The slow rise of the SoMoClo OS

Even at first glance, one can see that Apple’s new desktop operating system, OS X Mountain Lion, is unifying the user experience across its different devices and platforms. Common applications and modes of interaction such as reminders, notes and the new notifications and Game Center are part of that effort, as my colleague Erica Ogg writes. And if Apple stopped at that, it would be pretty impressive.

But the new Mountain Lion OS X is a step in the right direction for what the operating system (OS) for the Internet Age should be. Up until a few years ago, the Internet was a feature on our desktops, accessed through the browser and used for finding information. Along came broadband, and we all suddenly realized the Internet could be used for a lot more than just looking up facts and figures.

Today the Internet is how we do (almost) everything. Our phone calls are made using Skype. We video chat over Google Hangouts, and we communicate via Facebook, Twitter and iMessage. Twitter is the new Associated Press. Vimeo is our PBS, and YouTube and Hulu are the new broadcast networks. Amazon is the mall and iTunes is our Virgin Megastore. Pandora is our radio and Spotify is our jukebox.

It doesn’t matter whether we use Windows, Mac, Linux, Android or iOS: We can do all the things we like to do as long as the Internet is there. And if the growing popularity of apps is any indication, even a browser isn’t necessary. The Internet is what matters. From my perspective, the desktop OS of today needs to be built with that reality in mind. Let’s call this the SoMoClo operating system, where SoMoClo stands for social + mobile + cloud.

1. Social + sharing

If uptick in sharing photos, links and videos on Facebook and Twitter is any indication, social sharing has become integral to our daily experience. Mark Zuckerberg put it best in Facebook’s S-1 filing when he wrote:

Today, our society has reached another tipping point. We live at a moment when the majority of people in the world have access to the Internet or mobile phones — the raw tools necessary to start sharing what they’re thinking, feeling and doing with whomever they want.

2. Mobile

The breathtaking jump in the sales of smartphones and tablets such as the iPhone and iPad, along with hypnotizing demand for mobile apps, are some signs that we are fast becoming a mobile-first society.

Let’s just face it: Today we use our smartphones and tablets more often during our day; thus behaviors that are specific to mobile are now going mainstream. How many times have you wanted to touch your laptop screen and bring up an app?

Notifications are another mobile-first behavior that makes sense on our desktops. Mobile has also forced us to appreciate simple but highly effective applications such as notes, list makers or group messaging. So it is no surprise that these behaviors and apps are migrating into the desktop OS.

3. The cloud

And now comes the most important aspect of the new operating system: the cloud. For the longest time, our desktops were a way to get onto the network, but now the desktop lives on the network. Back in Nov. 2011, I wrote a post titled “When will broadband finally kill local storage?”:

Today, there is very little need for me to have any in-home storage. My documents live in Dropbox and Google Office. My photos get backed up to iCloud. Radio comes from Pandora. On-demand music comes from Spotify. Movies come from Netflix. TV comes from Hulu. The home phone is Skype. And for everything else, there’s Amazon. The lesson of the story? If you have a fast enough broadband connection, you don’t need hard drives.

In a few years, as broadband gets faster, there is no doubt in my mind that my online usage patterns are going to be mainstream. From that perspective, the desktop OS of today (and tomorrow) needs to have deep hooks into the cloud — ones that go beyond the browser.

SoMoClo OS or cloud OS

When I think of today’s connected life, I see two distinct approaches to operating environments: OSes that are desktop-specific and the one OS that is a true cloud OS, for a dedicated cloud client. Back in 2008, I wrote about what makes a cloud client and asked our community to weigh in. One of them, Tashi Levent-Levi wrote:

Such a computer needs to come with a different software suite and a different kind of a user interface. As the working habits and behavior of people with it will be different, so does the applications running and the way they are used will be different.

Phones and PCs today are good comparisons — their computing power is used differently and the way we interact with their application is different. As the cloud computer is a new type of a machine that fits new habits — it should have its own usage model.

At that time, the iPad and Amazon Kindle Fire had not been introduced. But both Apple, with iOS, and Amazon, with its Kindle Fire, have developed a true cloud OS. These are for a tablet that is essentially a mobile device and is meant to be used anywhere and anytime.

The desktop OS of today (and tomorrow) is a little different. It needs to pay attention to a computer’s legacy and its user interface — keyboards and mice and touchpads. It has to worry about file systems, documents, windows and the traditional hierarchies. The transition from PC to tablets is going to take a long time, and as a result we need an OS to ferry us to the new tablet-centric world. Apple CEO Tim Cook talked about this recently, as Tom Krazit on our sister site, paidContent writes:

Still, Cook doesn’t think the iPad will lead to the death of the personal computer as we’ve known it for the past 25 years or so. “I don’t predict the demise of the PC industry, I don’t subscribe to that,” he said, although admitting that tablet sales were eating into Mac sales and were likely having the same effect on the PC industry, which is essentially stagnant. It seems pretty clear that Cook thinks of the iPad as a different product from the PC/Mac, unlike some industry observers who would prefer to lump the two together.

Something like Mountain Lion is a great middle ground, a great first new SoMoClo OS.