadable applications, and more. Each of these media types requires some common technology infrastructure beyond specialized search:

  • Access Control. Since not all information is freely available, managing access control – providing snippets rather than full sources, providing streaming but not downloads, recognizing authorized users and giving them a different result from unauthorized users – is a crucial feature of the Internet OS. (Like it or not.)

    The recent moves by News Corp to place their newspapers behind a paywall, as well as the paid application and content marketplace of the iPhone and iPad suggests that the ability to manage access to content is going to be more important, rather than less, in the years ahead. We’re largely past the knee-jerk “keep it off the net” reactions of old school DRM; companies are going to be exploring more nuanced ways to control access to content, and the platform provider that has the most robust systems (and consumer expectations) for paid content is going to be in a very strong position.

    In the world of the App Store, paid applications and paid content are re-legitimizing access control (and payment.) Don’t assume that advertising will continue to be the only significant way to monetize internet content in the years ahead.

  • Caching. Large media files benefit from being closer to their destination. A whole class of companies exist to provide Content Delivery Networks; these may survive as independent companies, or these services may ultimately be rolled up into the leading Internet OS companies in much the way that Microsoft acquired or “embraced and extended” various technologies on the way to making Windows the dominant OS of the PC era.

  • Instrumentation and analytics
    Because of the amount of money at stake, an entire industry has grown up around web analytics and search engine optimization. We can expect a similar wave of companies instrumenting social media and mobile applications, as well as particular media types. After all, a video, a game, or an ebook can know how long you watch, when you abandon the product and where you go next.

    Expect these features to be pushed first by independent companies, like TweetStats or Peoplebrowsr Analytics for Twitter, or Flurry for mobile apps. GoodData, a cloud-based business intelligence platform is being used for analytics on everything from Salesforce applications to online games. (Disclosure: I am an investor and on the board of GoodData.) But eventually, via acquisition or imitation, they will become part of the major platforms.


The internet is a communications network, and it’s easy to forget that communications technologies like email and chat, have long been central to the Internet’s appeal. Now, with the widespread availability of VoIP, and with the mobile phone joining the “network of networks,” voice and video communications are an increasingly important part of the communications subsystem.

Communications providers from the Internet world are now on a collision course with communications providers from the telephony world. For now, there are uneasy alliances right and left. But it isn’t going to be pretty once the battle for control comes out into the open.

I expect the communications directory service to be one of the key battlefronts. Who will manage the lookup service that allows individuals and businesses to find and connect to each other? The phone and email address books will eventually merge with the data from social networks to provide a rich set of identity infrastructure services.

Identity and the Social Graph

When you use Facebook Connect to log into another application, and suddenly your friends’ faces are listed in the new application, that application is using Facebook as a “subsystem” of the new Internet OS. On Android phones, simply add the Facebook application, and your phone address book shows the photos of your Facebook friends. Facebook is expanding the range of data revealed by Facebook Connect; they clearly understand the potential of Facebook as a platform for more than hosted applications.

But as hinted at above, there are other rich sources of social data – and I’m not just talking about applications like Twitter that include explicit social graphs. Every communications provider owns a treasure trove of social data. Microsoft has piles of social data locked up in Exchange, Outlook, Hotmail, Active Directory, and Sharepoint. Google has social data not just from Orkut (an also-ran in the US) but from Gmail and Google Docs, whose “sharing” is another name for “meaningful source of workgroup-level social graph data.” And of course, now, there’s the social graph data produced by the address book on every Android phone…

The breakthroughs that we need to look forward to may not come from explicitly social applications. In fact, I see “me too” social networking applications from those who have other sources of identity data as a sign that they don’t really understand the platform opportunity. Building a social network to rival Facebook or Twitter is far less important to the future of the Internet platform than creating facilities that will allow third-party developers to leverage the social data that companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, AOL – and phone companies like ATT, Verizon and T-Mobile – have produced through years or even decades of managing user’s social data for communications.

Of course, use of this data will require breakthroughs in privacy mechanism and policy. As Nat Torkington wrote in email after reviewing an earlier draft of this post:

We still face the problem of “friend”: my Docs social
graph is different from my email social graph is different from my
Facebook social graph is different from my address book. I want to be
able to complain about work to my friends without my coworkers seeing
it, and the usability-vs-privacy problem remains unsolved.

Whoever cracks this code, providing frameworks that make it possible for applications to be functionally social without being socially promiscuous, will win. Platform providers are in a good position to solve this problem once, so that users don’t have to give credentials to a larger and larger pool of application providers, with little assurance that the data they provide won’t be misused.


Payment is another key subsystem of the Internet Operating System. Companies like Apple that have 150 million credit cards on file and a huge population of users accustomed to using their phones to buy songs, videos, applications, and now ebooks, are going to be in a prime position to turn today’s phone into tomorrow’s wallet. (And as anyone who reaches into a wallet not for payment but for ID knows, payment systems are also powerful, authenticated identity stores – a fact that won’t always be lost on payment providers looking for their lock on a piece of the Internet future.)

PayPal obviously plays an important role as an internet payment subsystem that’s already in wide use by developers. It operates in 190 countries, in 24 different currencies (not counting in-game micro-currencies) and it has over 210 million accounts (with 81 million of them active). What’s fascinating is the rich developer ecosystem they’ve built around payment – their recent developer conference had over 2000 attendees. Their challenge is to make the transition from the web to mobile.

Google Checkout has been a distant also-ran in web payments, but the Android Market has given it new prominence in mobile, and will eventually make it a first class internet payment subsystem.

Amazon too has a credible payment offering, though until recently they haven’t deployed it to full effect, reserving the best features for their own e-commerce site and not making them available to developers. (More on that in next week’s post, in which I will handicap the leading platform offerings from major internet vendors.)


Advertising has been the most successful business model on the web. While there are signs that e-commerce – buying everything from virtual goods to a lunchtime burrito – may be the bigger opportunity in mobile (and perhaps even in social media), there’s no question that advertising will play a significant role.

Google’s dominance of search advertising has involved better algorithmic placement, as well as the ability to predict, in real time, how often an ad will be clicked on, allowing them to optimize the advertising yield. The Google Ad Auction system is the heart of their economic value proposition, and demonstrates just how much difference a technical edge can make.

And advertising has always been a platform play. Signs that it will be a key battleground of the Internet OS can be seen in the competing acquisition of AdMob by Google and Quattro Wireless by Apple.

The question is the extent to which platform companies will use their advertising capabilities as a system service. Will they treat these assets as the source of competitive advantage for their own products, or will they find ways to deploy advertising as a business model for developers on their platform?


Location is the sine-qua-non of mobile apps. When your phone knows where you are, it can find your friends, find services nearby, and even better authenticate a transaction.

Maps and directions on the phone are intrinsically cloud services – unlike with dedicated GPS devices, there’s not enough local storage to keep all the relevant maps on hand. But when turned into a cloud application, maps and directions can include other data, such as real-time traffic (indeed, traffic data collected from the very applications that are requesting traffic updates – a classic example of “collective intelligence” at work.)

Location is also the search key for countless database lookup services, from Google’s “search along route” to a Yelp search for nearby cafes to the Chipotle app routing your lunch request to the restaurant near you.

O'Reilly Where 2010 Conference
In many ways, Location is the Internet data subsystem that is furthest along in its development as a system service accessible to all applications, with developers showing enormous creativity in using it in areas from augmented reality to advertising. (Understanding that this would be the case, I launched the Where 2.0 Conference in 2005. There are lessons to be learned in the location market for all Internet entrepreneurs, not just “geo” geeks, as techniques developed here will soon be applied in many other areas.)

Activity Streams

Location is also becoming a proxy for something else: attention. The <a href=<fourSquare "check-in," originally designed for finding spots where people are congregating, quickly became a focus for advertising, as merchants were able to discover and reward their most frequent customers. Now the idea of the check-in being “embraced and extended” to show attention to virtual locations. As John Battelle put it the other day, “My location is a box of cereal.” (Disclosure: O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures is an investor in Foursquare.)

We thus see convergence between Location and social media concepts like Activity Streams. Platform providers that understand and exploit this intersection will be in a stronger position than those who see location only in traditional terms.


Time is an important dimension of data driven services – at least as important as location, though as yet less fully exploited. Calendars are one obvious application, but activity streams are also organized as timelines; stock charts link up news stories with spikes or drops in price. Time stamps can also be used as a filter for other data types (as Google measures frequency of update in calculating search results, or as an RSS feed or social activity stream organizes posts by recency.)

“Real time” – as in the real-time search provided by Twitter, the “where am I now” pointer on a map, the automated replenishment of inventory at WalMart, or instant political polling – emphasizes just how much the future will belong to those who measure response time in milliseconds, or even microseconds, rather than seconds, hours, or days. This need for speed is going to be a major driver of platform services; individual applications will have difficulty keeping up.

Image and Speech Recognition

As I’ve written previously, one of the big differences since I first wrote What is Web 2.0?, my analysis of how the Web as Platform was going to be dominated by data services built by network effects in user-contributed data, is that increasingly, the data is contributed by sensors. (John Battelle and I called this trend Web Squared).

With the advent of smartphone apps like Google Goggles and the Amazon e-commerce app, which deploy advanced image recognition to scan bar codes, book covers, album covers and more – not to mention gaming platforms like Microsoft’s still unreleased Project Natal and innovative startups like Affective Interfaces, it’s clear that computer vision is going to be an important part of the UI toolkit for future developers. While there are good computer vision packages like OpenCV that can be deployed locally for robotics applications, as well as research projects like those competing in the DARPA Grand Challenge for automated vehicles, for smartphone applications, image recognition, like speech recognition, happens in the cloud. Not only is there a wealth of compute cycles, there are also vast databases of images for matching purposes. Picasa and Flickr are no longer just consumer image sharing sites: they are vast repositories of tagged image data that can be used to train algorithms and filter results.

Government Data

Gov 2.0 Expo 2010
Long before recent initiatives like <a href=, governments have been a key supplier of data for internet applications. Everything from weather, maps, satellite imagery, GPS positioning, and SEC filings to crime reports have played an important role in successful internet applications. Now, government is also a recipient of crowdsourced data from citizens. For example, FixMyStreet and SeeClickFix submit 311 reports to local governments – potholes that need filling, graffiti that needs repainting, streetlights that are out. These applications have typically overloaded existing communications channels like email and SMS, but there are now attempts to standardize an Open311 web services protocol.

Now, a new flood of government data is being released, and the government is starting to see itself as a platform provider, providing facilities for private sector third parties to build applications. This idea of Government as a Platform is a key focus of my advocacy about Government 2.0.

There is huge opportunity to apply the lessons of Web 2.0 and apply them to government data. Take health care as an example. How might we improve our healthcare system if Medicare provided a feedback loop about costs and outcomes analogous to the one that Google built for search keyword advertising.

Anyone building internet data applications would be foolish to underestimate the role that government is going to play in this unfolding story, both as provider and consumer of data web services, and also as regulator in key areas like privacy, access, and interstate commerce.

What About the Browser?

While I think that claims that the browser itself is the new operating system are as misguided as the idea that it can be found solely in cloud infrastructure services, it is important to recognize that control over front end interfaces is at least as important as back-end services. Companies like Apple and Google that have substantial cloud services and a credible mobile platform play are in the catbird seat in the platform wars of the next decade. But the browser, and with it control of the PC user experience, is also critical.

This is why Apple’s iPad, Google’s ChromeOS, and HTML 5 (plus initiatives like Google’s Native Client) are so important. Microsoft isn’t far wrong in its cloud computing vision of “Software Plus Services.” The full operating system stack includes back end infrastructure, the data subsystems highlighted in this article, and rich front-ends.

Apple and Microsoft largely have visions of vertically integrated systems; Google’s vision seems to be for open source driving front end interfaces, while back end services are owned by Google. But in each case, there’s a major drive to own a front-end experience that favors each company’s back-end systems.

What’s Still Missing

Even the most advanced Internet Operating System platforms are still missing many concepts that are familiar to those who work with traditional single-computer operating systems. Where is the executive? Where is the memory management?

I believe that these functions are evolving at each of the cloud platforms. Tools like memcache or mapreduce are the rough cloud equivalents of virtual memory or multiprocessing features in a traditional operating system. But they are only the beginning. Werner Vogels’ post Eventually Consistent highlights some of the hard technical issues that will need to be solved for an internet-scale operating system. There are many more.

But it’s also clear that there are many opportunities to build higher level functionality that will be required for a true Internet Operating System.

Might an operating system of the future manage when and how data is collected about individuals, what applications can access it, and how they might use it? Might it not automatically synchronize data between devices and applications? Might it do automatic translation, and automatic format conversion between different media types? Might such an operating system do predictive analytics to collect or locally cache data that it expects an individual user or device to need? Might such an operating system do “garbage collection” not of memory pointers but of outdated data or spam? Might it not perform credit checks before issuing payments and suspend activity for those who violate terms of service?

There is a great opportunity for developers with vision to build forward-looking platforms that aim squarely at our connected future, that provide applications running on any device with access to rich new sources of intelligence and capability. The possibilities are endless. There will be many failed experiments, many successes that will be widely copied, a lot of mergers and acquisitions, and fierce competition between companies with different strengths and weaknesses.

Next week, I’ll handicap the leading players and tell you what I think of their respective strategies.

Read State of the Internet Operating System Part Two: Handicapping the Internet Platform Wars

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  • Parthiv

    Its good to have Internet Operting system. Though concern about privacy and security is there as big threat. If its solved then its one of the BEST thing.

  • Michael E Driscoll

    Tim, Thanks for sharing this synthesis of many of the themes that you’ve been talking about over the last several years.

    One issue that you don’t mention is ownership of the identifiers & codes — abbreviations, handsets IDs, lat & long coordinates — that fuel this Information Operating System.

    These codes ought to be in the Commons, and initiatives like OpenStreetMap and the Zoneinfo database (which Jon Udell wrote about), are evidence of the value of maintaining them as such.

  • Tim O'Reilly

    Mike –

    Open Source/Open Data is a big part of this story. And you’re absolutely right that registries of codes etc are an important part of this system.

    Consider the DNS – a lookup service. CDDB – a lookup service.

    It has always been interesting to me that the registry associated with the open source domain name system was very nearly a monopoly, since nobody understood the value of the data registry. We’ve spent years trying to unwind that oversight.

    Groups like MusicBrainz are working the same issue with music identifiers.

    But there are many more. This is a great area for open source advocates to get their brains around.

  • peter cowan

    great post. how about handy capping the open alternative(s)?

    see this interview with Eben Moglin of FSF:

    i guess it’s still too early tell…

  • Dara Bell

    Very well researched could be in an orielly book it is that detailed. Hope to catch if you bring your conferences to the UK.

    Dara Bell

  • macbeach

    One aspect I think you missed is that the PC was (and is) a limited resource. Microsoft’s unification (which went back to a letter to the world written by Bill Gates) was of course an important step in the evolution of the desktop PC (even if it wasn’t really a new concept). The notion that print drivers were ever attached to applications in the first place had many people scratching their heads.

    When I read Gates letter I said “YES!” that’s what we need… a REAL operating system like what we already have on mainframes, minicomputers, etc. Of course at the time we were led to believe that OS/2 would be the combined effort of IBM and Microsoft that would make that happen. What happened instead was NT, which required a bigger faster machine to even install. And then Windows outgrew that machine, and then the one after that, and so on.

    Things haven’t changed much, the rate at which our OSs outgrow our desktop hardware has slowed, but not by much.

    The cloud doesn’t have that problem though. If all my local computer can do is run a network card and the display halfway decently I have access via the Internet to an infinitely expandable machine. 8 bit, 16 bit, 32 bit 64 bit 128 bit, I don’t have to care as I am most likely not to be writing network based applications in either assembler language or even C. Multiple architectures can exist simultaneously and there is no need to worry about “bloat” as each server is only doing what it knows how to do in the way it knows how to do it.

    Yes, Facebook, or Google or some other company could claim to simplify it all for us and might in fact provide a useful service in trying. But as soon as such a company sits down to rest some other company may well be taping into that customer base, doing the one thing that was forgotten or not done very well.

    Users (particularly users who “program”) need to demand open APIs, eschew companies that won’t offer them and steer end users (who don’t program) away from the tar pits. I hope to see more of that, and in shouts, not just polite whispers.

  • Anne Jan Brouwer

    Thanks for this in depth item on this topic.
    Most of the other articles I’ve read are just too management-focused.
    This one hits the nail right where it’s needed on so many levels!

  • Karen L

    What an article! Talk about thorough. Thank you. Definitely a must read. I’m going to make sure everyone reads this. Thank you.

    Can’t wait to read next week’s.

  • lewisshepherd

    Really interesting synthesis, Tim. Lots of thoughts spurred by this, but one overriding one for me at first reading: is there the chance of a legally-problematic issue analogous to the WindowsOS/IEbrowser tie, in some of the “vertically-integrated” aspects of one or another cloud platform? If one or another platform becomes nearly ubiquitous in its integration of “high level function calls to data-rich platforms that provide these services,” will that integrated dominance at various levels – not necessarily the browser, but say payment – lead to hampered competitiveness and DoJ complaints? The IOS is pretty far down the road already, as you persuasively point out, but there’s always the snowballing dynamic of sets of popular combined services.

    What a great service to have pulled this all together – I agree with Dara above, worth publishing in short book form as a primer.

  • Glen

    Another sub-system that is coming down the pipeline, but hasn’t yet been created is the education subsystem. There are a number of companies that are servicing schools and universities, but they do so in a manner that resists the inherent strengths of the Web. Consequently, the default educational system of the Web really hasn’t been established yet. Mostly, these institutions have walled-off learning management systems that do not leverage any type of network effects. We are working on trying to solve these problems at

  • Irvin Kovar

    Yes what I am hearing is that the device is not so much the issue…rather its about (or always has been about)the application.

    Its true…whether something like iJoli or Nexus One the unmistakable feeling is that I am getting the Google Essential services that make my life quick and easy…and with Apple – nifty AppStore doo-dads…and with Blackberry my corporate identification. The list goes on.

    I’ll add the extra obvious dimension; a degree of politicization that is becoming quickly apparent – Google fights China. Apple says no to “nudity”. Etc.

    The Internet is becoming so “transparent” that it is fulfilling McLuhan’s early description of the global technology “network” – a medium were we wear our brains on the outside of our heads and our nervous system on the outside of our skin. All devices and applications are only enhancing and amplifying in increasingly hyper-sensitive human experience. With that comes an unavoidable and hybrid type of partisan politics; one indicative of a newly evolving electronic tribal society.

    My prediction. This will back-fire. I love the idea of the Nexus One being so “perfectly Google”. My life in the “cloud” in my pocket. Ubiquitous seamless mobile access is so attractive. I also hate idea that I am so aligned to its addictive functionality that I can no longer experience the liberty that my freedom has been accustomed to on the Internet.

    The slick point of control IMHO will have grave ramifications for these all-too-powerful corporations.

    Excellent blog article.

  • Drew McGrew

    “Why the Smartphone App Model is Broken by Design”, or “How Google Will Eat Apple’s Lunch”

    Like millions of Americans, the iPhone was my introduction to smartphones, and I’m amazed how quickly it integrated into every aspect of my life. I strongly considered buying the Droid when making my first smartphone purchase, but was ultimately seduced by Apple’s aesthetics. I love my iPhone, but won’t be buying another. When the AT&T contract is over, I’ll offload the phone to my son, and purchase a smartphone that runs Android, because through using the iPhone, I’ve come to realize its downfall.

    From the perspective of user interface, the app is essential. Not surprising that it was perfected by Apple. With limited pixels, everything that is non-essential must go away. Most people don’t need an “Edit” menu option when checking the weather. From the perspective of user experience, having clean, simple choices means efficiency for accomplishing the task at hand.

    The app solves so many problems, and presents so many opportunities. Imagine if Microsoft had figured out a way to get 30% of every software purchase you made for programs that run on Windows. The App Store is Apple’s design genius extended to business models. Everything I’ve seen about the iPad suggests that they don’t plan to give this market up anytime soon. Locking down hardware is their long term plan for the future of computing, and future Apple mobile device customers will be purchasing nothing more than a license to use Apple hardware.

    But apps are broken by design. After using iPhone apps for a while, I’ve become frustrated with the “user experience” that so seduced me in the beginning. Multitasking, coarse, is the most obvious example, and one Apple can no longer ignore. But apps from different developers have too many limitations too great to flush out during the “approval process”. Want some specifics?

    1. I don’t remember passwords. Never have. Firefox remembers them for me. Thank goodness my Apple YouTube app remembers my password. But when I use my Reddit app, and click on a link to YouTube, and want to add it to my favorites, it wants a password. One I don’t remember.

    2. I love the Google app, and the voice recognition is incredible. But when I’m surfing the search results, I can’t add a page to my favorites. Sure, I can “Open in Safari”, but then, what happens to my search results? I have to close down Safari, Open Google app, and select search term from my history, and reload the search results starting again on page 1.

    I could go on. I’m sure you have your own stories. Apps look and feel like a browser, minus the interoperability that I’ve come to expect from the browser. And it’s a pain in the ass. Some may say this is a problem with app developers failing to anticipate the needs of their users, but the only way an app will have all the interoperability users have come to expect from the online experience of a browser, is to build a browser into the app. That’s a textbook definition of putting the cart before the horse.

    So what’s better? In choosing a new hosting service, I chose mediatemple for several reason, one of which was the availability of an iPhone app for managing my hosting service on the road. When I went to the App Store and searched mediatemple, nothing came up. After reviewing the mediatemple site, it turns out to be a mobile website accessed through the browser. And it’s awesome. It has the simple, clean interface I expect from an app, with all the interoperability of the browser.

    The point is, there is no reason that every app should not open in the browser. Each “app” becomes a simple favicon/bookmark that opens the “app” (mobile website or web application) in my browser. Let’s see…Pandora, facebook, Wikipedia, Amazon, Google, NYT, YouTube, Speed Test…there is no benefit (none!) from standing by themselves, and could only benefit from being in the browser. I would expect the browser to continue to evolve further to integrate with mobile device functions.

    Considering this destroys Apple’s App Store business model and calculated bet for the future of computing, I don’t expect them to embrace this viewpoint. However, it integrates very well with Google’s position. Google has always embraced open source, and integrated with the open source community. And the open source community has proven time and time again to provide an environment where the best solutions rise to the top. Google has already shown that its interest lies not in locking up my hardware, but in providing me with innovative products that work better. For all its expertise with user experience, Apple has sold itself out for the allure of the ultimate business model.

  • Carl

    Excellent and well thought out article about the internet operating system state today:) Great read and will be reposting!

  • Arne Babenhauserheide

    What I miss in the internet is the notion of being able to control what my apps access for data.

    Why can’t a chat application just connect to a neighborhood- or community-server, and why can’t the activity-stream come from the people I know — and query only their systems, like jabber does?

    Almost all these geolocation services should be implemenable over direct friend-to-friend connections like jabber, and I don’t really see why my local program can’t also get the news from my local jabber contacts.

    Or why I can’t set a local info-provider as geolocation source and have a “phone-book” of info-providers in each town.

    And when it can do that, why can’t I have a general info-server which serves as synchronization and aggregation service for any of my devices, so all my programs on any device know which sources to use?

    And why can’t I tell that server to allow my friends to access a subset of my data — selected by me?

    Sadly I assume that the answer is “power”. Google and Apple don’t want to lose their control on synchronization and sharing. Otherwise most of the control and centralization (=moneymaking monopoly) of the internet would fade away.

    For example I’d like to be able to select whose information I get, and I’d like to be able to also get the information my friends and their get. Without anyone outside knowing that I access that data (because I ask them directly). And ideally also without me knowing from which of their friends the data originates, but still being able to block those individually.

    Then I could allow certain product information providers (=good advertisers) inside my network, so I get news about stuff I might like to spend money on. And automatically get information about the info-providers from my friends — or my community.

    And all that without direct dependency on a single company or system.

    It would make it infeasible to monopolize the services without making everyone trust you — and having to make sure most people trust you creates a reverse-dependency which could help to keep the information-providers honest.

    And I think one key to that is to make that service less like a full-storage and more like update-collecting and synchronization services.

    There’s no reason why a synchro-server should keep any data I already pulled to all my devices.

    This would be similar to using a Mercurial push-cache of kinds: When I push data to a service, it just stores a bundle against the revision of the data on my least up-to-date device. All my devices can access that bundle, and when all are up to at least a certain state, the now useless data gets stripped out and only the new data remains.

    Not yet pulled information could be stored as snapshots, until the first of my devices pulls it. Then it could get replaced by synchronization data — a compressed update-bundle. That would also make sure that incoming data has to be integrated and parsed only once.

    Maybe Akonadi (from KDE) can someday accomplish something like that.

  • Irvin Kovar

    Yes what I am hearing is that the device is not so much the issue…rather its about (or always has been about)the application.

    Its true…whether something like iJoli or Nexus One the unmistakable feeling is that I am getting the Google Essential services that make my life quick and easy…and with Apple – nifty AppStore doo-dads…and with Blackberry my corporate identification. The list goes on.

    I’ll add the extra obvious dimension; a degree of politicization that is becoming quickly apparent – Google fights China. Apple says no to “nudity”. Etc.

    The Internet is becoming so “transparent” that it is fulfilling McLuhan’s early description of the global technology “network” – a medium were we wear our brains on the outside of our heads and our nervous system on the outside of our skin. All devices and applications are only enhancing and amplifying in increasingly hyper-sensitive human experience. With that comes an unavoidable and hybrid type of partisan politics; one indicative of a newly evolving electronic tribal society.

    My prediction. This will back-fire. I love the idea of the Nexus One being so “perfectly Google”. My life in the “cloud” in my pocket. Ubiquitous seamless mobile access is so attractive. I also hate idea that I am so aligned to its addictive functionality that I can no longer experience the liberty that my freedom has been accustomed to on the Internet.

    The slick point of control IMHO will have grave ramifications for these all-too-powerful corporations.

    Excellent blog article.

  • Micah Spieler

    @Drew McGrew:

    From what I’ve been told (no cite) the Web App was Apple’s original format for iPhone development. There’s even a directory hosted by Apple themselves (

    You bring up the the excellent point that it undermines the business model that is the iPhone App Store, and it’s sad to think about what “magic” the iPhone/iPad would be if Apple had pursued this browser-based application model. (Some apps, like Tweetie for instance, do include their own “browser” – but this ultimately frustrates me more than anything else)

    But is the Android really falling that far from the App Store tree? Even the first suggested search for Android is “marketplace” – and while Google does operate many more browser-based apps than Apple, it seems as though it’s up to the developers to pursue the Web App.

    Also, I’d like to make the case that native apps do have the advantage of seemingly accelerated processing. My native iPhone apps run much faster than their browser-based counterparts.

  • Mick Alford

    Very interesting and well written article., whoever can crack this will finally monetise the web

  • Drew McGrew

    @micah Spieler

    Thanks for the link to the webapps page. When I typed it into my iPhone address bar it popped up as the second suggestion, right after Interesting that the page is not optimized for the iphone. I also discovered the “Add to Home Screen” feature, which I had somehow never noticed before either. Fascinating that this functionality is there yet buried in a link at the bottom of the apple iphone page.

    I agree with both points about Google following the App Store model, and native apps running faster. I anticipate that as mobile devices become even more ubiquitous in our culture, new solutions will continue to develop and evolve. I guess it really depends on how you feel about open source. To me open source has proven time and again to provide the best solutions. Because Google is more supportive of open source, less totalitarian towards developers, and less restrictive of the hardware, it is the more likely environment to foster truly creative solutions, meet user & developer needs, and therefore come out on top.

    Thanks again.

  • Alex K

    Very Interesting, and well written. I don’t know if anyone remembers the first Push-Platforms from the mid-nineties like Pointcast, but since then I have the feeling we are all steering the internet in an OS-like direction.

    Thanks again! Alex K

  • Sardar Mohkim Khan

    Very thoughtful and detailed – my personal opinion on this is simple that we will eventually move over to these OS on the Web. Primarily because it kills the need for a dedicated set of software for each OS. It is simply waiting to get epidemic. Google with Chrome is already taking the needful steps [if i am not wrong]~

  • Don Kidder

    The best article I have ever read! You have covered one of the most complex topics which only those techno’s warped by common sense could possible have created. Not only an eye opener but also a mind bender. Congratulations, when my thoughts settle down I may have more to say.

    What morale code do you think should guide the knights of technology?

  • Rick Bullotta

    As usual, Tim, I primarily agree with you. A few additional points I’d like to throw out there for your feedback:

    – Sensor I/O and the physical world is far greater than what it available in mobile phones, by some orders of magnitude. Harnessing this has a huge transformational potential. I know you see the value, but it is important to look beyond location and mobile devices

    – Embracing and wrapping legacy to enable it to play in this ‘brave new world’ of the Internet OS is paramount to its success and utility

    – What is VERY much lacking are the modeling and application development tools to create new applications for the Internet OS (or Intranet OS, as the case may be). This is an area of key focus for us

    – Data management in the Internet OS transcends typical file system and database perspectives, and requires not only new modalities of storage, but also of retrieval. Graph model databases show significant potential in this area, but the querying models are far too “geeky” to allow the consumer to use them at present – a usability veneer is needed on top of all that magic

    – There are some fundamental security and plumbing issues that need to be ironed out to enable all of this goodness. For one, enabling true “two-way” dialogs between participants, regardless of their location inside or outside firewalls, is a must. Also, security needs to become baked in much lower in the stack. SSL-like things should be in silicon or firmware, not application level code

    Just a few thoughts for you to consider. I always enjoy your perspective!


  • Mark Essel

    Whew that was a mouthful Tim. Good stuff, it’s interesting that so much of what you describe exists within single corporate entities. My future vision is leaning towards a more fragmented solution. Are massive cloud data centers that translate, transform, and crawl the web for sorta recent data the best answer? You hinted at an opportunity for distributed search. Might the operating system itself be distributed throughout countless systems over standard communication formats.

    If I’m looking for a local burger joint, and there’s one in the mall I’m walking through it seems a terrible waste to hit thousands of remote servers. A declaration of intent would be sufficient for local listening services to respond to.

    Cheap disposable resilience of distributed information.

  • Semper Cogito

    Cogent analysis.

    Unfortunately, platform = lock in, lock in = monopoly, monopoly = fascist control, fascist control = stasis, stasis = decay and eventual violent overthrow.

    With the DMCA and ACTA as the whips to drive off efforts at openness, your vision of the future seems likely to result in a brightly colored, instantly responsive cyber Singapore – as William Gibson called it, “Disneyland with the death penalty.” An era of constrained choices awaits, where the mediocre is made inevitably easy, and the excellent is outlawed.

    I wonder who the Goths will be who eventually end the rot, and from whence they will come? And what cyber libraries of Alexandria will be lost?

  • Mike Marshall

    What a thoroughly interesting article.

    I guess another way of looking at the internet is it’s like a huge world-wide soggy sao, and the internet OS is all the various technologies, working together, is the biscuit that people like you and I get to eat.

    Anyway, cheers for another awesome read!

  • Borg Jorgensen

    When I read this long, windy, drawn-out exposition, I imagined the sounds that Charlie Brown hears when his teacher is speaking…

  • mark rushworth

    Im no expert but ive put a lot of thought into this. you couldnt have a vps/thin client style system because bandwith is so unstable so you’d definately need local caching of works and files in progress which would probably extend to having local copies of frequently accessed files

    if a thin client solution was viable then youd still have driver issues for all up and coming hardware configurations tho in the long run all you’d need is some small amount of storage and a kick ass display driver.

    it would kill piracy overnight!

  • Ikon Eco

    Great post. Thank you.

    “…creating facilities that will allow third-party developers to leverage the social data that companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, AOL …”

    What are those facilities? Can you share an example?

    Thank you.

    Ikon Eco

  • Alex Tolley

    Tim, from your description of the internet OS, it seems to be increasingly mimicking living systems.

    The OS is itself becoming the datavore, consuming data, excreting information and building new information handling structures.

  • Sorpigal

    Broken links
    – ‘Open311’ link incorrectly points to
    – ‘What is Web 2.0?’ has a close anchor in the href field.

  • MM

    Interesting, and something I have been trying to get government contractor people to listen to for a long time.

    The fascinating part is what analytical tools and methods have to develop to support understanding it and how those fade across the boundaries into biological brains and philosophies about what the mind is.

    Mathematical dead ends like Chaos Theory Neural Networks can do a few little tiny things on the edges, but new constructs in areas like Combinatorics have to develop to even start to understand it and how it might function in the abstract.

    Paul Erdos is laughing.

  • Gubatron

    Excellent piece, after some 30 mentions (out of 51) of the word “Google” made me drop interest half way.

  • Sean Carnes

    People are the Internet operating system, we run it……..

  • Tim O'Reilly

    Sorpigal – thanks for catching the typos. Fixed them.

    Gubatron – Sorry that Google is so central to this story, but as it would be difficult to tell the story of the PC without talking about Microsoft, it is difficult to tell this story without talking about Google. Of all companies, they are the ones who most understand the rules of competitive advantage in the network era.

    Sean – I’m afraid not. That’s how it looked in the early days of the PC – it was, after all, the people’s computer, the escape from the Glass House of big IT. But there was a new kind of lock in around the corner.

    Alex – totally agree about the internet mimicking living systems. Not only that, we are in symbiosis with it. So many of the databases that the internet depend on are living databases that are fed by user contribution.

    Icon Eco – Those facilities don’t exist yet. I’m suggesting that companies that have implied social network data in their products build them.

    Borg – I’m sorry that you feel like a poor student who can’t follow.

    Semper Cogito – Totally agree. Seems to me that technology always goes in cycles, with an explosion of creativity caused by open systems leading to the discovery of new kinds of lock in, which lead to enormous monetization, but eventually monopolies and stasis. Till openness breaks out again. That’s why I urge companies who want to survive the cycle to “create more value than you capture.”

  • MoD

    Woo, more bullshit about the internet.

    Yes, systems often rely on each other for various features and it’s interesting to see it all come together in hugely-engineered projects like Google’s mobile search. No, it is not an operating system, and no, it will not change everything we used to know about computing. The fact of the matter is that networks are useful for communication. For anything else they are slow, unnecessarily insecure, and liable to fail. Apps should run natively for speed and customizability, not to mention working when network access is unavailable. A web app institutes DRM (they hold your data and can limit your sharing of it) and dependence on the company’s servers, meaning the company can screw over the customer at any time, intentionally or no. Non-locally-stored data is a privacy and data-safety concern. Non-locally-stored apps are a privacy and availability concern. The only things that should be web apps are those things that are merely a frontend to content that cannot feasibly be transferred locally in whole, like google’s search database or twitter’s huge and dynamic amount of content.

    Native computing is powerful. Don’t underestimate it or pretend it will disappear as outsourced computation/hosting becomes more mainstream.

  • Rojer

    Wonderful reading. As a layman, mt concerns are privacy by design and security by design (I think they go hand-inhand). Also, I was thinking that another good analogy might be that the internet itself is a type of government, and as such, it should have an Internet Constitution of Earth and an International Internet Bill of Rights on the scale (and other side of the IP/pravacy fence) of ACTA. But as a layman, I have little faith that these ideas will play a pivotal role from the ground up. But I feel it is essentual to a heathy progression to the Internet Operating System as a whole.

  • Jesus Ortega

    Great article!
    It is always nice learning from people with far-sight, since most of us are too busy solving daily puzzles!
    As a Spanish IT-man, I would also like to point out that USA is, and probably will be for the time being, the leader in internet innovation. Although Europe has a solid programme to help investigation and technology development, the key factor is that your companies have the will and the resources to invest heavily on new trends. Venture capital is strong enough to put money into risky start-ups.
    This is not happening in Europe by now and I could only wish we had the same thrust because it would finally lead to a smarter world.
    Good job

  • Adrian Sampaleanu


    You missed a longer term, countering force in the OS picture you painted.

    I think most people would agree that, given a choice, they would like to be in control of their own data and the processing of this data. So, there are two factors involved here: the data itself and the processing infrastructure.

    When it comes to the data that mostly concerns our daily lives, it is to a large degree contextual and should be owned by the group of people that make up that context. It should typically not be fed to some third party to manage just so that they can serve it back to the group at some cost (either through direct payment or indirectly (ads or other intrusions that benefit the third party).

    Processing of the data should be looked at similarly – if it can be done between you and me at at a lower amortized cost(this should include the cost of the risk of outsourcing processing of personal data) compared to ‘renting’ the processing, this should be preferable since it would keep control in our hands.

    Being as self sufficient as possible is a worthier goal to move towards rather than paying others usage fees for every narrow service specialization under the sun. We would all, in general, be willing to pay utility fees for basic infrastructure (bandwidth, access to exclusive data and some cloud type processing), but the goal should be to minimize these costs and keep the number of external dependencies down.

    Google, Microsoft, Facebook and all the other players jockeying for a controlling position have us by the short and curlies for now and the near future, but I hope that over time and for the most part, their role will be reduced to that of being pipe and other lower level infrastructure providers.

    Where do I see salvation? Well, technology is not likely to stop advancing any time soon. Available bandwidth will keep going up, local storage will increase astronomically with the advent of holographic or other as yet undiscovered technologies, and mobile device and sensor processing power will similarly grow.

    What does this mean? In the least, it will be the expansion of the private, pay for, cloud into the public (as in you and I) one. Our own devices and privately managed sensors, as opposed to those owned by central, private entities, will constitute the cloud that we care about. Applications in the vein of SETI@home and much more should be possible among mobile devices and sensors – no one company should be milking us for passing through their systems to view, use our own data.

    Yes, we will call on external sources for this and that esoteric service, but to a significantly lesser degree than the current (and near term) incumbents would like us to do since our combined grid computing power, bandwidth and storage will be good enough for the most part. Where more resources would be needed, these could be tapped by paying utility charges to a small number of infrastructure providers.

    To summarize, our collectively generated data should be our own. Processing of this data should be under our control and, as much as possible, incur a one time cost for a particular type of processing outside of the recurring utility costs of running that processing. Excess capacity needs should be met without having to sell our souls to the devil. The ‘relatively dumb’ leaf nodes of the Internet will some day be able to form viable ad hoc, distributed computing subnets.

    Too much to hope for?

    Adrian Sampaleanu

  • Daniel

    An Operating System is what the applications and services run on; Graphical User Interfaces, Instant Messaging, Web browsers, search engines, etc. are not part of it.

    Since the eighties there has been research into Distributed Operating Systems, where the OS would figure out which computer would have disk space to store your files and spare CPU time and RAM to run your programs: no longer would you care where you were or where your data was stored: a giant directory tree for everybody’s files.

    Distributed OSes have remained a research topic. Across the Internet latencies run into whole seconds; we still lack system software that’s guaranteed to be secure against every imaginable hack attack; there are exabytes of data to manage, exaflops of CPU time, and the bandwidth is still to low to compete against local-only OSes.

  • Mentifex

    A fascinatibg read — although I had to detour for a few minutes to read the entire Wikipedia article on “The Great Game” between Britain and Russia.

    An AI Mind with artificial intelligence looms on the horizon as the evenutal Internet Operating System, even a hierarchy of such Minds.

  • Michael F. Martin

    Huh. First time in a long time I’ve thought that Yahoo might still have a hand to play.

  • Tim O'Reilly

    Michael –

    You’re right – Yahoo! has a big hand to play. They own a lot of resources that could make them the heart of a “rebel alliance” of players who represent an alternative to the vertical integration offered by Apple, Google, and Microsoft.

    More next week.

  • Tim O'Reilly

    Quick note in the interest of keeping a change log: after hearing from PayPal’s PR firm, I updated the stats I originally listed above of PayPal being in 19 currencies, with 185 million accounts, to the current figures: 24 currencies, with 210 million total accounts, 81 million of them active.

  • Kazuya Sakakihara

    Your argument using analogy to classical (non-Internet, stand-alone) operating systems is quite compelling. It works well when we are sorting out the services on the Internet and giving a perspective.

    However, if you push the analogy too much, you might fail. You lose a bit of grip when analogy to executives and virtual memory are entering. In fact you can manage to make parallels between everything, but the result will not be convincing.

    Worse, you may miss opportunities of inventing unprecedented features if you frame the argument with this ‘operating system’ idea.

  • Joe

    Exactly none of this matters. The only operating system that matters is the one between our ears. Everything else can be and should be a seamless, transparent and completely useful extension if that. The details of this extension are utterly meaningless except that it work exquisitely well.

  • Tim O'Reilly

    Kazuya –

    Good point. It may be that I am straining the analogy. But I do think that there are some functions that the overall system might need to develop that may be analogous to traditional OS features.

    Some people advised me to use a more neutral term like “platform,” but I think “operating system” helps us to think harder about the type of system we are building.

  • Neville Ridley-Smith

    Great stuff Tim.

    Also, there’s a minor error with the link to the Where 2.0 conference.

    Going here produces a 404:

  • Arun

    Excellent Article Tim! I shared it with many of my friends.

    What would be your take on the new paradigm brought about by the “Tablet PCs”? Isn’t that in a sense goingin the opposite direction to the “Browser as the OS” concept?

  • Xavier

    If a personal computer operating system amounts to little more than a bag of device drivers, then is an information operating system a glorified bag of services?

  • Mark Hernandez

    This is a complex topic with a lot of competing forces to be sure, not the least of which is the desire to make money. I understand that you are predominantly talking about infrastructure, but…

    …I agree with Joe. The main OS is the one between our ears, and perhaps that’s the place to start and we need to work back from there. “Everything else can be and should be a seamless, transparent and completely useful extension if that. The details of this extension are utterly meaningless except that it work exquisitely well.”

    We’re about to see this starting to be played out with the iPad. The paradigm shift there is that people directly interact with active and passive content and don’t care where it sits, expect that it’s reliably available, available everywhere, and accessing it is brain-dead simple. Geeky things are hidden such as hierarchical file systems.

    There are now two categories of “tablets” – the ones with the old-school OSs and the ones with the new OSs that are barely noticeable (e.g. iPad). Of course, that approach is being brought up from smartphones OSs, e.g. Android, Windows Phone 7 and iPhone.

    The iPad will bring into sharp focus the difference between general purpose machines which are usable by us computer geeks and machines that are usable by “everyone else.”

    The web interface has one deep flaw, still there from the beginning, in which human interface was always an afterthought. One of the many reasons that Apple does not want Flash running on the iPad, for instance, is that it often expects mouse interaction and they don’t want people poking at the controls and getting frustrated that nothing happens. On the web, there is little consistency – something both good but often bad.

    The only way to keep the interface clean and not become an open free-for-all (and a mess) is for Apple to totally control it. And Apple has found a business model that has worked well for them. There should at least be one “controlled” alternative in the world. And it remains to be seen that “open systems” can be usable by anyone other than those who can deal with complexity.

    Apple’s approach may not be the ultimate solution, but just look at what’s going on. It’s a hard-core reality that it works well and people respond to it well. It successfully deals with the many competing forces at play and real change is happening in the world of electronic machines right before our eyes.

    I’m a computer design engineer who wrote his first program in 1968 and totally gets what you are talking about, but I hope you won’t ignore that the world is a changin’ and that the OS cannot be viewed in a vacuum, separated from the flesh-and-blood psychological creatures that use it.

    My point is that perhaps there is a “direction” here that starts with humans, humans are a marketplace, and meeting marketplace needs involves profits, and that is what drives technology. The hierarchical file system is up next on the hit list of things to be done away with (hidden), for example. Even I don’t want to have to deal with it if I don’t have to because it goes against the grain of the way I’m made.

    Thanks for making us think hard about a tough topic.

    Mark Hernandez
    Information Workshop

    P.S. Tim, you incorrectly mentioned the iPhone running Mac OS, but it’s the “iPhone OS” which runs on the iPhone and iPad, different enough to deserve it’s own moniker. I know you knew that.

  • Dean Meyers

    Tim, a terrific view from the bridge of the rushing rivers beneath us. Or the clouds floating above us? I would just like to or comment on a few ideas that have been around for a while but perhaps are almost ready to enter the general IOS concept:

    1) The primary input device is still, for all intent, the keyboard. The QWERTY keyboard, in fact, in most roman language based systems. Gesture is becoming more prevalent, certainly, but then when the fine-tuning is required, we have to resort to the poke-the-finger-at-the-tiny-keyboard-image; not even an option for word/phrase libraries on screen or voice recognition. I think this will change, and it will make a major paradigm shift as it lowers the entry skill level required for using IOS devices and adds “converse” as an I/O method.

    2) AI has been bandied about also for years; we are now seeing more “Digital Intuition” engines and other forms of curation coming to the rescue of our information/data-soaked world. Will and can the IOS to come build in the sorting and pattern recognition, relevance and ability to recognize preferences that will speed up interaction and pertinent information discovery? Perhaps the hardest question in this area relates to the fickle nature of our interests. A teen’s preferences can change in moments; an adult well in their 60’s might have patterns that were established years before that effectively don’t change at all. Where, how and is it worth it to store all of that overhead in processing in the IOS?

    I don’t think these are just esoteric thoughts, I think that there is already movement in the realms of I/O, system use customization and content curation that will be in the hands of users in probably less than a decade, and this will come out of the Internet Operating System itself, rather than additional plug-ins or applications.

  • Ben Werdmuller

    Great analysis. I covered these subjects from a different angle last year:

    I think we’re getting closer to a very different kind of software platform to what we’ve enjoyed before.

    Kazuya’s comment above – Worse, you may miss opportunities of inventing unprecedented features if you frame the argument with this ‘operating system’ idea. – is important. I also wonder if terms like application web might be worth exploring, although operating system does carry a weight with it. Operating systems are (more or less) reliable; they can be built against easily; they sit well in mission critical environments. If this is going to succeed, those characteristics must persist.

  • Mark Bryan

    Tim – truly an excellent post.

    When you talk about “companies like ATT, Verizon and T-Mobile” availing social data, what types of data do you envision? Telcos obviously have loads of data (who you call, where you surf, etc) but regulations and user expectation seem to keep them from publishing it in any meaningful or useful manner. I’m personally convinced there’s a treasure trove of data there, but was (pleasantly) surprised to see you mention it. Do you have any specific ideas about such a data stream?

  • Stefan Reich

    Here’s a bit of critique.

    I think that O’Reilly’s vision is actually quite limited, and it is skewed towards a direction that I don’t like. Particularly, that means in the direction of corporatism.

    The real future is: More power to users. Less power to corporations. MUCH less power to corporations.

    I basically agree with what Adrian Sampaleanu wrote in his comment.

    Incidentally, I have started a development project to demonstrate my vision of a future-style operating system. See here:

  • Eric


    Why do you or no one else from Silicon Valley ever discuss technology’s impact on humanity and social systems? Instead, these technologies are cheer-lead, as if inevitable, and hence, the only direction for society and humanity.

    I’m sure you’re quite familiar with Karl Popper and the concept of the Open Society. If you are, and I would be amazed if you are not, then you know where this is leading. Further, one does not have to read Bertrand Russell’s The Scientific Outlook, or Jacques Ellul’s The Technological Society to understand the social impact of an Internet Operating System (IOS) and a global computer network with millions of sensors at the edge.

    For those that are not familiar with above-material, just ask and answer the following questions. What are all the objects that this IOS will manage? Is the end-user solely a user, or is the user also a node in the control-feedback loop of the system? And if the end-user is part of the control-feedback loop, who has control over that loop?

    Tim, I know you know the answers to these questions. In any event, I hope you won’t shy-away from publishing this comment.

  • chris arkeberg

    Great summary here, Tim.

    Interesting to me (and alluded to by some earlier comments) is the opportunity for the emerging webOS to evolve past the Turing/Von Neumann foundation of binary machine computation and towards the collective adaptive decision-making of living systems. In effect, the WebOS appears to be building a qualitative & associative computational layer on top of the quantitative structures managed by legacy programming. The inevitable integration of these two computational approaches may likely yield a wholly new way of approaching our largest and most daunting globally-systemic challenges, currently overwhelmed by existing bit-crunching technology.

  • Aravind

    Tim, thanks for this thought provoking article.

    > Meanwhile, Pandora’s “music genome project” finds similar songs via a complex of hundreds of different factors as analyzed by professional musicians.

    I like the analogy that you make w.r.t. device drivers and how MS made it simpler for the user *and* the device manufactures by coming up with a platform. But I don’t agree with your mapping of that analogy to the web. In particular, I don’t see much incentive for companies to deploy horizontal services that others can then use to make money. For example, why would Pandora ever release their API for others to exploit? Looks to me that holders of key IP will leverage it to sell to end users directly. There may be cooperation between key IP holders but giving up on selling it directly does not make sense for companies I think.

    That being said, there will be providers of horizontal service for sure. I just can’t see why there would be very many of them.

  • Arpan Pal

    Thanks for the Great insightful article. What would be the role of ubiquitous device here – device that will render the info into a screen close to us – be it TV or mobile or Monitor or something else?

  • Tim O'Reilly

    Aravind –

    You’re right that individual services like Pandora might find it difficult to convince themselves to participate in a horizontal infrastructure. But as Samuel Johnson once said, “Nothing will concentrate the mind like the prospect of being hanged in a fortnight.”

    The services that I expect to cooperate are those who see their business being cut off in the future by a platform player who are assembling all the pieces to do without them.

    Look at what happened to Navtech and TeleAtlas, as Google built services based on them, then added to those services to the point that they could then dispense with the original providers (the old “embrace and extend” that Microsoft was so good at.)

    And sure enough, you now see all these companies participating in a horizontal assembly of geo services aggregated by startup SimpleGeo, which was announced yesterday at Where 2.0.

    I expect this pattern to repeat.

  • Aravind


    Hmm… I missed that subtle point. To paraphrase you, participation in the “horizontal infrastructure” (love that term!) is not optional for providers unless they have a significant IP and have a bigger product that exploits all the different ways their IP can be used. So that means that there is a lot of space for aggregators (eg., SimpleGeo) and other companies that use/combine different services in innovative ways.

    Wow! The opportunities with this model are truely unlimited! A lot more individuals and companies can contribute here than we currently see with the PC model.

    You have extraordinary insights in this space. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Archie Evan

    What I see is that the Department of Defense Network Centric Warfare (NCW) strategies are being deployed in the public sector. Tim, how can this be a good thing for the public or democracy with OODA feedback loops providing C2 for network operators. This is a recipe for oligarchical control by a tech super-class.

    Great Webinar introduction to NCW

  • Tom Crowl

    Well laid out!

    I’m no Internet expert but have become interested in its primary role as a fundamentally new evolutionary landscape for life and intelligence; perhaps THE essential role in addressing a fundamental problem in the survival of civilization. (I believe this most directly relates to its revolutionary role in information distribution and the nature of proximity.)

    What’s the problem?

    In other words it catalyzes the singularity and at the same time the specifics of its design and implementation are likely determinant of this egg’s surviving the birth process.

    You’re likely familiar with it but Joseph Tainter’s ( ) work “Collapse of Complex Societies” makes a good case of why collapse actually becomes the default optimal solution for a civilization.

    In their early development each layer of complexity adds net value beyond the cost of that complexity.

    But the net benefit with each additional layer of complexity becomes smaller until it becomes a net cost.

    At this point one would hope that the civilization would start to simplify. However it doesn’t!

    Increasing layers of complexity are added by an entrenched elite which gained its position due to network effects which allowed it to develop in the first place.

    However complex systems aren’t static. Where decision systems become entrenched and isolated they will naturally resist change… and they keep adding complexity to address the problems they face.

    But by this point complexity is added not to change and improve society… but rather in an attempt to preserve an untenable (and fictional) stability.

    Until the inevitable happens.


    (for a complex/chaotic system to persist its optimal state is a precarious balance between stasis and chaos called ‘criticality’… an excessive drive to stability actually promotes collapse)

    I believe solution is possible for the first time. But it requires dealing with some realities that we don’t often consider.

    This may be a bit obscure but it’s really a key…

    The reason elites can develop and persist from a biological perspective… is inherent in each and every one of us:

    It directly related to why it hits you much harder when your dog dies, than when 100,000 people
    die in an earthquake…

    Don’t beat yourself over the head or try to deny it. I’m the same, we’re all the same. That doesn’t mean we don’t care… it’s just recognizing biology.

    This has larger effects for the decision process in a scaled civilization than may at first be apparent.

    P.S. My own endeavor is (I believe) part of an approach to solution. The Individually-controlled/Commons-dedicated Account concept and business plan is much broader in impact and implication than may first be apparent.

    It actually establishes the elements for empowered association via a distributed network ultimately outside of government’s ability to control. And does it via an innocuous, stealthy approach which then can also serve as a launchpad for new mechanisms for the allocations of social energy*.

    *Social Energy = Individual & Group Decisions operating within the physical environment(decision=idea + an action). A civilization is the product of NET Social energy.

    Anyway, this is the stuff I’m playing around with.

    Some Background:

    On Social Energy, Enterprise & Expanding the Technology of Money

    The Foundations of Authoritarianism

    How would hunter-gatherers run the world? (pssst… They Do!)

  • Toufic Absi

    Legend says UI/UX designers will reign for a thousand years after the cloud wars.

  • NonFingo

    Stretching the OS metaphor way too far but an interesting ‘state of the internets’ read nevertheless. The inconsistent capitalization of ‘operating system’ appears to display the author’s confusion as to whether there can be multiple internet operating systems or only one Internet Operating System.

  • aaron wall

    Great read :) Makes me realize a few projects are going to need to go far deeper in the not so distant future if we are to keep doing well!

    The Where 2.0 link was broken when I clicked on it

  • Michael R. Bernstein

    Tim, do you have any pointers (or a reading list) of best (or good) practices for minting a new identifier namespace? We discussed this briefly at OSCON last year, but I hadn’t followed up.

  • Michael R. Bernstein


  • NonFingo

    To return to the title and Tim’s comment to Kazuya, it would seem fair to summarize the article by saying “there is no internet operating system”.

  • gregorylent

    and all controlled by governements…

  • tatsuo tanaka

    Internet OS is exciting Technology.
    I am interested in Internet OS
    And Experience Technology.
    I think that a part of IT has evolved in the direction of Customer Experience.
    Do you think about IT for increasing Customer Experience?
    Experience Technology contains three technical fields.It’s a User Interface, Analysis and Methodology. (ex, 3D, Voice recognition, Semantic Serach, Recommned Engine, On site Optimization, Persona, ethnography, ZMET, etc)

  • unwesen

    I came here by watching the video of your speech at O’Reilly MySQL CE 2010. There’s a lot of overlap between that speech and this article.

    No offense, but I’ll skip about the “you’re right” bit and focus on bits that stood out to me.

    You’re taking a very high level view on the technology that needs to exist in order to power this data operating system. I can’t blame you for that, but with me being a fairl low-level tech guy, there are a few oddities that I can’t help but point out.

    I suppose they can be summed up that most current efforts that I’m aware of of opening up data in one way or another are a) tacked relatively haphazardly on to existing device operating systems, and b) are fundamentally request oriented.

    The first point is harder to explain, so let me start with the second: request oriented data APIs. I’ve had the privilege to work on the P2P subsystems at Joost, a company that tried to merge the worlds of the internet and TV.

    One thing that became obvious – was obvious before, really, but sometimes you need to deal with a problem before it really clicks in your brain – is that live TV and on-demand TV require fundamentally different methods for P2P distribution of the video data.

    One is a model where date is broadcast more or less indiscriminately, the other is a model where data is explicitly requested. Our current web infrastructure is of the latter persuasion, but for real-time distribution of data we really need the former type of infrastructure.

    Incidentally, on-demand P2P is fairly well researched these days, whereas live/streaming P2P doesn’t seem to be in the same way.

    On the web, technology such as Comet connections try to solve the problem, but Comet connections are almost the antithesis of the type of connections that e.g. the Apache web server is designed for. Former colleagues and friends of mine at Oni Labs ( are working on that problem, though it may not be immediately apparent from what you read on their website.

    The point is, for the real-time data sharing and processing that you’re saying we’re moving towards, current web technology is a really bad fit.

    At that point talking about opening up data is a bit like applying a band-aid to a broken leg: yes it’s a completely necessary effort, but I think we’ll need more fundamental technology changes to happen for that band-aid to become effective.

    Now for the other point, open data APIs tacked onto operating systems: back arond 2003 I read a fascinating article by Hans Reiser (these days I’m never sure whether it’s a good idea mentioning the name) about file systems that had one gem hidden in it that opened my eyes quite a bit: ordering data (files) in hierarchical directory structures is really just one of many options for indexing data.

    Fast forward seven years to a world where searching is more prevalent than browsing for data, where tagging data loosely rather than strictly ordering data is the preferred model for identifying how data should be organized, and that might not seem like much of an insight.

    To illustrate how different people thought back then: I happened to read that paper, and something about desktop search for GNOME at around the same time. A brief email exchange with the guy starting that project revealed that he didn’t see much similarity between “making search happen” and “indexing files by other means than their hierarchical names”.

    Incidentally, Spotlight was published a few years later, and really began to open people’s eyes to the possibilities of searching rather than browsing for data.

    Another thing that I saw round about the same time (memory is a bit blurry here) are smart folders in the Sylpheed (I think that’s the one!) email client, which let you easily define folders containing emails that e.g. contain a certain keyword or match a regular expression. That really drove home the usefulness of indexing data more liberally. iTunes now contains similar tech for media.

    The point here is that we’re *still* in a world where operating systems handle data in a strictly hierarchical manner, with search technology tacked on rather than built in, with no commonly available API to perform searches or tag data, etc.

    I think it’s fair to argue that for an internet operating system we don’t need that to change at all; these common APIs can be implemented at other layers than the file system.

    But at some point as a developer you’ll be working on a device operating system, whether it’s server-side or client-side, and you’ll be needing to hook up your device’s idea of hierarchical data storage to the internet OS’s idea of searchable and/or broadcastable data.

    I think at that point it would make a lot of sense to make device operating systems handle data in the same way, if only to ease development of end-user apps (efficiency being the other point to bring up, but that’s not usually interesting to end-users in the same way).

    So, love the idea of a data operating system, and it’s in fact something I’ve been thinking about in one way or another for a long time. Me being the low-level tech sort of guy that I am, I’m thinking there is fundamental tech to be developed at a much lower level than the level you tend to talk about.

  • Greg Fox

    Great position paper and insight. I so appreciate the big picture interpretation. Just me, I guess, but the tangential topics that this post lights up in my mind are different from the other responders. I have always observed large scale progress as multiple parallel tracks, converging in the distance. Each forward step on each track is fueled by a much smaller-scoped goal or innovation or profit opportunity. Yes, the iPhone is one of those. Not the point IMHO whether Android is better… It was one of those leaps forward and it changed the way I work. I always mentored developers on the parallel track mindset so as to never lose sight of how things can and do move forward.

    Movement forward, though, often jumps tracks and goes end-around certain concepts and approaches. I believe that has happened many times in the group of technlogies referenced in this paper. The one that I am dealing with in current integration architectuesP is the following: In the late 90’s we dealt wIth EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) as an alternative approach to the fragile system integration of the past including integration-unfriendly silos. The classic diagrams were the spagetti diagram of nodes connected everywhere on the left, and the new hub and spoke middleware diagram on the right. Truth is that systems rarely looked like either extreme and usually look (still today) like a little of both. Many reasons for that, including the desire to connect technologies that are new and cannot possibly pass through a central core that doesn’t know about them yet.

    The reason I am writing is to make the observation that when viewed from this perspective, the OS is built of nodes that interconnet in dynamic ways. To survive, nodes need to be either connecting (like integration middleware) or connectable or both, in order to play well in the OS sandbox with the other nodes. I believe that the overall system has long been the OS – it’s just that the nodes have changed and the sandbox is much larger. The quest to identify the OS seems silmilar to creating or identifying a central node in the EAI initiative. Sometimes there is one (at least for a while). Often there isn’t – but there is still a “life-force” that the whole system shows us.

  • Greg

    Behind the Internet Operating System

  • Gavin Jones

    Hi Tim,

    As I was reading this article I couldn’t help but visualise two people. One person called Microsoft and another person by the name of Google.

    As I continued reading your article I then saw Microsoft sitting by the “Window” (pun intended) busy writing paragraphs for a new book he planned to publish the following year.

    I then moved towards the “window” and looked out to see Google on a construction site next door. I asked Microsoft if he wanted to come outside with me to see what Google was up too. He declined, saying that he needed to focus on writing this new book which was going to change the world.

    I walked outside and approached Google asking what he was doing. He exclaimed that he had purchased the block of land about 10 years ago and had finally entered the construction phase for the new library he planned to build!

    Internet Operating System… what an interesting concept. Each time I think of it from now on I will be reminded of the Library that Google is constructing.

    Thank you for your insightful and knowledgable writings. They inspire incredible visualisations and thought!

    [a note to readers, please credit this story to Gavin Jones based on an article written by Tim O’Reilly if you want to retell it]!

    Best Regards,
    Gavin Jones

  • G. Boyd

    Web 2.0 and “Cloud” computing is nothing other a specific implementation of Air Force Colonel John Boyd’s theories (Boyd’s Loop, or the OODA Loop), as developed by the US Military, where those who execute the loop faster and more efficiently are more responsive to social forces, and will win the battle for the hearts and minds of their audiences.

    The military has been dealing with the problem of strategy vs. execution for a long time. Everyone has heard the truism that “no plan survives contact with the enemy,” but the military has a doctrine to deal with that fact, called “OODA” — Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. OODA describes a continuous command and control feedback loop, in which unfolding circumstances inform changes in strategy and execution. It is to the military what agile development is to the software team.

    John Boyd’s key competitive insight is the idea of “tempo” — the speed with which you can run your feedback loop compared to your enemy. The most profound disruption occurs when you can strategize and execute inside the decision-making window of your enemy. As Boyd wrote about aerial combat:

    “Time is the dominant parameter. The entity who goes through the OODA cycle in the shortest time prevails because his opponent [ie the public] is caught responding to situations that have already changed.”

    This is a massively important idea. Getting your opponent to respond to your moves prevents them from seizing the initiative and surprising you. I’ve seen this play out in business many times. In traditional video games, long development cycles created numerous examples of teams that conceptualized new products and delivered them to market while their competitors were mired in delays, grabbing market share and reinforcing brand. We’ve all seen supposedly weaker technologies vanquish more established ones through rapid, directed innovation in response to market forces.

    Even the concept of “The Cloud” was developed by the Military, used to represent “an apparent conflict or dilemma between two actions.” Hence, the cloud is nothing other than a data set the humans agree upon and perceived as true. Within these clouds problems can be framed, constrained and solved. It’s quite fascinating that the Tech community has adopted this nomenclature for a social system designed for public use.

    “A cloud is an elegant graphical means of displaying and solving an apparent conflict or dilemma between two actions. It is also sometimes known as a conflict resolution diagram; however, its correct name is a cloud. Central to the use of clouds as a problem solving device is the assumption that there are no conflicts in nature – only erroneous assumptions. ‘There must be an erroneous assumption that we make about reality that causes a conflict to exist.’

    Let’s look at this from another perspective and another culture – Japan; ‘Problems exist because people believe they exist. If there were no people there would be no problems. People are also the ones who decide that a problem has been solved. Problem solving is the most typical human behavior.'”

    The more I look the more I find that the path being pushed by Silicon Valley thought leaders is nothing more than a specific instance of Military Strategy. Given these findings, I really wish that these thought leaders would simply reveal the origins of their marketing so people in the tech community can research this path thoroughly and make informed decisions.

  • Steven Willmott

    I love this post and the Internet Operating System metaphor. I think it actually enables something which is way beyond what the Web / Internet is now. I think of of as a kind of MVC for the Web – the start of companies splitting Data from Control from Views – all underpinned by the IOS.

    Some idle thoughts on that here:, but in summary it seems like the services described in the post here are just the beginning of a new ecosystem. There’s no longer any reason for a company to have to build a complete stand alone app which contains everything (data, control, interfaces, user identity, payment, search, media players, … etc.) – increasingly this is all being atomised.

  • M @

    Love this post. Encapsulates a lot of my thoughts about the internet lately. I especially like the phrase “bag of device drivers.”

    Just to be nitpicky: Location services coming from your wireless carrier are not a result of triangulation. The carrier simply reports the location of the tower that you are registered on. The accuracy of this depends on how far apart your towers are (T-mobile Towers in Manhattan are frequently less than 1 mi apart, towers in the country can be 5 or 6).

    The triangulation you see the FBI doing (for greater accuracy) in movies has to be done actively and certainly isn’t done at the behest of google or any automated service.

    Just to be even more nitpicky: “tower” should be read “cell site” as they are rarely standalone towers.

  • train_J

    The State of the Internet Operating System
    of is bing or Google a internet operationg system

    They are not

    get the facs right

    Dum i fiy ficts is not the way to go

    the state of the Internet and witch internet plate for will be bigger or the state of the internet plate for is more like it

  • mike

    Great article. Caught it late. It would be great if you did a 1 (16 months) year later follow up.

    Also, you did not include a few notables.

    Cisco. They own the internal pipe, have access to all data, and have a load of cash to buy the parts they are missing.

    The huge telecom’s have been working on their internal plans for years, also loaded down with cash to buy missing parts. ATT, and the Big V.

    Finally, VMWARE and pure tech plays will make enough money providing backbone technologies, that I doubt they will have much impact on the social gathering or commerce end of the Internet OS.

    Some companies will just continue to stay pure tech plays, and they will make a lot of capital off the Internet OS, staying the course as they are.

    And newco’s such as SSD vendors will get in on the game too, and push it’s adoption forward much quicker then anticipated.

    A good follow up would be a great read.



  • Markz

    OK so you were wrong, not the end of the world