OS war over, OS dead, Sun won, Redmond lost

Yes, Scott McNealy's in town...

The OS war is over, as indeed is the OS, and Sun won. This interesting and challenging thesis was one of numerous presented by Scott McNealy at a European Technology Forum event in London this morning. Say what you like about Scott, he's generally good copy, even at 8.30am gigs.

His reasoning is as always plausible, and goes something like this. The PC platform is in decline, and will eventually go away, while smart connected devices of all sorts are becoming vastly more important, and will become ubiquitous. In order to cater for these you do not write to the operating system ("It's so last millennium to write to the OS," says style-guru Scott), you write to the Web services platform. Here, you have a choice between one that's "open, runs on every OS," i.e. Java Web Services, or one that isn't and doesn't, i.e. .NET.

McNealy didn't really get revved up about Microsoft until towards the end of the presentation, but dismissed the opposition with a couple of playful cuffs. ".NET still features virus of the week," and "Redmond is losing, and losing badly."

As always with McNealy, there is much, much more that we hope to be able to bring you in the next day or two, but although he's clearly telling it like he'd like it to be, he has a case. Individuals will carry, say, a mobile phone for comms and a notebook-sized display in order to interact with remote computers, the compute power 'out there' being what's important. So the PC stays in its ghetto, declining slowly as Microsoft fails to break it out, while the market moves Sun's way.

Various things come along with this. Customers move away from assembling systems and buy in complete packages from third parties instead, while the components of these systems become less transparent and less readily self-assembled anyway. You do not, says Scott, buy the bits then build your own car, and it will become similarly absurd to buy a piece of hardware then add the software yourself. Alongside this, the systems themselves interact more, starting to make decisions for you. He gives the example of your car (he's currently heavy on auto-analogy) interacting with service stations to conduct petrol price auctions. To The Register there seem to be likely gotchas here; the increasing black box nature of the kit means you're increasingly dependent on the suppliers (and there's an auto analogy there that Scott doesn't use), while we question the ability of computers to figure things out between themselves to your satisfaction. As indeed does Sun chief researcher John Gage, but Scott brooks no such opposition.

The 'last millennium' reference, by the way, came in the context of Linux, but it won't have escaped you that what goes for the PC and for operating systems in general goes for Linux too. In principle Scott doesn't have a problem with Linux, and Sun has the SCO licence, so it doesn't have that problem either, but you can see a little difficulty caused by his roadmapping of the future. In this, the PC has no long-term relevance, and Sun's enthusiasm for a PC-based client strategy is therefore called more into question the more often McNealy says this is so. It's kind of difficult to sell something with conviction if you're saying you're only offering it as a tactic, and while Microsoft may be entirely wrong, it really does believe in the PC. Depending on how long it is before we reach Scott's nirvana and there's no more PC market, this one could cost sales. ®

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