Tomorrow's Technology

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The Future of the OS Wars

The Multiple-Personality PC

Multiple-Personality PC
Illustration: Harry Campbell
Today, your choice of operating system is a critical one; for tomorrow's computer it won't matter nearly as much.

Rapidly improving virtualization technology allows you to run multiple OSs simultaneously on one computer as "virtual machines," each with its own selection of programs. In five or ten years, your choice of operating systems could become as mix-and-match as your choice of Web browsers is right now.

Rob Enderle, emerging personal technologies analyst for the Enderle Group
One key factor driving that trend will be hardware innovations that make existing virtualization run smoother and faster. AMD and Intel are shipping CPUs with hardware support for virtualization. Apple's adoption of Intel CPUs points the way to a multi-OS future as well, and the company's BootCamp software permits dual-booting into Windows. Parallels virtualization software lets Macs simultaneously run Windows (and other OSs), much as VMWare and Xen do under Windows and Linux. One day, virtualization could free us to run any app in any OS, at any time.

In View: Coming Soon to an OS Near You

An in-depth look: Count on 3D interfaces becoming commonplace as PC graphics improve. Early third-party 3D desktops like those listed at NooFace could become a standard, productivity-boosting OS feature, especially if coupled with new file systems.

Trees are for shade: Next-generation file systems could finally shed the decades-old directory tree storage structure and act more like databases, says analyst Tony Iams, who covers operating systems for Ideas International. Windows Vista's WinFS file system died, but its ideas--such as network searches--live on.

The Web hard drive: Online storage is getting cheaper and more plentiful every day. In a few years your OS will be able to interact seamlessly with the troves of online storage you've spread around the Web.

The Web OS: Your PC in a Browser

YouOS, an early Web OS prototype
YouOS, an early Web OS prototype
Want to avoid maintaining even one operating system? YouOS.com hints at the promise of a fully online desktop, as do the growing number of everyday online programs that run within a browser and require no installation. You could go from work to home, or notebook to desktop, and look at the same online layout for all your programs and files.

Special Report: Tomorrow's Technology

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The Future of Cell Phones The Future of Privacy
The Future of the Web The Future of Nanotech
The Future of OSs The Future of You
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Incredible Tech: Lies Ahead A Look Back

Erik Larkin is an associate editor for PC World.

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