What does the OS of the future look like?

I’ve worked in End User Computing for what feels like a very long time. I’ve come to realise that EUC is different. It’s different because it’s the only branch of IT that should be more concerned with removing technology than introducing it.

Whoa, what? Yup. You have to remember that the humans who use enterprise tech on a daily basis aren’t actually interested in IT. They don’t care about the late nights spent keeping the lights on, the cloud, or our backup and recovery regimens. They only care about getting access to their business information, and the apps and devices that make that happen. Our job in IT is to remove technology from their line of sight, so that they can get their jobs done with as little distraction as possible.

In line with this, and I probably shouldn’t say this, seeing as I work for an OS vendor, but I believe that an operating system should be invisible. At its core, an OS should broker access to applications in the most reliable, performant and secure way possible.

An OS of the future should be like an F1 car. To get the best performance out of an F1 car, every piece of excess weight is ditched. Everything is lightweight. The reason? F1 constructors have a simple mission: Ensure speed, handling, reliability and safety. Anything that doesn’t fit this mission is jettisoned. You won’t find a media system or air conditioning in an F1 car.

Traditional operating systems have been closer to trucks. They have everything a user could ever need onboard. It’s only with the latest release of Windows 10 that the frankly pointless ‘3D objects’ folder will be removed. Did you ever use that folder? Me neither.

One of the first things most enterprises do when provisioning Windows 10 is to either create a custom image with as many features disabled as possible or create a provisioning package that does the same.

Where are we on this journey to a future OS?

We’re starting to see a pivot towards this future OS, and it’s happening quickly.

Lat year, for the first time, a lightweight OS outsold one of the big two operating systems. In 2020, ChromeOS outsold macOS in almost every quarter.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that a big reason for this was the fact that a LOT of people needed access to cheap laptop-type devices as quickly as possible. ChromeBooks fit that bill to a certain extent, especially for consumers.

There’s a deeper reason here though. Over the past few years, the global app ecosystem has started to shift from ‘thick’ applications towards thin, lightweight and agile SaaS apps. In this new world, a thin, lightweight, agile OS makes sense.

Windows was never designed to be lightweight. Think about where it came from though. The first iteration of Windows in 1985 was all about providing a GUI to make use of a mouse that had been rolled out 2 years before. Understandably, this wasn’t an OS built to make the most of the internet age. It wasn’t until Windows 3.11 in 1991 that networking was even introduced. Windows 95 was the first ‘connected’ Windows OS with limited internet connectivity, but it was a product of its time. All iterations of Windows since that first one way back in the 80s have carried the baggage of the ‘do everything locally’ model.

The last time Microsoft released a lightweight OS, is failed and was discontinued soon after release. That OS was Windows RT. It was the right OS at the wrong time. It was small, with a modern build methodology. It failed because it relied on modern and SaaS applications, at a time when SaaS apps themselves hadn’t quite reached maturity. The fact that it didn’t support Win32 meant that it didn’t have a place in the enterprise either.

Since Windows RT, internet bandwidth has increased massively, and more and more apps have moved to SaaS and subscription. Whereas previously SaaS apps were the poor relation to traditional ‘thick’ apps, now in many ways they are their equal, and most future development effort is going into making them even more advanced.

We’ve seen another trend emerge too along with SaaS apps, and that’s the SaaS workspace. This is embodied by the Digital Workspace. A true Digital Workspace is built around providing access to any app, anywhere on any device.

But what about thick Windows apps?

An interesting concept I came across at VMware was that there is actually an easy way to ‘SaaSify’ Windows apps. First, let me apologise for one of the greatest examples of butchery of the English language ever. Second, let’s think about that concept a bit. We’ve been virtualising Windows apps for a long time, via Citrix & VMware and now Microsoft. However, what we’re doing when we virtualise them is simply making them SaaS applications.

To consume the new reality of cloud-based and SaaSified (sorry, sorry, sorry) Windows applications, you need an OS that is optimised for these types of apps.

This is where the leading lightweight OSs, like IGEL OS and ChromeOS come in. They are built for the internet age, for presenting access to the apps that really matter to the end user. They have been built with the understanding that users are really not interested in the operating system, that they want to use their applications on any device, from anywhere.

The Future is Hedgehog shaped

IGEL OS takes this concept a step further. Unlike ChromeOS, IGEL OS started life in the enterprise, and it shows. Security and enterprise-level manageability are built into its foundations. It has unparalleled integrations with the big VDI vendors, including Citrix, VMware and Microsoft, to ensure that Windows applications are always available, without the overhead of running those apps locally. When it comes to extensibility, there are over 100 local integrations with leading enterprise software vendors, from ControlUP & Veridium to Zoom & Teams.

Another key benefit of IGEL OS is that it isn’t tied to specific hardware. As long as the device matches certain minimum spec, such as CPU and RAM, it will work on most x86-based platforms. Extending this is the announcement made earlier this year of IGEL’s first Arm-based implementation, in partnership with Ncomputing.

The new world of SaaS applications is here. It is only going to grow over the coming months and years. To make the most of these lightweight, agile apps, you need a lightweight and agile OS. You need IGEL OS in your enterprise.