Operating Systems: Has Outside The Box Innovation Stopped?

I have a gripe with the current companies creating operating systems. Out of the box innovation has ceased and we are simply seeing natural evolution of the same basic idea. I’m not saying evolution has stopped by any means, I am just saying it is predictable. Everyone is doing practically the same thing in both the mobile and desktop space. iOS and Android have similar feature sets and while Android has more functionality, it is mostly just ideas taken from the desktop. iOS is touting the integration between it and OS X devices with things like Continuity and Handoff but this once again seems like a natural evolution. On the desktop side Windows is going back to basics and designing Windows 10 for both touch screen and non-touch devices with some OS X sprinkled in for good measure. OS X is becoming a little bit more like iOS and a little bit more friendly to the casual user. No one is thinking outside the box anymore. It could be because everyone has been working fervently to add the “cloud” to their platforms but whatever the reason it is a little disheartening. Everyone is adding new shiny features but no one is looking at the basic constructs of computing and improving the experience. I may be different than the majority of people but when I experience friction I get really angry, especially when I can think of an easier way to do it. I recently wrote a post on how moving a tab from one window to another was a needlessly clunky process. I want my OS maker to fix the things that were “good enough” years ago but are now just frustrating. Word processors have been the same since I was a child. You open up a document, write it, format it, edit it, and then edit it again. The only thing the computer does for you is some minor spelling/grammar help with a squiggly line under the text and formatting. Writing is probably the most used productivity task on computers and yet the basic applications haven’t changed. Sure we have the cloud, and multiple people can edit a document at the same time but it’s still the same basic experience. Can’t we do better? This site is dedicated to the pursuit of the best computing experience possible. I look at what experiences still need work and provide ideas to improve them.

I should clarify and say, I don’t think innovation has stopped. Google Now is awesome and Continuity/Handoff are both examples of innovation. I am merely saying that the innovation is predictable. ‘Oh it automatically reminds me that I have an appointment in 30 minutes and shows me the traffic’ is awesome but not hard to imagine.

What Direction Would I Take OS Design In?

I think OS manufacturers need to both look at how their existing products work and at what computers do for humans. I could cite many examples of how my day to day computing experience could be improved but this post is going to focus on the possibilities of computing. Our devices are becoming more powerful, our connections to the internet faster and cloud computing is cheaper than ever. We have a lot of computing power at our fingertips. So why hasn’t computing changed for the average user? Sure, they might store photos in the cloud or stream music rather than store it locally but it’s just a new way of doing old things. What I want is: a computer that helps me write better, a computer that learns from me and a computer that acts as my automatic brain. I want to leave the heavy lifting to my computer and make my life easier.

My Computer Helps Me Write Better

I write quite a lot and while improvements like spelling correction, automatic Markdown formatting, and document syncing are all very handy I believe word processing is in need of a revolution. When I write, my computer should be doing things like:

  • analyze my sentences for validity (Do my arguments hold up?)
  • point me to sources that help and hurt my arguments (I don’t mean simply searching for articles online and showing me ones that are similar to mine like Evernote’s Context feature. I want the computer to analyze these articles, search the web to see if they are well substantiated and then show the points they make next to mine.)
  • automatically keep track of characters and locations when I’m writing fiction
  • search my old notes and letting me know when I’m repeating myself
  • analyze my grammar and helping me restructure sentences so they flow better

My Computer Should Learn From Me

My computer should learn how I use it, my likes/dislikes and my aspirations. If I turn on my computer every morning and do the exact same thing, it should automatically set it up for me. If I try a new music streaming service, my computer should let it know what types of music I like. If I listen to the same artist every time I am writing, it should queue it up so I just have to press play. Or something that I worry about everyday, adjust the volume so it isn’t loud when I press play. (I have a disorder called Hyperacusis that makes loud sound very painful.)

My Computer Should Be My Artificial Brain

My computer should remember everything I want it to remember. My relationships with people, text I have read online, things I have written and things others have said to me. All organized and easily searchable.

“What was that article I read about nanotechnology? Something about human trials starting? They were trying to heal cancer or something.”

“I found this article, that you read in the Unread app on your iPad.”

It shows you the article I half remembered. That is computing I’d like to see.

A Couple Companies Doing Interesting Things

HP Sprout

The HP Sprout shows some real promise. It is the single most interesting computer of the last few years. For those that don’t know about the HP Sprout, it’s a desktop computer with a projector and Touch Pad that can be used to draw on, to scan 3D objects and a whole lot more. I only wish that Apple had come out with it, not because I use Apple products but because I fear it won’t gain any traction coming from HP. Check it out, it looks awesome.

Microsoft Surface & Samsung Note Styli

I don’t think we should dismiss the stylus as an outdated piece of tech. The Microsoft Surface and Samsung Note Series both use the stylus to great effect. Things like clicking the button on end of the pen to instantly bring up a notepad are the type of simple, obvious genius I like. Imagine being able to buy a stylus for any computer that you write anywhere and it is stored on the device. (I wrote about that here.)

Final Words

We are seeing bits and pieces of this vision but I want to see revolution. I want Apple, Google or Microsoft to come out next year and say, “We have revolutionized computing.” Of course I am just a dreamer and know that this would take an immense amount of work. Here’s hoping someone is spending time and money moving towards this future. I know it’s what I’d be doing if I had a couple billion dollars sitting in my bank account.


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