What kind of internet operating system do we want?

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Tim O'Reilly
Apr. 16, 2004 08:49 AM

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A bit originally written in early 2002, but apparently never posted. I wanted to link to it, and discovered it was still in draft stage!

Beyond the question of who will own the Internet operating system, there's a question of what kind of operating system it will be.

I said earlier that the alpha geeks are comfortable with new tools, and good at combining them to get unexpected results. As commercial vendors make ordinary developers and end users comfortable with the facilities of the internet operating system, I hope they'll also pay attention to "unexpected results." You get these by creating an environment where innovation can flourish, where users can "scratch their own itch", and combine the tools in new ways.

I like to think that it will have an open architecture similar to that of both Unix/Linux and the Internet.

Rather than building a single monolithic system, the original Unix inventors, Ken Thomson and Dennis Ritchie, developed some simple system services, and a powerful concept for how programs could cooperate. As a result, simple programs could be connected in a pipeline, like legos or tinker toys, to accomplish more complex tasks.

This same principle is evident in the development of the Internet. Open standards tell you what you need to write and what you need to read in order to be able to cooperate with another program. What you do internally is up to you.

This is fundamentally a loosely coupled architecture that lowers the barriers to entry to participation in the market, or if you like, in the ecosystem. Anyone can write a program, for his or own purposes, for his or her own small niche, that nonetheless magically becomes a part of the entire system.

Tim O'Reilly is the founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, Inc., thought by many to be the best computer book publisher in the world. In addition to Foo Camps ("Friends of O'Reilly" Camps, which gave rise to the "un-conference" movement), O'Reilly Media also hosts conferences on technology topics, including the Web 2.0 Summit, the Web 2.0 Expo, the O'Reilly Open Source Convention, the Gov 2.0 Summit, and the Gov 2.0 Expo. Tim's blog, the O'Reilly Radar, "watches the alpha geeks" to determine emerging technology trends, and serves as a platform for advocacy about issues of importance to the technical community. Tim's long-term vision for his company is to change the world by spreading the knowledge of innovators. In addition to O'Reilly Media, Tim is a founder of Safari Books Online, a pioneering subscription service for accessing books online, and O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, an early-stage venture firm.