Major Tech Companies Are Being Crushed By Their Own OS Strategies

| Particle Debris

After the Windows 8 debacle, Microsoft has worked hard to arrive at Windows 10 everywhere. Apple has stuck to a purely mobile OS and a traditional desktop OS. Google concocted Chrome OS to solve one problem but now seems to want to merge it with Android. Apple has launched watchOS and tvOS and may be on the verge of carOS. What's going on here? How can these companies possibly cope with the massive technical demands of new/merged/derivative OSes and the aggressive security threats against each new OS?

It's a continuing dilemma. Microsoft wants to showcase the best possible hardware for Windows without upsetting its OEM partners. That's what's happening with the Surface Book, and the tricky part for Microsoft is spelled out with a somewhat dramatic title:: "Microsoft has trapped its biggest partners between a rock and a hard place." A notable paragraph therein:

While Apple dominates the high-end PC market, manufactures such as Lenovo, HP, and Dell (who own Alienware) all sell multi-thousand-dollar laptops. These customers are already primed to use Windows and can easily be converted to a Surface Book.

This is a scary prospect for PC makers.

What's interesting is that Apple's early vision for integrating the hardware and software continues to pose a problem for Apple's competitors. As Microsoft tries to have it both ways, the realization that they're still trapped in the 1980's business model must really annoy Microsoft executives.

Meanwhile, the two OS strategy that Apple is using seems to not be working out for Google. Since this next item was published, "Google is merging its Chrome OS into Android," Google has backtracked a little. But the fact remains, there all kinds of considerations for and tough decisions about why a company should support two OSes on the kinds of hardware they want to build. Adult supervision is essential.

As we saw with the Microsoft example above, technology changes dramtatically over sufficiently long periods of time, and having a vision that can endure is tricky business. Even Apple has been victimized by the declining iPad sales and is faced with, perhaps, rebuilding the mobile tablet concept.

Meanwhile, a modern OS with 50 million lines of code is not something a company just pulls out of the hat. (Samsung found that out with Tizen which it seems to have given up on and is relegating to its TV sets.) What makes it all very hard is that modern OSes must endure massive security assaults from the Internet. And so, changing strategy, no matter how desperate the situation may be, is a major challenge for an company whose ambitions outstrip its technical resources. With modern OSes, TANSTAFL.

So far, Apple seems to have the best of it all, even though they've launched into a delicate dance adding two new OSes, watchOS and tvOS. This OS proliferation would have scared the dickens out of Apple executives just 10 years ago.

And on the horizon is another sobering concept. The Apple carOS (#5, my name), of course, will be exposed to the Internet. Space doesn't sllow me to get into the efforts by other companies. But the scale of effort is staggering, as you can see in this example. "Toyota allots $1 billion to develop new AI, robotics technologies.

Brace yourself.

Next page: the tech news debris for the week of November 2. The lunacy of CurrentC compared to Apple Pay.

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James Katt

OS X, iOS, watchOS, tvOS, and carOS are all simply variations of the base operating system that started with Mac OS X. The interface parts are what changed. 

And only OS X allows users to freely add applications - thus exposing them to malware.  The others are much more protected by Apple’s walled garden.  For example, tvOS doesn’t even have access to the internet via web browsing since it doesn’t contain webkit.

Thus, Apple has the same base operating system but customized for each platform. This makes it far easier for Apple to support multiple platforms.  This is why a universal app can be created to support iOS and tvOS - buy once and play on both devices.  And it is relatively easy to port from one Apple platform to the another Apple platform since they use the same base operating system.

Microsoft has THREE DIFFERENT AND INCOMPATIBLE OPERATING SYSTEMS, and Google has TWO DIFFERENT and incompatible operating systems to juggle.  And Samsung doesn’t have the software skills to even support one operating system.  Their job is far far more difficult to do.


Interesting comments James.  I’m not an expert in this area.

So how difficult would it be to merge, say, Chrome and Android?  What are the three MS systems?  Windows and ??


I see Microsoft’s problem as deeper than just having three incompatible OSs.

To me, the fundamental problem with Windows - the flagship - is that it has patch-on security. The VMS (DEC) system upon which many of the features were based had security that was well-regarded but these didn’t make it into Win NT, for performance reasons. In particular, many activities are included within the kernel that have absolutely no place being there. Within the last month or so, MS released a patch that corrected an exploit with handling some parameter or other (“range”, I think) in an HTTP response. The “specially crafted” malicious web page was causing some calculation or other to fail. No big problem, one might think, it’ll just mash the web browser. Unfortunately not because this was being done IN THE KERNEL so all sorts of Bad Things followed. Windows “handles” are another big problem area that undermines proper process separation.

And because of MS’s insistence on extensive backward compatibility, there is a huge amount of “cruft” code that should have been removed. I will admit that sometimes I get unhappy that Apple has removed some capability or other but it does have the benefit that there’s less cruft.

But that’s not to say that Apple’s approach is completely clean and pure - it’s not. But Apple has maintained the architectural integrity and separation of function in a way that Microsoft has not. OS X, for example, bundles the microkernel (Mach) and kernel together - a performance improvement - but architecturally they’re separate. MS combined them too. But many people are quite surprised to discover that all of OS X’s window management is done in user-space, not the kernel. It’s a root-level process, of course, but it runs in its own memory space and can’t touch anything else unless it has been given a memory accessor for it.

Apple had an advantage in the outcome of OS development however. What might be called the “success of failure”. Microsoft started building NT in the late 80’s and the first version arrived in 1993. Anyone who had experience trying to run a multitasking OS on the hardware of that era remembers how painful it was. Apple started its new OS project about the same time but several attempts were total disasters (search for “Pink” and “Copeland” for gory details). After these fiascos, Apple decided to buy rather than build and acquired NeXT (*). The failures meant that Apple was building for hardware about ten years newer than MS had when its design work started. This vastly improved hardware meant that Apple had a lot more design freedom.

* The official paper say that Apple acquired NeXT for $400 million. However if you look at the roster of executives, you might think that NeXT acquired Apple for minus-$400 million.


Well, MS is in a corner - consumers have clearly rejected WinCE, Kin/Sidekick, Symbian, WIN RT, etc as their mobile OS so they thought “consumers love WINDOWS!” (Yea, MS is clueless), AND of course, MS figured we will leverage our monopoly on the desktop into tablets! Only problem is NO ONE willing to pay more than $400 for WIN on a desktop, will anyone pay $3,500 for a WIN laptop where you can yank off the screen? pretty bloody unlikely ... when you can buy 2 MacBooks and 2 ipads for the same price? And MS once again has only themselves to blame when they switched over to Win 8 - they basicallt told peiople, you should learn a new Windows! Which 92% of consumers immediately rejected and bought ipads - MS is doomed on the mobile side as android has replaced WIn as the wonky but free on cheap hardware OS.

Google is essentially in the same boat as chromeOS has gained very little traction - and android is of course a brand that people recogize so it makes sense to merge it - except for course, android is splintered into giant incompatible blocks and of course, full of malware holes so where do you really go?

Meanwhile, Apple is above the fray - so while developers have have to tweak phoneios versus appleTV IOS and watch IOS - the average person just think of it as IOS and on the desktop, the iconic and beloved mac OS ... once again, Apple wins.


I know I’m late in getting to read this, but I think an important point was missed in discussing Current C.. the fact that they were ALREADY hacked 2 years ago.

Terry Maraccini

Stop reporting own rumors. Google has explicitly stated that it has no intentions of merging its OS strategies.

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